Ten intriguing exhibitions at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale

After being postponed last year due to Covid-19, the 17th International Architecture Biennale finally opened to the public on 22 May and runs through to 21 November 2021. This long-awaited event, curated by Hashim Sarkis (an architect and the Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT), focuses on this important cultural theme: “How will we live together?”

The theme is broken down into five scales: Among Diverse Beings, As Emerging Communities, As New Households, As One Planet and Across Borders.

With 112 international participants and 61 national exhibitions, there’s a great deal to see, and maybe you’re unsure where to start. We’ve highlighted ten contributions to watch out for if you’re attending – they’ll leave you mesmerised, inspired and intellectually stimulated. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. The Garden of Privatised Delights

The British Council presents an interesting exhibition that looks at how a range of privatised public spaces, like pubs, playgrounds and the high street, can be better designed and built so that they’re more inclusive. For instance, one contribution explores the possibility of making high streets about more than commercial ventures, instead becoming a place of diverse social exchange. Location: British Pavilion, Giardini. See a brief virtual tour.

2. American Framing

Here’s one exhibition you’ll struggle to miss. American Framing is an enormous pine stick-frame structure built by architects Paul Anderson and Paul Preissner. 12 metres tall, this timber project explores the history of softwood construction in America. Location: U.S. Pavilion, Giardini. View photos.

3. Three British Mosques

Created by architect Shahed Saleem and part of a special collaboration between the Venice Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Three British Mosques’ explores contemporary multiculturalism. It features 1:1 scale reconstructions of three adapted London mosques, including the Brick Lane mosque, which used to be a Protestant chapel. Location: Pavilion of Applied Arts, Arsenale. Read about it.

4. Ego to Eco

An eye-catching exhibition from EFFEKT, a Danish architecture firm, showcases 1,200 pine seedlings planted around a range of architectural prototypes that explore sustainable living. The seedlings will grow throughout the exhibition using a remote-controlled hydroponics system. After the Biennale, the mini trees will be transported back to Denmark and replanted for an urban reforestation project. Location: Arsenale. Learn more.

5. Uncertainty

At the centre of the ‘Uncertainty’ exhibition are thousands of pieces of paper suspended from a ceiling. Upon which are proposals and actions that combine and build on current architectural techniques, with a view to answering the underlying question, “How will we live together?” Around this is the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’; four side rooms featuring a range of unconventional objects that inspire new possibilities. Location: Spanish Pavilion, Giardini. Watch this teaser video.

6. Mining the Skies

‘Mining the Skies’ is the contribution of Bethany Rigby, the youngest participant at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Her work explores research on extra-terrestrial mining and the laws around ownership and use of resources found on the moon and other planets; something that will affect future generations. Location: Central Pavilion, Giardini. Sneak a peek at this project.

7. Life Beyond Earth

For anyone interested in space exploration, this one provides a fascinating look at how we might collaborate to establish a human civilisation beyond earth. Answering questions such as, “How might we thrive in space?” and “How can we make the moon feel like home?”, this installation by Skidmore, Owings and Merril, and the European Space Agency enables visitors to get a sense of what a lunar settlement might look like. Location: Arsenale. Here’s what to expect.

8. Bit.Bot.Bio

EcoLogicStudio has combined microbiology with architecture for ‘Bit.Bot.Bio’, which features freshly grown algae as a sustainable food source. Visitors can taste the algae (handy if you’re feeling peckish) during the exhibition and learn about the benefits of growing algae at home. Location: Arsenale. More on this here.

9. Future School

Created as a shared space for learning, gathering, contemplation and resting, ‘Future School’ aims to reimagine traditional schools. The project, an explorative academic facility, dissolves the boundaries between educational, domestic and public spaces, and creates possibilities for exchanges and discussion. Location: Korean Pavilion, Giardini. Read a detailed write-up.

10. Imposter Cities

The Canadian contribution to the Venice Architecture Biennale is about architectural identity and reorientating our understanding of our built environment. In particular, it explores how Canadian cities provide cinematic doubles for others, such as London, Manhattan, Moscow and Paris. The message being that Canadian architecture provides the global generic city that we all experience on-screen. Location: Canada Pavilion, Giardini. This video explains.

For more details about the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, including a full list of participants, check out the programme here.


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