Seeking inspiration is a vital part of my creative work. This is one of the reasons why I love art fairs. To see artists and designers use their individual mediums to explore the many issues with the modern world never fails to reinvigorate my spirit and give birth to fresh ideas. Though this year was a particularly difficult one for travel with the restrictions slowly lifting I was fortunate enough to visit the 17th Venice Architecture Biennial and I thought that this year particularly it would be important to share the highlights and experiences.

This year’s exhibition, titled “How will we live together?”, is curated by Hashim Sarkis and organized by La Biennale di Veneziaand and is open to the public until 21st November 2021 at the Giardini and Arsenale venues.

The architects invited to participate in the Biennale Architettura 2020 are encouraged to include other professions and constituencies—artists, builders, and craftspeople, but also politicians, journalists, social scientists, and everyday citizens. In effect, the Biennale Architettura 2020 asserts the vital role of the architect as both cordial convener and custodian of the spatial contract.”

The question, “How will we live together?” is as much a social and political question as a spatial one. Every generation asks it and answers it differently. More recently rapidly changing social norms, growing political polarization, climate change, and vast global inequalities are making us ask this question more urgently and at different scales than before. In parallel, the weakness of the political models being proposed today compels us to put space first and, perhaps look at the way architecture shapes inhabitation for potential models for how we could live together.

This year’s Biennale was inspired by new kinds of problems that the world is putting in front of architecture, but it is also inspired by the emerging activism of young architects and the radical revisions being proposed by the profession of architecture to take on these challenges. But more than ever, architects are called upon to propose alternatives. As citizens, we mobilize our skills to bring people together to resolve complex problems. As artists, we defy the inaction that comes from uncertainty to ask “What if?”. And as builders, we draw from our bottomless well of optimism. The confluence of roles in these nebulous times can only make our agency stronger and, we hope, our architecture more beautiful. With this I would like to showcase some of my favorite exhibits.

1. SECOND ACT by Maarten Baas

Four long red curtains, suspended from the fourth floor, the courtyard and the water gate conceal a performance whose plot is unknown. “Second Act” is the name of this site-specific installation by Dutch artist and designer Maarten Baas (in collaboration with set designer Theun Mosk), on the occasion of the Architecture Biennale. On the fourth floor you can also visit “Sweepers”, an exhibition that is part of the famous Real-Time Clocks series.

2. Spanish pavilion


The Spanish Pavilion is a rumination on ideas of doubt. “Uncertainty is a cabinet of curiosities; a wide range of unorthodox objects not found in traditional conceptions of architecture that will lead us to explore new territories,” the curators said in a statement. The physical realization is a floating chamber of thousands of pieces of paper, suspended in the air in an immersive installation. The papers are answers to the question of the biennale, and are the proposals for living together chosen from an open call to architects around the country.

3. Making Worlds

Globalization has left us with much to be desired. No longer patiently waiting for cosmopolitics to rise to the occasion, the architectural imaginary is projecting better worlds: the world as a vital unity, as one megacity; the world where nature and infrastructure are intertwined; the world that recovers its biodiversity and natural history; the world that offers up mineral and ephemeral elements to enrich our lives and our consciousness; the world where we give formal expression to the hidden systems that need to be protected and nurtured.

4. Obsidian Rain

Obsidian Rain is a transposed section of the Mbai cave in Kenya, which was inhabited in the middle of the twentieth century by anti-colonial freedom fighters who used it as a commune chamber to plan their resistance. The installation consists of a collection of obsidian stone hanging from the ceiling with sisal rope. Beneath it is a table meant to host discussions about the environment and the state of the architectural discipline in Kenya, the African continent, and beyond, among other relevant topics. The project here is not confined to the often innocuous activities of a conventional museum building or its politics that often provide little freedom to overtly challenge the status quo of the prevailing times. A (re)construction of sort of this age-old institution and the practice of architecture itself within the African context; while still in our own way contributing to the global consciousness and discourse surrounding the new geological age we live in, the Anthropocene.

5. Magic Queen

Magic Queen is a hybrid environment incorporating and fusing biological systems with organic materials and machines, creating an ecosystem of empathy and coexistence. It explores the relationship among natural elements, technology, and living systems favoring the creation of an ecology of non-human subjects. It is a built habitat that can restore and nurture itself, redefining the role of living systems in is a performative 3D-printed soil robotic garden. Sensors respond and machine learning creates continuous feedback among sensing, virtualizing, and induced change. Its inhabitable space combines visual, auditory, olfactory, and haptic features to capture the sensual experience of this new, mediated form of nature. Nothing in it could exist without the presence of the other: interconnectivity in biological entities.

6. Grove

Grove is a gathering place created by soaring floating columns and cloud-like canopies. Lightweight digitally fabricated meshwork spires, spheres, and clouds are suspended from the ceiling. A vast array of speakers embedded within this forest form a 3D soundscape by Amsterdam-based collaborator Salvador Breed. Whispering sound and hovering ghostly emanations of movement and light are grouped around a central opening. A circular screen at the core reveals a film by London-based Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones exploring worlds in formation. The Arsenale environment is twinned with another interactive environment entitled Meander, located in Cambridge, Canada. The film expands the space of Grove with a virtual exploration of Meander’s interwoven layers.

7. Make a Space for My Body

Make a Space for My Body presents three anthropometrically scaled spaces. Through materiality, spatial properties, and formal expression, the modules engage in a direct dialogue with the historic exhibition space of La Biennale, incorporating the surrounding building envelope into the displayed project. The installation aims to enrich the architectural experience without diminishing the essence of the valuable existing space. With the human body as a guideline, the modules are given shape according to programmatic needs of solitude or community. Their clear geometry promotes the subtle nuances of the surrounding space. An accentuated materiality is driven by the specific properties of wool and wood, with the two materials paired and refined into climatized forms to make spaces for bodies. In each module the materials are manipulated slightly differently, with techniques derived from vernacular traditions.

8. Material Culture: Rethinking The Physical Substrate For Living Together

The material substance of architecture provides the physical substrate on which we live together. Yet the materiality and materialization of buildings face severe challenges. Construction ranks among the human activities that consume materials the most and is significantly detrimental to the environment. At the same time, the United Nations predicts an increasing need for new buildings in the foreseeable future. Explorations into a new material culture in architecture are, therefore, necessary. Nature provides just such a paradigmatic alternative: almost all biological, load-bearing structures are made from fiber composites. Fibrous construction offers a profoundly different material approach for building human habitats in the future. Maison Fiber—the central component of this installation— is a radical model of a material future for architecture. Developed for this Biennale Architettura 2021, it is the first inhabitable, multistory, fibrous structure of its kind, made entirely from glass and carbon fiber composites. Each building element is individually tailored using a robotic fabrication process, resulting in a distinctive expression while using a minimal amount of material.