The 18th Venice Architecture Biennale is being held from 20 May to 26 November. The world’s most important architectural exhibition is not just a meeting point for industry insiders, but also offers plenty of inspiration for everyone with an interest in buildings. It is increasingly becoming a forum for reflection too, with political issues and social responsibility joining aesthetics as a key focus in recent years. As a result, the Architecture Biennale 2023 is more diverse, more female and younger than ever before – and this year is making the African continent a key focus.
The exhibition, as the Italian word ‘biennale’ suggests, is held every two years in Venice, always alternating with the Art Biennale. All 63 nations that take part present their entries in a pavilion of their own. The main venues are the Arsenale and the Giardini in the world-famous lagoon city, with many other locations hosting events all over the city’s central islands.
To bridge the divide between architects and the general public, the regular programme is being supplemented by a ‘carnival’ this year: lectures, discussion panels, performances and other events will provide a backdrop and venue for sharing ideas and different perspectives, allowing participants to delve into important topics and work together to find solutions.
“It is impossible to build a better world if one cannot first imagine it,” as curator Lesley Lokko has stated. To help advance the transformation she is shining a spotlight on, the Ghanaian-Scottish architect made the theme of this year’s Biennale ‘The Laboratory of the Future’.
One of her main objectives is to add an African perspective to the history of architecture – a context in which the topic of decolonisation plays a key role. For this reason, more than half of the participants invited this year come from Africa or the African diaspora.
“Africa is the laboratory of the future. We are the youngest of the world’s continents, and the continent that is urbanising most rapidly,” is how Lokko explains her decision: “This growth generally comes at the expense of the local environment and ecosystems, making us one of the main drivers of climate change.”
Climate change brings us to the second main theme of this year’s Biennale. Architecture and the building industry are facing a quandary – and one on a global scale: on the one hand, more housing is needed than ever before, while on the other hand, construction and maintenance of buildings account for 40 per cent of all harmful emissions. The Biennale itself produces hundreds of tonnes of waste each time it is held, the disposal of which is a major financial and environmental headache for Venice.
This is why the organisers are placing a special emphasis on sustainability at this year’s exhibition – and are leading by example with plans to make the Architecture Biennale 2023 completely carbon neutral. Along with the use of renewable energy, the organisers are aiming to use fewer materials and reuse exhibition materials. The public is also expected to play its part by being encouraged to enjoy the vegetarian catering options and to organise climate-friendly travel.
Driven by a longing for and appreciation of everyday rituals and traditions, the exhibition in the British Pavilion breaks down old ways of thinking. Architecture as well as the built environment are looked at in a new way, “advocating for rituals as a way of changing spaces”. It is about a future in which “collaboration, experimentation and equity are prioritised in the planning of space in the UK”. British artists and architects Yussef Agbo-Ola, Madhav Kidao, Sandra Poulson, Mac Collins, Shawanda Corbett and Jayden Ali present new work as well as a film and soundscape. The exhibition expands the concept of architecture and highlights the interplay of craft, performance and creative disciplines.
Would you like to seek inspiration against the unique backdrop of Venice and enjoy a front-row seat to the issues that will shape our future? You still have the opportunity to visit this year’s Architecture Biennale until 26 November: a day pass is available for 25 euros, a 3-day pass costs 35 euros, and for 45 euros, you can explore the exhibition for a whole week.
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