It was inevitable and necessary that an architecture Triennale in 2016, especially one located in a city – Oslo – currently being transformed by an unprecedented growth in population, tourism and immigration, would seek to address the urban conditions and architectural manifestations provoked by the refugee crisis, mass migration and the more transient way people live now. As Carlos Minguez Carrasco, one of the Triennale’s five curators, says, 'we didn’t want to ask what the most important topics in the schools of architecture are today or try to present the best practices of the past two years, we wanted to look at the most important things happening in the news and in our daily lives right now. We wanted to look at what happens to us when we travel, live, move?'
'After Belonging', as this year’s edition is titled, seeks to investigate what it means to belong and the different ‘ways we stay in transit’, the after referring not to a ‘condition of post-belonging or nostalgia’ but rather to the quest or pursuit by all humans to belong somewhere, or somehow. 'Circulation allows greater access to territories and commerce but not everyone circulates in the same way or out of choice,' said Marina Otero Verzier, another of the curators, at the launch. 'Circulation also promotes growing inequalities for groups engaged in precarious transit.'
These inequalities and this precariousness are exemplified in two dense exhibitions that require a great deal of reading and a few visits for maximum impact. One at the DOGA (Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture) called 'On Residence' looks at architecture across different scales, from real estate markets to large processes of urbanisation. Pieces, or what the curators call ‘evidence’ or ‘speculations’, include a map that shows internal migrations within Colombia from rural areas to cities, a colourful digital visualisation of the globe that highlights the direct relationship between human migration and air pollution (toxic aerosol emissions created in the north provoke migration from the south to the north) and research on Luanda’s Isle of Pleasures, a resort where locals go to unwind that is becoming increasingly exclusive as it fills up with gated housing communities.
The second exhibition – 'In Residence' – is divided into ten case studies and five so-called ‘intervention strategies’ by architect teams around the world on which work began one year ago and that are set to outlive the Triennale. They include practical projects such as a guide for recently arrived immigrants (made by immigrants) and an apple press made with and for the refugees living in the Torshov reception centre in Oslo for use in an orchard nearby; there’s even an app called bnbOPEN that seeks to match refugees with Oslo hosts.
The most engaging piece is a 15-minute film with an Airbnb host called Mark who has shed all belongings and finds it cheaper to sleep in a different hotel every night than stay in one of his own homes. His fictional back stories (with accompanying photos) for the owners of each home are imaginative and surreal. 'All these stagings are a good definition of our media- and fiction-based reality, and how our lives are today,' says Minguez Carrasco. 'The idea of home is destabilised, that for us is the connection to architecture.'