Early Venice Standouts Build a Brighter Future

For the 15th International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, which is shaping up to be particularly intriguing, curator and 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Alejandro Aravena seems to be favoring exhibits that tackle some of today’s biggest social challenges, such as economic inequality, energy consumption, public space, and natural disaster, all under the umbrella theme of “Reporting From the Front”.


Late last week, the Norman Foster Foundation unveiled its biennale contribution: a full-scale Droneport that could be used to house a network of drones delivering medical and other life-saving supplies to underdeveloped areas of Africa. The pilot project is slated to launch later this year in Rwanda, comprising three buildings that are meant to service 44 percent of the country. By 2030, the foundation's hope is that every small town in Africa will have its own Droneport. "The Droneport project is about doing ‘more with less’, capitalizing on the recent advancements in drone technology—something that is usually associated with war and hostilities—to make an immediate life-saving impact in Africa,” explains Sir Norman Foster.


The temporary or informal structures that arise following natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, or during urban transformation, are seen in the U.S. and Brazil pavilions. The theme of Chile’s pavilion, “Against the Tide”, is the transformation of how people live in the nation’s southern central region, which is very rural. Architect and curator Juan Roman selected 15 student projects—such as rest stops, pavilions, and public areas—using local or reused materials to explore how architecture can help people living in precarious conditions.


An emphasis on how traditional crafts can support design during economic unrest and decline punctuates several exhibitions, including the first collaboration between the Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum. At the Arsenale, museum’s "A World of Fragile Parts" puts a positive spin on the much stigmatized idea of copies. Examining the threats faced by global heritage sites—natural disaster, neglect, violence, urbanization—the exhibition explores the 200-year history of copying cultural artifacts and how this practice can aid in preserving visual languages.


The Turkish Pavilion is titled Darzanà and features a massive sculpture taking the form of a boat, Batarda, constructed of reused materials found in Istanbul's abandoned dockyard. By connecting Istanbul and Venice as two ports with a shared architectural heritage of shipsheds (called “volti” in Italian and “göz” in Turkish), the project questions whether it’s possible to transform borders and areas of conflict into spaces of consensus.


Sound installation takes the spotlight at the Australian Pavilion, where the Australian Institute of Architects presents "The Pool" in the Venice Giardini, curated by Aileen Sage Architects with Michelle Tabet. Stories and narratives told by Australian cultural leaders—such as Olympic gold medal winning swimmers Ian Thorpe and Shane Gould, environmentalist and 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery, and fashion designers Romance Was Born—are projected around a physical pool, each one touching on a different way the concept of the pool impacts Australian society. Steel-framed lounge chairs punctuate the space, designed in collaboration with Elliat Rich.


As part of the GAA Foundation’s exhibition "Time Space Existence" at the Palazzo Bembo, Singapore-based firm WOHA's "Fragments of an Urban Future" takes on some of the urban challenges of today's megacities (unprecedented population growth and housing needs, accelerated climate change, and the need to preserve biodiversity). A selection of WOHA’s most recent work shows how the firm’s vertical ecosystems transform these challenges into amazing models for sustainable building.


“In Therapy: Nordic Countries Face to Face”, the exhibition of the Nordic Pavilion, compares three Scandinavian countries—Finland, Norway, and Sweden—for a deep dive into the region’s contemporary architecture and what it signifies for each one’s evolving culture. Curator David Basulto culled 500 open-call submissions down to 300 projects to form a contemporary architectural survey. Among them, nine key projects represent typologies with social underpinnings, including Foundational Architecture, which addresses basic needs like shelter, healthcare and education. The exhibit borrows Abraham Maslow’s 1954 “Hierarchy of Needs’” as a lens to examine projects that have been instrumental in constructing contemporary Nordic society.


The biennale opens on May 28 and will run through November 27, 2016.

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