2023 Venice Architecture Biennale: Highlights from the National Pavilions
The 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, titled “The Laboratory of the Future”, has sparked worldwide discussions. While it’s not a given that national pavilions always align with the curators’ statement, a significant number of them chose to respond to the main theme, going as far as deconstructing “the idea of what a national pavilion is”.
Connections that extended beyond geographical boundaries are eminent at this year’s biennale, and people across borders are thinking about similar ideas and confronting shared challenges in terms of resources, politics, social-economic factors and the global context.
Discover more about the key themes explored in national pavilions of the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale, which runs from May to November 2023.
Deconstruction, analysis and borders
Deconstruction took centre stage at this year’s biennale, primarily concerning ideas and preconceived notions. Instead of focussing on demolition, it involved a critical analysis of the status quo – manifesting itself in various forms including methods of exhibiting, forms of expression, ecosystems, borders, concepts and meanings.
The pavilion explores territorial relationships, focussing specifically on the spatial and structural proximity between its structure and its Venezuelan neighbouring pavilion. Highlighting notions of borders, the curators sought to investigate this long-standing yet overlooked relationship between the two buildings.
Titled “Ghost Stories: Carrier Bag Theory of Architecture”, the curators question the perceptions of unused buildings in cities. Trying to deconstruct this acceptance of abandoned structures, which is common to the Turkish community, they are considering the opportunities and offering hopeful proposals for the future.
“Unbuild Together” brings into focus the country’s rich architectural heritage as a potential tool and inspiration for developing a more sustainable future. Looking at the past to seek a vision of a shared future and challenge the dominant concept of modernity, the intervention puts together a collaborative group to explore and learn from traditional materials, forms and techniques.
Resources, production and decarbonizing the built environment
Amid global resource scarcity, a climate crisis and demands for decarbonising our lifestyles, some pavilions tackled this subject from both local and global perspectives, employing a range of conceptual and practical approaches.
Titled “Open for Maintenance / Wegen Umbau geöffnet”, it aims to shed light on ongoing discussions regarding the existing building stock and the social practice of maintaining urban fabric. In fact, it has chosen to collect, catalogue and process materials used in the Biennale Arte 2022 within its premises.
The US pavilion is seeking to reshape attitudes towards the use of plastic – a material that was once revolutionary but is now deeply embedded in our built environment. The pavilion accomplishes this by filling its space with plastic works created by architecture professors, designers and artists.
“Aridly Abundant” is exploring architectural possibilities within arid landscapes, examining how future and contemporary technological practices can be integrated into environments such as dunes, wadis, desert plateaus and coastal plains, aligning with the biennale’s theme.
Looking at energy, the Bahrain pavilion is examining cooling infrastructures, highlighting the relationship between the kingdom’s extreme heat and humidity and the inherent need for comfort. The curators aim to demonstrate how adaptive measures and resource management can maximise cooling infrastructure while minimising its negative impact on the environment.
Decolonisation, identities and communities
Decolonisation and identities were omnipresent throughout the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale. These interconnected themes were organic responses from participating teams to urgent global issues, demonstrating that people from different countries are collectively confronting common challenges and that until now, the realm of architecture has been predominantly influenced by a singular and exclusive perspective, disregarding vast segments of humanity.
Known as Terra (earth), this pavilion explores all these concepts. The Golden Lion winner for Best National Participation at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale “proposes to rethink the past in order to design possible futures”. Reflecting on Brazil’s past, present and future, with a focus on the earth as the centre of discussion, the exhibition demonstrates that indigenous and Quilombola lands are the most preserved territories in the country. Covering the entire space with soil, the intervention gives visitors direct contact with indigenous and Quilombola traditions and with the Candomblé religious practice.
The Nordic Countries pavilion, which is representing Finland, Norway and Sweden, is showcasing Girjegumpi – an archive that collects and shares an expanding collection of over 500 rare titles and contemporary books exploring the indigenous Sámi culture and building practices. The Sámi people have inhabited northern Scandinavia for thousands of years. The collective library project explores the blending of traditional ways of life with the modern world.
The British pavilion, “Dancing Before the Moon”, has received special recognition in this year’s edition. It celebrates the diaspora by examining people, communities, rituals, social practices and everyday customs. By deconstructing the notion that architecture is solely rooted in buildings and economic structures, the intervention offers an alternative perspective on how cultures collectively relate to land, geography and social activities to hold space.
Titled “Everyone Belongs to Everyone Else”, it aims to present a unique and original portrayal of Italian architecture in the international context. Through nine site-specific interventions conducted from January to April across Italy, the exhibition highlighted the distinctive features of the Italian context leading up to the biennale’s opening.
Focussed on social structures, the South African pavilion explores architectural representation through an exhibition titled “The Structure of a People”. It gathers artifacts crafted by lecturers and architecture students to symbolise the structures of their respective schools or universities.
This pavilion examines architecture’s future, present and past through the lens of an international Trade Fair held in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977. This trade fair was a result of non-aligned cooperation between Yugoslavia and Nigeria.