It’s a straightforward question: How will we live together in the future?
But there are few straightforward answers to be found amongst the 46 national pavilions that make up the world’s largest architecture event.
That’s partly because the problems presented at the show: climate change, capitalism and inequality, sexism and racism are all complex and interconnected.
And the Biennale’s curator also links them to the current pandemic.
“The question how will we live together was asked because of climate change, because of deep political polarization, because of issues of increasing inequalities across the globe. These are the causes of the pandemic and these are the reasons we ask this question,” Hashim Sarkis said.
After working and living together, Sarkis believes one important lesson from the pandemic is surviving together.
“The need to rethink the notion of common good including public health, that I think is a deep lesson that we have to learn from the pandemic. And architecture participates in shaping public health,” he says.
“Hospital of the Future” is a particularly timely installation for this coronavirus era.
It questions the role of healthcare institutions and their future, claiming there is increasing evidence the Western model of healthcare may have reached its limits.
Ireland’s pavilion, titled “Entanglement,” is critical of the country’s energy-rapacious data economy.
“The data centre industry in Ireland in 2027 will consume approximately one-third of all electricity in Ireland. So this project is about saying that the cloud is an extractive process that requires incredible amounts of electricity that is usually harvested or constructed from fossil fuels,” co-curator Donal Lally said.
Spain’s “Uncertainty” pavilion creates a misleading feeling of happiness and light out of suspended pieces of paper – but it’s really about the maltreatment of migrants.
“The project dignifies the situation of people who are in an illegal situation, they are just called illegals. They are not criminals but they are treated as such. They are people fleeing terrible situations,” Sofía Piñero, its co-curator, said.
Germany presents us with what seems to be a bleak dystopia – it’s 2038 when spaces have emptied out altogether, and only QR codes can offer us any definition.
But the curators have given it the title “The New Serenity.” They present visitors with a series of films that tell the stories of a better world using the knowledge and visions of a team of international experts in architecture, art, ecology, economy, philosophy, politics, science and technology.
More colourful projects such as “Museo Aero Solar” have made their way to the main pavilion.
Realised in Buenos Aires, this balloon is part of a growing collection of ‘Floating Museums’, which invite everyone to reduce, reuse and recycle.
And other projects such as “Resurrecting the Sublime” ask visitors to enter a glass box and use all their senses to get a glimpse of an extinct flower, lost to colonial activity in Hawaii: the Hibiscadelphus Wilderianus Rock.
Some projects, such as “City to Dust”, are a direct response to what Venice experienced during lockdown: the empty city’s beauty became visible again due to the lack of large groups of visitors.
It wants people to reflect on the future of tourism for Venice, as every step taken by tourists – and even visitors to the Biennale – could potentially slowly destroy the place.
Visitors are asked to walk across the breaking terrazzo tiles to understand their part in the dynamic of Venice and its tourists.
The 17th edition of the Biennale is open to the public until 21 November 2021.