Blurring the boundaries between society and nature, this year’s International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam calls for a new approach to city-making, under the curation of Dutch landscape architect Dirk Sijmons. The theme, Urban by Nature, is explored through 96 projects in the main exhibition site at the Kunsthal, next door at the Natural History Museum, and in city-wide installations and interventions laid on to coincide with the IABR.
The Kunsthal’s five exhibitions are designed by Herman Verkerk, Paul Kuipers and Michiel Zegers, with graphics by Experimental Jetset. There’s an imaginative use of pale timber raised beds (popular with vegetal growers) filled with moss, floor-to-ceiling tree trunks, and boxes of stone and sand. This ‘nature’ is juxtaposed with stainless steel shelving with exhibition boards attached, with the most eye-catching graphics being an eco-urban timeline on a vertically striped wall.
The Natural History Museum’s show, Pure Resilience, attempts to illustrate how resilient the natural world can be in the city. The centrepiece is the faithful reconstruction of a waterborne nest that had been made by a local swan out of plastic and other urban detritus.
Now in its second year, the ZigZagCity architecture festival is an alternative tour of the city past some delightfully quirky interventions, with the 5km route marked out in purple ribbon by Studio VollaersZwart. A good place to start is at Luchtsingel, the much-loved yellow wooden pedestrian walk-way, which has been extended since its launch at the previous biennale. It’s the work of architects Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman of ZUS.
Another Zigzag offering is the group of shiny red shop dummies posing along the water’s edge in front of some smart 1970s terraced housing. These figures are sunbathing, swimming and fishing, in an effort to inspire locals to do the same.
Meanwhile, in the central neighbourhood of Blaakse Bos, Piet Blom's curious 1984 Cube Houses have had a landscaping make-over. Landscape architects Landlab have decked out the walkways with hundreds of potted plants to create a ‘green route’ from the Binnenrotte to the Oudehaven.
This route takes visitors past Rotterdam studio MVRDV’s vast and impressive Markthal. Billed as the Netherland’s first indoor market, it opens on 1 October. The Netherlands Tourist Bureau is expecting it to attract 50,000 tourists a year.
On a more modest level, the temporary pavilion commissioned by Het Nieuwe Institut back in Museum Park hopes to inspire debate about future living conditions. Bjarne Mastenbroek, founder of Rotterdam architects SeARCH, asked himself: 'What is the minimum you need for maximum quality of life?' His answer is Yourtopia, a lawn-covered dome whose interiors are empty except for a centrepiece of lush foliage below the skylight.
IABR’s director George Brugmans is already mulling 2016’s theme: the next economy. 'Design can help us find alternative routes to the future,' he believes.