The Architecture Biennale opens: the laboratory of the future can begin
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The Architecture Biennale opens: the laboratory of the future can begin

The exhibition can be visited through November 26

Lesley Lokko | Demas Nwoko

The Architecture Biennale opens: the laboratory of the future can begin
By Redazione The Plan -

The Laboratory of the Future is now. The 18th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice opened today, May 20. Curated this year by Lesley Lokko, the event has a mission to be an agent of change. This statement of intent, which has grown in momentum in the months leading up to the event, was on full display at the opening conference: “Over the past nine months, in hundreds of conversations, text messages, Zoom calls, and meetings,” said Lokko, “the question has come up time and time again of whether exhibitions of this scale can be justified in terms of both carbon emissions and cost. In May last year, I referred to the exhibition several times as ‘a story,’ as a narrative unfolding in space. Today, my understanding has changed. An architecture exhibition is both a moment and a process. It borrows its structure and format from art exhibitions, but differs from them in important 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 being, yet they are rarely acknowledged or discussed. From the outset, it was clear that the key message of The Laboratory of the Future would be change.”


Africa’s debut

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura Venezia, courtesy of Biennale Venezia

For the first time, the event is shining a spotlight on Africa and its diaspora – that fluid, enmeshed culture of the African people that has spread all over the world.

“What do we wish to say?” asks Lokko. “How will what we say change anything? And, perhaps most importantly, how will what we say interact and infuse with what others say, so that the exhibition is not a single story, but multiple stories that reflect the intriguing, marvelous kaleidoscope of ideas, contexts, aspirations, and meanings that is every voice responding to the issues of its time?”

It’s often said that culture is the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. While this is true, what is missing from this statement is any acknowledgement of who ‘we’ are. In architecture particularly, the dominant voice has historically been a singular, exclusive voice, whose reach and power ignores huge swathes of humanity – financially, creatively, conceptually – as if we’ve all been speaking and listening in just one language. The ‘story’ of architecture is therefore incomplete. Not wrong, but incomplete. It’s from this perspective in particular that exhibitions matter.”


Statement by President Roberto Cicutto

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura Venezia, courtesy of Biennale Venezia

“A laboratory of the future must have a specific starting point: one or more hypotheses that need to be verified,” said the president of the Venice Biennale, Roberto Cicutto. “Lokko has used the starting point of her continent of origin, Africa, to talk about its central historical, economic, climate, and political issues, and to let us all know ‘that much of what is happening to the rest of the world has already happened to us. Let’s work together to understand where we’ve gone wrong so far and how we must face the future.’ This is a starting point that seeks to hear from those segments of humanity that have been left out of the discussion, and that is open to a multiplicity of voices that have been silenced for so long by the one that considered itself to be rightfully dominant in a vital and unavoidable contest. I believe that this is Biennale di Venezia’s true task as an institution, and not just for architecture. We must start here to seize the opportunity that will allow us to raise the bar in the way we approach all the other disciplines as well.”


The prizes awarded at the inauguration

18. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura Venezia, courtesy of Biennale Venezia

Besides awarding the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to Demas Nwoko, the jury of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation to Brazil for its research exhibition and architectural intervention that focuses the philosophies and social imaginaries of the indigenous and black populations on ways of reparation.

A special mention for National Participation went to Great Britain for curatorship and a project that celebrates the power of daily rituals as a form of resistance and spatial practices in diaspora communities.

The Golden Lion for Best Participant in the 18th exhibition was awarded to DAAR – Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal for their longstanding commitment to political engagement with architectural and learning practices in connection with decolonization in Palestine and Europe.

The Silver Lion for Promising Young Participant went to Olalekan Jeyifous for a multimedia installation that explores a world-building practice that has the potential to expand the public’s perspective and imagination with its visions of a decolonized and decarbonized future.

There were three special mentions. The first went to Twenty Nine Studio / Sammy Baloji for a three-part installation that questions the past, present, and future of the Democratic Republic of Congo through an excavation of colonial architectural records. The second was awarded to Wolff Architects for an installation that reflects a collaborative and multimodal design approach, as well as a nuanced and imaginative approach to resources, research, and representation. Finally, Thandi Loewenson received a special mention for a militant research practice that gives from to spatial histories of land struggles, extraction, and liberation through the medium of graphite and speculative writing as design tools.


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All images courtesy of Biennale Venezia

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