Tour the 2021 National Pavilions at Venice Architecture Biennale
Stuck at home? We got you. Our virtual tour of the 2021 National Pavilions at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale will help transport you to the avant-garde of contemporary architecture from across the globe
Varied and engaging as ever, the 2021 National Pavilions at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale tell a story of the current concerns of architecture and urbanism around the world. Spread across the Giardini park, the Arsenale grounds and several other locations in Venice, the national participations and responses to Hashim Sarkis’ seminal question ‘How Will We Live Together?’ are rich and multi-faceted. Topics range from challenges of the urban realm, technology, sustainability, migration and housing. Let the virtual tour begin!
In recent years, the British Pavilion has made some of the strongest political points at the Biennale, and 2021 is no different. ‘The Garden of Privatised Delights’ is a look at the growth and potential of ‘privatised public space’, suggesting it becomes a place for civic action, rather than just prescribed commercial activities. With a team including Public Works, VPPR, Unscene Architecture, The Decorators, and Built Works, ‘The Garden of Privatised Delights’ filters Orwell through Kafka, via Mass Observation and the long, long shadow of national pride and progressive spirit.
The 2021 Singapore Pavilion’s theme is summarised as ‘To Gather: the Architecture of Relationships’. An assemblage of 16 different installations by local studios, the exhibition examines the many and varied ways in which Singapore has evolved into a vertical urban landscape. Check out HABIT©AT, Atelier Hoko’s ode to the city’s street cats.
‘Entanglement’ is an installation that looks at Ireland’s role in the global data network. A massive structure out of steel that has been charred, crammed with cables and screens, represents the country’s increasing economic reliance on running massive data centres. Curated by the Annex collective, the installation explores ‘how a Facebook “like” in Malaysia can trigger the emission of heat from a server on the outskirts of Dublin’.
Brazil’s contribution, ‘Utopias of Common Life’, is a collaboration between Arquitetos Associados and Henrique Penha. Examining the role that architects play in generating and steering society towards often unachievable utopian visions. The country’s pavilion includes a number of immersive films, commissioned for the biennale and also available on YouTube.
A team led by Fabrice Aragno, Mounir Ayoub, Vanessa Lacaille, and Pierre Szczepski have created ‘Oræ – Experiences on the Border’, an exhibition and accompanying book that explores Switzerland’s historic role at the heart of Europe, bordered by five countries yet resolutely independent in spirit and politics. With Brexit and the pandemic giving borders fresh, often unwelcome, meanings, ‘Oræ’ compares the map with the feelings on the ground.
The stand-out exhibit in ‘Co-ownership of Action: Trajectories of Elements’, the display at the Japanese Pavilion curated by Kozo Kadowaki, is the disassembled parts of a prosaic Japanese post-war private house, carefully reduced to its constituent parts and shown alongside historic imagery of the life once lived inside it. Architect Jo Nagasaka shipped the structure half-way around the world, and it will ultimately be reassembled.
The Russian Pavilion was originally designed by architect Alexey Shchusev and opened to the public in 1914. A recent renovation, launched during this biennale, by the Russian/Japanese architecture studio KASA, respects Shchusev’s original architecture while rethinking the space. The generous ceiling heights of the Northern room make it a suitable home for large-scale installations, while the terrace overlooking the Venice lagoon is accessible once again, reaffirming the building’s relationship with its surroundings.
The German Pavilion imagines the future through a series of films which tell of an imperfect, although better, world, considering questions such as architecture’s role both systemically and holistically. The creators, collective 2038 (a team of architects, artists, ecologists, economists, scientists, politicians and writers, initiated in 2019), call their design the ‘Cloud Pavilion’, and the display is just that; a minimalist, empty space that exists in the digital realm through a series of barcodes on the walls.
Taiwan considers the question of how we will live together with five architectural projects: Siu Siu – Lab of Primitive Sense; Nature Monastery in Bali; Semi-ecosphere glass house for isolation and meditation; Lab of Primitive Perception; and The Forest BIG. The project, co-curated by Divooe Zein Architects and Double-Grass International Co, explores the effects of interaction between humans and nature.
Architects Helen & Hard worked with a group of residents to create the exhibition ‘What We Share’. The pavilion, a solid wood co-housing project created from open-source solid timber, can be produced locally and self-built, and encompasses both communal and semi-private areas.
South Korean Pavilion
Ryul Song and Christian Schweitzer of SUPA Architects were inspired by traditional Korean houses for their pavilion, which rethinks the original brick structure, transforming it into a domestic space with handmade hanji paper floors. A kitchen allows guests to make tea, served in Jeju onggi (traditional earthenware) cups by ceramicist Jeong Mi Sun, for an experience which blurs the lines between the domestic, public, exhibitionary, educational and formal.
For its 2021 National Pavilions edition, the UAE has composed ‘Wetland’, a display dedicated to an extensive research project into the UAE’s salt flats. Also known as sabkha, the salt flats are extensive, ecologically very rich areas that have been nominated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. In the pavilion, curators Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto of Dubai-based architecture firm Waiwai, present their work on producing a ‘groundbreaking, environmentally friendly cement alternative created from brine, super-saturated saltwater left over from industrial water desalination, inspired by the salt crystallisation patterns in the sabkha’.
The 2021 French Pavilion is titled ‘Communities At Work’. Focusing on the realities and challenges facing communities, the installation has been curated by Christophe Hutin. The presentation tells a story about what it’s like to ‘inhabit this world’ through video projections and photo visuals, with case studies spanning from Bordeaux to Soweto and Hanoi.
Celebrating and flagging the idea of inter-connectedness, the team at the Danish Pavilion has created a ‘cyclic water system that connects visitors, senses and surroundings’. ‘We are living in a time where we clearly experience the climate-related consequences of people having divided the world into separate units for centuries, without understanding that our actions have consequences many thousands of miles away. For better and for worse, with the current pandemic as a disturbing example. The aim of the Danish Pavilion is to create a space for a new experience of cohesion; where, with their own bodies, visitors can feel the connectedness between us all,’ says Marianne Krogh, the curator.
‘New Standards’, the Finnish participation to the 2021 National Pavilions, presents the story of Puutalo Oy (Timber Houses Ltd), ‘an industrial enterprise established in 1940 to address the Karelian refugee crisis, when some 420,000 people were displaced by war’. The company that came out of this crisis created a new model of factory-built housing and is today a pioneer in its field and the largest manufacturer of prefabricated wooden buildings in the world.
‘Who is We?’, asks Dutch Pavilion curator Francien van Westrenen, who worked on the colourful display in this contribution to the 2021 National Pavilions alongside architect Afaina de Jong and artist Debra Solomon. Responding to Hashim Sarkis’ main theme and question, this team ‘argues that current social and ecological urgencies demand that architects and urbanists regard “we” as a more pluralised pronoun that encompasses all humans and more-than-humans such’.
Australian Pavilions co-curators Jefa Greenaway and Tristan Wong have invited the country’s neighbouring nations of the Pacific to join their exhibition space at the Giardini of 2021 National Pavilions. Touching upon ideas of privilege, remoteness and cultural heritage, and titled ‘Inbetween’, the installation looks beyond Australia’s borders and brings together 20 projects from across Australia, Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia ‘to amplify the important role architecture can play in retaining and rediscovering lost cultural knowledge’.
Saudi Arabian Pavilion
The display coming from the nation of Saudi Arabia this year is composed of three parts, telling the story of encounters and life in three territories, the ‘Hotel’, the ‘Island’ and the ‘Home’. Three architects, Basmah Kaki, Hessa AlBader and Hussam Dakkak, are represented in the show, working alongside Brooklyn-based curators Uzma Z Rizvi and Murtaza Vali. ‘The exhibition traces the history of enclosures, examining how the built environment and urban fabric adapts to accommodate emergency conditions and how the meaning and use of such spaces shift over time,’ explain curators of the show, which is situated in the Arsenale rooms.
The US participation in the 2021 National Pavilions line-up is titled ‘American Framing’, and in a way, it does what it says on the tin. A large site-specific installation makes a comment on the architecture of wood framing – the most common construction system in the US. At the same time, the displays, curated by Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner, both University of Illinois Chicago professors and practising architects, delve deep into this American contribution to global architecture through furniture, building models, photography and more.
Curator Olga Subirós’ proposal for the Catalan Pavilion examines how architects can improve air pollution in modern cities and, consequently, make impactful change on two interconnected crises – global climate change and local public health. Starting with the city of Barcelona as a case of study, Catalan architecture firm 300.000 Km/s will present new cartographies for the city revealing specific actions that can be taken against air pollution in cities for an immediate positive impact. These cartographies will form the basis of an audiovisual installation that presents the vulnerabilities, impacts and opportunities of cities in relation to air pollution.
This year’s Scottish Pavilion will see communities from across the nation share dreams and ideas for their local areas in a post-pandemic world. Since the beginning of 2020, 30 people of all ages, from Annan, Edinburgh, Elgin, Dundee, Lerwick and Paisley, have worked with designers, architects and artists to examine the civic role of design and architecture today, and how it can have impactful change on their own communities. Their thoughts will be on display at the V&A Dundee and available to view online.
Commissioned by the Flanders Architecture Institute (VAi), Bovenbouw Architectuur will present the exhibition ‘Composite Presence’ in the Belgian Pavilion at this year’s biennale. The exhibition will feature a three-dimensional layout of a fictional yet recognisable Flemish urban environment made up of 50 different architecture project models made over the past 20 years by 45 offices. This model city evidences how a balanced architectural ecology is formed by different styles, functions and typologies coming together, offering an answer to the ever pertinent question – how can the city and architecture flourish together?
Austria’s Pavilion examines the rise of ‘platform urbanism’, or the reshaping of our physical cities by increasingly omnipresent digital platforms such as Facebook, Google and Amazon. Will digital platforms assume a higher status than cities, and how will these two organisational models relate to one another? Are we seeing the rise of a ‘platform urbanism’ for which virtual connections are more important than our lives in real space? These are the questions the pavilion’s curators, Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer, seek to integrate through a multimedia installation made from the hundreds of blog contributions written by a panel of chosen experts.
‘Mapping Festivities’ at the Pakistan Pavilion explores weddings in the Asian country. Seeing them ‘as festive events, saturated expression of cultural traditions, and institutions driving impact at social and urban scales, we investigate the shaadi hall (wedding hall), a unique architectural typology, born out of post-partition Pakistan through interventions to the colonial domestic villa project. Our research dissects the Pakistani wedding as a cultural tradition that activates a rich fabric of industries at a micro and macro scale,’ says curator Sara M Anwar. The on-site display contains video installation, which is complemented by an interactive interface on the pavilion’s website and a printed catalogue.
Titled ‘Square! Positively Shrinking’ and curated by Jiří Tintěra, Garri Raagmaa, Kalle Vellevoog, Martin Pedanik and Paulina Pähn, Estonia’s contribution sits within the vast halls of the Arsenale. Commissioned by the Estonian Centre for Architecture, the installation explores the future, looking into high-quality urban space and small towns, and the challenges to such towns of depopulation, as people move to larger city centres. ‘The causes of population decline are global, but the consequences are local. One way to combat this phenomenon is to focus on improving the quality of life of the population and strengthening local awareness and identity. Our message is that quality urban space has a key role to play in this, and cities and architects can do a lot,’ say the curators.
‘Testimonial Spaces’, the installation offered by Chile’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, is curated this year by Emilio Marín and Rodrigo Sepúlveda. The pavilion is focusing on stories of the José María Caro settlement – a housing project near Sanitago, from the late 1950s and early 1960s, that was ‘part of a carefully planned social integration process’, say the curators. The stories are told through 500 testimonies that have been transformed into 500 paintings and hang in a specially made timber structure within the grounds of the Arsenale.
As an example of how to live together, the Greek Pavilion curators Nikolaos Kalogirou, Maria Dousi, Dimitrios Thomopoulos, Dimitrios Kontaxakis, Sofoklis Kotsopoulos and Themistoklis Chatzigiannopoulos, take the city of Thessaloniki as their case study and focal point. ‘A typical example of a radical redesign of a multicultural city is the reconstruction of modern Thessaloniki, exactly a century ago,’ say the team through their manifesto. ‘At the core of this project is the “Boulevard of the Society of Nations”, which was materialised in a different manner from the one envisioned by its creators. Today, with the name “Aristotle Axis”, it emerges as a mosaic of different architectural styles and human activities, underlining the limitations of design gestures that are inevitably reshaped by the prevailing financial, social and political context.’ The pavilion is complemented by an installation in Bey Hamam on Aristotle Street in the northern Greek city.
‘A Roof for Silence’ is the title of the Lebanese Pavilion, curated by Hala Wardé, architect and founder of HW Architecture. The notion of coexistence is a central theme in this installation, which is located within the Arsenale’s brick-clad spaces. Architecture is shown next to various other cultural expressions, such as painting, music, poetry, video and photography. The exhibits include voices from the Beirut Heritage Initiative, ‘an independent and inclusive collective created after the Beirut blast of 4 August 2020, to restore the built and cultural heritage of the city’.
A team of four curators, Domingo J González, Sofía Piñero, Andrzej Gwizdala and Fernando Herrera, tackle their contribution to the 2021 National Pavilions at the Venice Architecture Biennale through the notion of ‘uncertainty’. The installation is the result of an open call through which 34 schemes were selected for display at the pavilion. ‘Uncertainty showcases architecture in cahoots with other disciplines to make an impact on society, offering new reflections and suggesting new ways of practising a profession that has evolved to adapt to all the dimensions and needs of a society in constant change,’ say the curators.
This is the first time the Republic of Uzbekistan has been represented at the Venice Architecture Biennale and the country is launching its presence with a pavilion titled ‘Mahalla: Urban Rural Living’. The installation, a captivating structure made from a large-scale yellow spatial mesh and large-format photography, has been curated by Emanuel Christ and Christoph Gantenbein, ETH Zurich professors and co-founders of studio Christ & Gantenbein. The images are the work of Spanish film-maker Carlos Casas, Dutch photographer Bas Princen, and the CCA Lab Tashkent. The piece responds to the biennale’s ‘living together’ theme through the exploration of mahallas, an arab word that takes various meanings in Uzbekistan – such as a traditional neighbourhood and a form of organisation of community life.
The Thai Pavilion’s title – ‘Elephant’ – hints at its theme and content; the relationship between humans and the majestic creature, which can be found in the South Asian country. The installation has been curated by Apiradee Kasemsook and designed by Boonserm Premtada of Bangkok Project Studio, who recently won a Wallpaper* Design Award for his elephant sanctuary design. Elephant World was created to support the Kui, the region’s ethnic people, and their beloved pachyderms, and the Venice display touches upon the same issue, raising awareness and celebrating the bond between humans and nature. Connecting East and West, the curators are running two parallel pavilions this year: one in Venice, and one in the north-eastern Thai town of Surin, where the ideas explored originated. The Surin pavilion was built in March 2021, and will be there permanently.
Italy’s national pavilion works with the idea of ‘Resilient Communities’ – as it’s aptly titled – from the lens of climate change and the challenges this brings to the architecture world. ‘Like the human brain and genome, the pavilion will be a jungle inhabited by strange and fascinating creatures, on a journey that cannot leave indifferent those seeking novel responses to urgent epochal challenges,’ say the team behind it, led by curator Alessandro Melis. The exhibit contains 14 thematic sections, experienced as workshops, research centres and case studies.
The Argentinian project makes a comment on public housing. Named ‘La Casa Infinita’ (‘The Infinate House’), the installation explores multi-family housing in the country, springing from the intimate and domestic and launching a conversation into collective housing and more. This pavilion has been curated by architect Gerardo Caballero, in collaboration with Paola Gallino, Sebastian Flosi, Franco Brachetta, Ana Babaya, Leonardo Rota, Emmanuel Leggeri, Sofia Rothman, Gerardo Bordi, Edgardo Torres, and Alessandro De Paoli.
Millions of Romanians migrated abroad during the last year alone, highlights the Romanian Pavilion exhibit, delving into the challenges and opportunities this movement of people brings to the country. Curated and designed by Bucharest-based architecture office The Poster, this 2021 National Pavilions contribution examines the past ten years. ‘Though the exhibit uses Romania as a case study, the broader aim is to highlight the universality of the migrant experience. We are all citizens of the world, and perhaps that has never felt more relevant than it does in 2021, as we grapple with the global effects of the past year,’ say the curators.