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Originally written for Mood Board Magazine:

Upon entering, the first room epitomizes the focus of this year’s Architecture Biennale, REPORTING FROM THE FRONT. The entry room at the Arsenale is a textural haven comprising 100 tons of plasterboard and metal studs- waste material repurposed from last year’s art Biennale exhibitions. Despite the wide array of topics covered, the unifying undercurrent throughout the Biennale was using design and architecture to achieve greater awareness of the varied political and social issues around the world.

Biennale Architettura 2016 “Making of” (opening room)

“If Architecture is the most political of the arts, then the Architecture Biennale must acknowledge it.” – Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale di Venezia

Alejandro Aravena sought to create a platform to discuss the more political and social aspects of architecture. There are varied interpretations of “politics in architecture” ranging from issues of sustainability, the refugee crisis, private vs. public space, and conflict analysis to name a few.

Of the first encounters at the Arsenale, Rahul Mehortra and Felipe Vera address ephemeral cities specifically studying Kumbh Mela, a festival in India that occurs every twelve years and requires the rapid construction of a temporary settlement. This urban condition, accommodating all the necessary infrastructure and using recyclable materials that are easily attained, goes up for two months and is poetically “washed away” at the end by the monsoons and river banks flooding. This condition serves as an example for architects to address the growing issue of rapid urban expansion due to massive population increases migrating to them. It additionally serves as an example for ways in which to do so in an environmentally responsible way.

Rahul Mehrotra and Felipe Vera, Kumbh Mela The Ephemeral Mega City

German group BeL ARCHITECTS’ project NEUBAU addresses the housing crisis in Germany and also the cultural integration of refugees and other migrants. They propose “a second generation of incremental urbanization” (Aravena 224) using multi-story Corbusier-ian “Domino House” like structures that focus on the collective rather than the individual. Such structures accommodate multiple typologies and can additionally allow for the application of cultural expression. This project is especially relevant to the influx of refugees to Germany and provides a possible solution for the increasing housing crisis.

BeL Sozietät für Architektur, NEUBUA

The Kuwait Pavilion, “Between East & West: A Gulf,” curated by Hamed Bukhamseen and Ali Ismail Karimi, reflects upon the political situation and crucial role of the islands that exist in the Persian Gulf proposing a master plan to create a united Gulf.

Hamed Bukhamseen and Ali Ismail Karimi, Between East & West: A Gulf, Kuwait Pavilion

At the Giardini, the Spanish Pavilion “UNFINISHED”, which won this year’s Golden Lion, curated by Iñaqui Carnicero and Carlos Quintáns, provides a powerful photographic array in its central space of unfinished or abandoned architectural projects in Spain arising from the economic crisis. It reflects a lack of consideration of the importance of time in architecture. It also presents Spanish projects from the last few years that have learned from this recent experience, understanding that architecture is constantly evolving and is never truly completed.

Iñaqui Carnicero and Carlos Quintáns, Spanish Pavilion

Forensic Architecture, a London based agency, architecturally investigates human rights violations in armed conflict situations. They use before and after photographs and video footage to construct war scenes supported by explosive cloud analysis to determine what kind of bombs are used. Their presentation at the Biennale shows four of their recent investigations. Included in this is a reconstruction and representation of a room in a building bombed by the CIA drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan on March 30th 2012. They were able to demarcate every trace of the explosion and identify the location of the people killed in this room based on a 43 second video clip.

Forensic Architecture

The United States Pavilion focused on the regeneration of Detroit. It included twelve speculative proposals for four sites in the city. Among these was a project for Mexicantown in Detroit by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects. It is a programmatic proposal rather than a building proposal made up of several centers that promote community organizations and public spaces. The architects use architectural tools as a means of translating the richness of Mexicantown in a representational way.

Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Mexicantown: A Liminal Blur, United States Pavilion

As a very welcome respite after walking through this year’s Architecture Biennale, the Australian Pavilion curated by Amelia Holliday, Isabelle Toland and Michelle Tabet studies the pool, specifically its social and cultural importance and how it operates in the public sphere. The pool, a symbol of historical segregation and triumph in the personal stories that accompany the pavilion, is used as a tool for unification bringing visitors to the pavilion together around the “piazza” for a multisensory designed experience.

Amelia Holliday, Isabelle Toland and Michelle Tabet, Australian Pavilion

This Biennale succeeded in highlighting diverse aspects of political and socially responsible architecture. The architects and designers provide alternate perspectives and creative solutions that bring awareness to a multitude of social and political issues.

To conclude, the main image of the Biennale this year depicts archeologist Maria Reiche atop her ladder to study the Nazca lines in South America. With limited resources, her solution to achieve height over the terrain, while taking care to minimize her impact on it, shows inventiveness in spite of her limitations. This image serves to further emphasize the theme of the exhibitions. No matter what constraints, architects continue to use creative solutions to address greater issues and use design as a means of sharing their point of view, providing new perspectives.

*Aravena, A., 2016. Reporting from the Front: 15th International Architecture Exhibition. Marsilio, Venezia.

Additional Images:

T+E+A+M, Detroit Reassembly Plant, U.S. Pavilion
Pita & Bloom, The New Zocalo, U.S. Pavilion
The Nordic Pavilion
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Waterfront Atlas
Lord Norman Foster, The Proposal of Droneports for Africa

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