Architecture Biennale 2023: Africa, decarbonization, decolonization
  1. Home
  2. What's On
  3. Architecture Biennale 2023: Africa, decarbonization, decolonization

Architecture Biennale 2023: Africa, decarbonization, decolonization

A preview of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, curated by Lesley Lokko and entitled The Laboratory of the Future

Architecture Biennale 2023: Africa, decarbonization, decolonization
By Redazione The Plan -

What does “agent for change” mean, and how do we become one? These two key questions were the launching pad for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition. Curated by Lesley Lokko, this year’s edition will therefore be centered on the subject of change. And a key change to the event itself is that for the first time there’ll be a focus on Africa. After the announcement of the title, The Laboratory of the Future, in mid-2022, the next Venice Biennale was officially launched at an event with both the curator and Biennale president Roberto Cicutto in attendance. The exhibition has taken shape by asking how the event itself can be justified and sustainable in terms of carbon emissions and costs.

“An architecture exhibition is both an event and a process,” said Lesley Lokko, explaining the change in her own vision of the event over the last months. “It borrows its structure and format from art exhibitions, but it differs from art in critical ways that often go unnoticed. Aside from the desire to tell a story, questions of production, resources, and representation are central to the way an architecture exhibition comes into the world, yet are rarely acknowledged or discussed. From the outset, it was clear that the central element of The Laboratory of the Future would be change.”

And changes in climate, society, migration, and interpersonal relationships in Africa are all food for thought in this regard. “For the first time ever, the spotlight has fallen on Africa and the African Diaspora – that fluid and enmeshed culture of people of African descent that now spans the globe,” continues Lokko. “What do we want to say? How will what we say change anything? And, perhaps most important of all, how will what we say interact with, and infuse, what ‘others’ say, so that the exhibition is not a single story but multiple stories that reflect the vexing, gorgeous kaleidoscope of ideas, circumstances, aspirations, and meanings that is every voice responding to the issues of their time?”


Exhibition organization

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura 2023, La Biennale di Venezia; Roadside hawkers, Dzorwulu, Accra, Ghana ©Festus Jackson Davis, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

The 18th International Architecture Exhibition will be held May 20 – November 26, 2023, with the vernissage scheduled for May 18–19. It will take place in the Giardini, the Arsenale, and Forte Marghera. The event has attracted 89 participants from around the world, more than half of whom are from Africa or represent the African Diaspora. And there’s another first to report: almost half the participants are from sole or individual practices of no more than five people. And this percentage is even higher for the exhibited projects. In fact, across the entire exhibition, over 70% of the exhibits are by studios run by an individual or a very small team.

“Central to all the projects is the primacy and potency of one tool: the imagination,” explains Lokko. “It’s impossible to build a better world without imagining it first. The Laboratory of the Future will begin in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, which will bring together 16 studios representing a distilled force majeure of African and Diasporic architecture. It will then continue in the Arsenale complex, where participants in the Dangerous Liaisons section – also represented in Forte Marghera in Mestre – will rub shoulders with the Curator’s Special Projects, for the first time a category that is as large as the others. Threaded through and amongst the works in both venues are young African and Diasporan practitioners, our Guests from the Future, whose work engages directly with the twin themes of this exhibition, decolonization and decarbonization, providing a snapshot, a glimpse of future practices and ways of seeing and being in the world. We’ve deliberately chosen to frame participants as practitioners and not architects and/or urbanists, designers, landscape architects, engineers, or academics because it is our contention that the rich, complex conditions of both Africa and a rapidly hybridizing world call for a different and broader understanding of the term architect.”

“A laboratory of the future must necessarily begin from a specific starting point, from one or more hypotheses that need to be confirmed,” added Roberto Cicutto, Venice Biennale president. “The curator has started with her continent of origin, Africa, to talk about its key historical, economic, climate, and political issues and let us all know ‘that much of what is happening to the rest of the world has already happened to us. So, let’s work together to understand where we have gone wrong so far and how we must face the future.’ This is a starting point that listens to those parts of humanity who’ve been left out of the debate and opens to a multiplicity of voices that have been silenced for so long by just one that regarded itself as having a right to dominate what is a vital discussion we all must have.”


The first Biennale College Architecture

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura 2023, La Biennale di Venezia; Kaneshie market from the air, Kaneshie, Accra, Ghana ©Festus Jackson Davis, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

For the first time, this year the Architecture section of the Venice Biennale will host Biennale College Architecture, which will take place June 25 – July 22, 2023. The application process, which closed on February 17 with 986 applications, was aimed at students, graduates, academics, and early career practitioners under 35 from around the world. Lesley Lokko will select up to 50 participants from the proposals, with the results to be announced in late March. The successful participants will then work with an international group of architects, academics, and built environment professionals on a series of design projects on different scales and chart new possibilities for architectural education in the coming decades.

>>> Find out more about Biennale College Architecture.


The Italian Pavilion

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura 2023, La Biennale di Venezia ©Jacopo Salvi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Everyone Belongs to Everyone Else is the title of the Italian Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, which is backed by the Directorate General for Contemporary Creativity of the Ministry of Culture and curated by Fosbury Architecture, a collective formed by Giacomo Ardesio, Alessandro Bonizzoni, Nicola Campri, Veronica Caprino, and Claudia Mainardi. The project is divided into two phases. The first, Spaziale Presenta, is already underway and will lead into the second phase, which will begin with the opening of the 2023 Architecture Biennale. From January to April 2023, nine site-specific projects will be presented in the same number of locations around Italy. A website and an Instagram page, both launched in January, describe the work in progress and the evolution of this first phase.

The second phase, Spaziale: Everyone Belongs to Everyone Else, will be presented in the Italian Pavilion from May 20 through November 26, 2023. A formal and theoretical synthesis of the processes triggered in the nine Italian locations over the previous four months, this event is intended to renew the image of Italian architecture internationally.

>>> THE PLAN met Fosbury Architecture: find out more.


The Biennale’s commitment to fighting climate change

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura 2023, La Biennale di Venezia; Jamestown rooftops ©Festus Jackson Davis, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

The Venice Biennale has taken a concrete role in combating climate change by developing a more sustainable model for planning, setting up, and carrying out all of its activities. This commitment will continue in 2023, beginning with the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, which will be the first major exhibition in this sector to field test a plan to become carbon neutral, while also reflecting on the issues of decolonization and decarbonization. To achieve this, the Biennale is targeting two key areas: reducing the emissions under its control and compensation of residual emissions through the purchase of certified carbon credits, generated by renewable energy projects in India and Colombia.


Subscribe to our newsletter




Location: Venice, Italy
Date: 20th may-26th november (pre-opening 18th-19th may)

Individual photo credits are included in each gallery image

Keep up with the latest trends in the architecture and design world

© Maggioli SpA • THE PLAN • Via del Pratello 8 • 40122 Bologna, Italy • T +39 051 227634 • P. IVA 02066400405 • ISSN 2499-6602 • E-ISSN 2385-2054