A view of the Grand Canal in Venice
Sotheby’s Magazine

Building a Better Future

By Camilla Purdon
The belated 17th Venice Architecture Biennale is addressing themes of cohabitation that are vital in a post-Covid world

E ver since the Venice Architecture Biennale was inaugurated in 1980, its main agenda has been to propose and showcase architectural solutions to contemporary societal, humanistic and technological issues. The 17th edition, originally planned for 2020 and currently scheduled to open on 22 May 2021, sets out to explore the question “How will we live together?” – a spatial, political and social dilemma that has acquired a far deeper and more urgent relevance since the title was announced in the pre-Covid era of July 2019.

As curator Hashim Sarkis told The Architect’s Newspaper: “It may indeed be a coincidence that we asked the question a few months before the pandemic hit. However, the same reasons that led us to ask this question (climate crisis, massive population displacements, political polarisation, and growing racial, social and economic inequalities) have led us to this pandemic.”

The Norman Foster Foundation’s prototype Droneport shell at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.  

At the time of writing, the International Exhibition is anticipated to feature 112 invited participants, together with 63 national participations and 15 collateral events. “It will be interesting to see how each participant, in such an unusual year, has been able to look beyond their own national borders,” Sarkis has observed, “especially through the discussions and meetings on digital platforms, and how these initiatives will then be absorbed into the design and realisation of the exhibits and pavilions.”

In the meantime, while we wait to discover how the world’s leading architecture event will ultimately play out, tantalising preview content – in the form of videos, podcasts, images and a Spotify playlist – is being released daily via the Biennale’s online channels, as part of the digital project Biennale Architettura Sneak Peek.


Must-See Pavillions

Great Britain, Giardini

Via a series of immersive installations, The Garden of Privatised Delights will invite visitors to engage in the debate around the privatisation of public space in Britain today: from pubs to playgrounds, the high street, facial recognition technology and beyond.

Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden and Finland), Giardini

With a view to tackling some of the societal and environmental challenges facing today’s world, What We Share will present a model for adaptable cohousing, enabling visitors to tour a conceptual apartment complex with shared amenities constructed from timber components.

Uzbekistan, Arsenale

Representing Uzbekistan’s debut participation at the Architecture Biennale, Mahalla: Urban Rural Living will explore a traditional form of urban rural living found in Tashkent, considering whether these low-rise/high-density structures could offer a sustainable and ecological model for urban society elsewhere.

United States, Giardini

Featuring a monumental site-specific installation on the pavilion’s facade, American Framing will present the architecture of wood framing: the most common construction system in the US, yet an architectural element that has been mostly overlooked by historical and contemporary discourse.

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