Venice Architecture Biennale 2023: who, when, and what to look forward to

As we start gearing up for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, we explore what’s in store for visitors at the world's famous celebration of building design

Crowd of people at a past Venice Biennale: In preparation for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, we revisit the US Pavilion's celebrations at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum during the 2008 festival, as reported in Wallpaper's December issue of the same year
In preparation for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, we revisit the US Pavilion's celebrations at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum during the 2008 festival, as reported in Wallpaper's December issue of the same year
(Image credit: James Mollison)

The Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 is almost upon us, and anticipation is running high. This year's theme, 'The Laboratory of the Future’, caters to a wide range of topics to be unpicked – as it should – promising exciting debate, spearheaded by this year's curator Lesley Lokko

The full list of contributors has just been announced revealing a mix of established names and fresh additions to the global scene - from David Adjaye and Francis Kere, to Dream the Combine and Cave_bureau. A total of 89 contributors will form the main show (and over half of them are from Africa or the African Diaspora), which will be divided into six sections - all of which having obtained a sustainability credential, flagging the importance of rethinking the festival model towards a more environmentally friendly future. At the same time, and for the first time ever, the events will include the Biennale College Architettura, which will run from 25 June to 22 July 2023, as fifteen renowned international tutors - such as Marina Otero, Nana Biamah-Ofosu, Sarah de Villiers and Manijeh Verghese - will work with fifty students, early career practitioners and academics from around the world during a four-week teaching programme. 

Dream the Combine's Jennifer Newsom and Thomas Carruthers

Dream the Combine's Jennifer Newsom and Thomas Carruthers, shot for the January 2022 issue of Wallpaper*

(Image credit: Hugo Yu)

Importantly, Lokko sees the 18th iteration of what is probably the grandest festival of the built environment in the world, as 'an agent of change.' 'In architecture particularly, the dominant voice has historically been a singular, exclusive voice, whose reach and power ignores huge swathes of humanity — financially, creatively, conceptually — as though we have been listening and speaking in one tongue only,' she says. 'The ‘story’ of architecture is therefore incomplete. Not wrong, but incomplete. It is in this context particularly that exhibitions matter.'

Smithsonian National Museum

Sir David Adjaye in front of the Smithsonian National Museum he designed, shot for the February 2016 issue of Wallpaper*

(Image credit: Photography: Stefan Ruiz)

Meanwhile, spread across the Giardini park, the Arsenale grounds and several other locations in Venice, a wealth of responses from different countries from across the globe, as well as various collateral events, are set to offer a rich backdrop for more, deep architectural conversation. The world's biggest architecture festival is about to kick off – opening to the public on 20 May, and running through to Sunday 26 November 2023.

Venice Architecture Biennale 2023: the main exhibition

portrait of lesley lokko

Lesley Lokko, shot for the August 2022 issue of Wallpaper*

(Image credit: TINO CHIWARIRO)

Curated by Lokko, the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 main exhibition theme, titled 'The Laboratory of the Future’, puts Africa in the spotlight. ‘Africa is the laboratory of the future,’ Lokko said during the Venice Biennale press conference in May 2022. ‘We are the continent with the world’s youngest population, the fastest urbanisation, growing at a rate of four per cent per year, often at the expense of local ecosystems – so we are at the forefront of climate change, too. Yes, the show will focus on Africa, but we are not only talking about Africa – we use it as a place in order to try and understand everything everywhere. After all, the Biennale itself is a workshop for the future.’ 

The architect and academic, who is in the process of setting up the brand new African Futures Institute in Accra, a new architecture research institute and school in Ghana, drew on her extensive research and address book to discuss important, timely issues of diversity and inclusion in architecture, the role of African culture and power in the world – and beyond.  

Architect Sumayya Vally wearing colourful long dress and shot outside Johannesburg

Architect Sumayya Vally outside Johannesburg, shot for the May 2021 issue of Wallpaper*

(Image credit: Mikhael Subotzky)

The full list of participants at the main show includes Adjaye Associates; atelier masōmī; basis; Cave_bureau; Hood Design Studio; Ibrahim Mahama; Kéré Architecture; Koffi & Diabaté Architectes; MASS design group; Olalekan Jeyifous; SOFTLAB@PSU; Studio Sean Canty; Sumayya Vally and Moad Musbahi; Thandi Loewenson; Theaster Gates Studio; urban american city (urbanAC); AD—WO; AMAA Collaborative Architecture Office For Research And Development; Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation; autonoma; BDR bureau and carton123 architecten; DAAR - Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal; David Wengrow and Eyal Weizman with Forensic Architecture and Nebelivka project; Dream the Combine; Dualchas; Estudio A0; Flores & Prats Architects; Gbolade Design Studio; Gloria Cabral and Sammy Baloji with Cécile Fromont; Grandeza Studio; Huda Tayob; Kate Otten Architects; Killing Architects; Le laboratoire d'architecture; Liam Young; Low Design Office; MMA Design Studio; Neri&Hu Design and Research Office; Office 24-7 Architecture and Lemon Pebble Architects; orizzontale; Rahul Mehrotra with Ranjit Hoskote; SCAPE Landscape Architecture; Stephanie Hankey, Michael Uwemedimo and Jordan Weber; Studio Barnes; Suzanne Dhaliwal; Sweet Water Foundation; The Funambulist; Twenty Nine studio; Ursula Biemann; White Arkitekter; Wolff Architects; ZAO/standardarchitecture; Studio of Serge Attukwei Clottey; and Sweet Water Foundation. 

portrait of architect tara gbolade

Architect Tara Gbolade, shot for the January 2021 issue of Wallpaper*

(Image credit: Elena Heatherwick)

Complementing the main shows, a new Venice Architecture Biennale feature will be launched, titled 'Carnival'. This will include lectures, discussions, film and performances, crucial in drawing in the public and enhancing the dialogue between architecture and the world. 'Conceived as a space of liberation rather than a spectacle or entertainment, Carnival offers a space for communication in which words, views, perspectives, and opinions are traded, heard, analysed, and remembered,' Lokko said at the recent Biennale press conference. Carnival is supported by Rolex, Exclusive Partner and Official Timepiece of the Exhibition.

Applied Arts Pavilion Special Project

This special section of the exhibition is returning this year with a focus on 'the ways in which this distinctive architectural style was initially developed and employed as a tool to support colonial rule before being adapted by West African architects to promote the excitement and possibilities of the period that followed Ghana becoming the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence in 1957.' The show, titled 'Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Power in West Africa' is curated by Christopher Turner (V&A) with Nana Biamah-Ofosu and Bushra Mohamed (AA). 

'Through close study of the work of the Department of Tropical Studies and its collaboration with KNUST, the V&A’s Venice presentation explores the ways in which Tropical Modernism was adapted by Ghanaian architects to promote Nkrumah’s Pan-African ideals during a transitional moment in which new freedoms were won and a break with the colonial past was articulated through architecture. It considers the power of architecture, both as a means of colonial suppression and a symbol of nascent political freedom, as well as exploring the specific legacy of Tropical Modernism in West Africa,' said Dr Christopher Turner, keeper of art, architecture, photography & design at V&A and the exhibition's lead curator. 

Venice Architecture Biennale 2023: the national pavilions

Toprak Kala, also known as the 'Fortress of Earth', is an ancient city located in the Kyzylkum Desert of Uzbekistan. This photo, taken from the top of one of the city's defensive walls, offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding desert and the remains of the city's ancient buildings. - Image courtesy of ACDF, photo by ©Vyacheslav Pak.

From the Uzbekistan Pavilion research: Toprak Kala, also known as the 'Fortress of Earth', is an ancient city located in the Kyzylkum Desert of Uzbekistan. This photo, taken from the top of one of the city's defensive walls, offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding desert and the remains of the city's ancient buildings. 

(Image credit: Vyacheslav Pak)

The Venice Architecture Biennale main show is always framed by the multi-layered responses and the variety of the national participations – some presented in dedicated pavilions in the Giardini park, and others spread across different venues all around Venice, instigating a journey of exploration for visitors (often in more senses than one, as they navigate the city's labyrinthine network of canals and alleys in search of shows). 

team composed of architects

Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham will head the British Pavilion participation 

(Image credit: Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay, Sumitra Upham)

Some countries have already confirmed their teams of academics, designers, architects and curators, heading their dedicated show. For instance, the British Pavilion will be led by a group of creatives – Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham – although specific plans are still to be announced. The Danish Pavilion, curated by Josephine Michau and in collaboration with landscape architectural firm Schønherr, will be titled Coastal Imaginaries, and promises to focus on climate change, and specifically the rising sea levels. And the Uzbekistan National Pavilion, titled Unbuild Together, will be courtesy of France- and Morocco-based Studio KO, which will delve into 'the ruins of the qalas, ancient fortresses of the Karakalpakstan, heritage of the Khorezm civilization, and the traditional bricks used for its construction'. More are due to be unveiled in the coming weeks. 

The Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 is on from 20 May to Sunday 26 November 2023 (with a pre-opening vernissage on the 18 and 19 May) (opens in new tab) 

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).