18th Venice Architecture Biennale Highlights Africa and Its Diaspora

by Eva Szwarc // May 16, 2023

“What does it mean to be an ‘agent of change’?” This question opens the statement for this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, of which the multiplicity of voice and the environment are at its heart. Curated by Scottish-Ghanian architect Lesley Lokko, the 18th edition is titled ‘The Laboratory of the Future’ and will include 89 participants, over half of whom are from Africa or the African Diaspora. Integrating the principles of environmental sustainability in every phase of the life cycle of its events, the Biennale aims to achieve carbon neutrality. Throughout the exhibition, the twin themes of decolonisation and decarbonisation will set the tone for the works on display.

Lesley Lokko // Photo by Andrea Avezzu, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

The main exhibition will be split into six parts, across the Giardini, the Arsenale grounds and several other locations in Venice. In the spotlight of the central exhibition are leading practitioners from Africa and the African Diaspora working today, including Cave_bureau, Ibrahim Mahama, Olalekan Jeyifous and Kéré Architecture. Lokko positions the continent, which has the youngest average age and the highest rate of urbanisation, as “the laboratory of the future.” This promises to be an enriching shift from the dominating narrative in architecture, which, Lokko points out, is incomplete. Additionally, the Biennale will represent an even gender balance and reflect an average age of 43. As Lokko offers in the official statement, the exhibition aims to encapsulate not “a single story, but multiple stories that reflect the vexing, gorgeous kaleidoscope of ideas, contexts, aspirations, and meanings that is every voice responding to the issues of its time.”

Storage of collected spolia from the Biennale Arte 2022 in the German Pavilion, December 2022 // Courtesy of ARCH+ SUMMACUMFEMMER BÜRO JULIANE GREB

Beyond the main exhibition, the 63 National Pavilions will offer diverse approaches to architecture, from ecological and social to domestic and industrial. Focusing directly on sustainable practice, the German Pavilion will be curated by ARCH+ and Summacumfemmer Büro Juliane Greb. ‘Open for Maintenance / Wegen Umbau geöffnet’ will utilise exclusively leftover material from the previous year’s exhibition. The space will be transformed into an active workshop, with visitors directly participating in repair and recycling activities, to engage in the possibilities of a social and maintenance-first approach to architecture.

At the Pavilion of Spain, ‘FOODSCAPES’ centres on the architecture feeding the world. Developed by Eduardo Castillo Vinuesa and Manuel Ocaña, this contribution encapsulates both sides of the spectrum—from one’s own kitchen to the vast landscapes nourishing cities—and takes Spain as its case study. Key to Europe’s food systems and facing challenges of climate warming, the country serves as a cornerstone for expansive considerations of how stages of the food cycle, on a global level, can be transformed.

FOODSCAPES: Amorim Cork // Photo by Pedro Pegenaute, courtesy of Pavilion of Spain

Meanwhile, the Danish contribution explores climate adaptation specifically along coastal towns. Curated by Josephine Michau, ‘Coastal Imaginaries’ is the result of collaboration between artists, architects and researchers. Coastal towns face the increasingly common reality of flooding and storms, through which communities are uprooted and livelihoods and homes destroyed. Emerging from seven nature-based solutions, ‘Coastal Imaginaries’ offers various future models in supporting nature rather than working against it.

Danish Pavilion Team (from left clockwise: Christian Friedländer, Peter Albtrechtsen, David Garcia, Anna Aslaug Lund, Alexandra Wedderkopp, Emelianov Ellen Leer, Josephine Michau // Photo courtesy of Rasmus Hjortshoj

This year’s edition will also introduce new additions to the programme, including ‘Carnival,’ a six-month-long cycle of events, lectures, panel discussions, films and performances. The cycle allows a sustained space in which a variety of perspectives can be shared and traded, an extension of the deep enrichment at which this year’s edition aims. ‘The Laboratory of the Future’ has taken a truly expansive endeavour under its wing, one that will perhaps ruffle some feathers. With its determination to look forward and reimagine futures, this year’s edition looks set to leave us optimistic, ambitious and, ultimately, hopeful.

Exhibition Info

La Biennale di Venezia

18th International Architecture Exhibition
Group Show: ‘The Laboratory of the Future’
Exhibition: May 20–Nov. 26, 2023
Admission: €25 (reduced €20)
Giardini della Biennale, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy, click here for map
Arsenale di Venezia, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy, click here for map

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