The amount of people living in cities is increasing at rapid speed and demographers expect that 80% of the total global population will be a city dweller by 2050. So how can designers successfully guide these drastic changes? The 5th International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam (IABR) starts from the premise that without cities there is no future. By means of conferences, lectures, debates, films and small-scale implementations, alternative ways for making cities are being sought.

Once an architectural paradise, Europe now struggles with vacant buildings and lack of funding to realise new projects. Architects are feeling the effects of the economic crisis stronger than ever. The hand-on approach of urbanist duo Elma van Boxtel and Kristian Koreman (ZUS) is perhaps the most attractive part of the IABR. ZUS are the initiators of a project to enliven an abandoned building block close to Rotterdam's station. With only limited resources, they have transformed the area in and around the building with interventions such as an elevated walkway, rooftop crops, and temporary pop-up restaurants. The consumer is the catalyst in this 'Test Site Rotterdam'.

A zigzag route through Rotterdam centre connects the Test Site Rotterdam with the main exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture institute (NAi). Along the route, in the hidden courtyards and alleyways of Rotterdam, a diversity of small-scale interventions such a soap bubble pavilion and the Nature on Demand installation try to throw new light on the potential of these discrete urban hotspots that often remain unnoticed by citizens.

The main exhibition at the NAi, `Making City`, is a dense conurbation of models, movies and drawings focused on architects and their relationship with the authorities. An extensive series of research projects show proposals of how to transform cities such as the Nile City, Zurich and Delhi, but also quirky strategies sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment to vitalise new urban areas such as Amsterdam`s Zuidas, Haagse Havens, and Eindhoven's new Brainport city district. After all, a biennale is fun, and this lighthearted approach might bring a bit of happiness to the overall melancholy mood of Dutch architects.

TAGS: ROTTERDAM, DUTCH ARCHITECTURE