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Architectural Biennale Venice 2023

Entrance to the Architectural Biennale Venice, Arsenale site
Entrance to the Architectural Biennale Venice, Arsenale site

The Venice Architectural Biennale, as the name implies, is part of a duo of expo type fares that are held in Venice, Italy every year, alternating between an architectural theme one year and art the next, the first art Biennale was held in 1895 with the introduction of the architectural version in 1980.

Impressive presentation area showing the main Arsenale Buldings

2023 was the turn of an architectural theme with the curator, Architect and writer, Lesley Lokko OBE, hosting the event and influencing the topic for the participants to follow, this years theme being “The Laboratory of the Future”. A title that allows the curators of each pavilion the scope for free interpretation through the eyes of each countries personal viewpoint in the current climate of environmental concerns. As Lesley Lokko's roots originate from Ghana, the thread of her theme for the biennale allowed architects that are not normally presented on the architectural stage to be given a voice this year. Some of the pavilions took up the torch of this challenge and gave a platform to the best of their diaspora talent with an African theme.

Artwork hanging in the Portico of the Central Pavilion with each Pavilion represented in plan
Artwork hanging in the Portico of the Central Pavilion with each Pavilion represented in plan

In the climate of austerity, regeneration and climate challenges, a number of countries used their own pavilions as examples of architectural design and regeneration, Switzerland being one of them. The artist Karin Sander art historian Philip Ursprung used a huge carpet, laid in the pavilion to represent a floor plan of the building itself allowing the visitor to walk the blueprints of the building getting a real feel of how floor plans work in representing the construction of a building.

Huge Carpet representing the floor plan of the Switzerland Pavilion

Austria fell fowl of political influences by not being allowed to complete their plan to expand their pavilion by using scaffold staircase to allow the visitor to navigate over their external wall. This decision was made after they had already started construction, therefore leaving their pavilion as an experiment to how many construction projects fail when as an example planning permission between a Council and a construction company fails.

The German Pavilion continued this theme of self regeneration by exhibiting parts of last years Art Biennale to be used in buildings in around the Venice area with a recycling system within the pavilion itself with employees re purposing material. The pavilion also included a recycling sink with a closed system of water purification with zero reliance on an external water supply.

With the Biennale hosting art and architecture on alternating years, some of the pavilions appeared to have entertained both of these themes in one presentation, causing mixed messages for the viewer, blending an artistic theme with a thin veiled thread of architecture as a nod to the topic for this year, even though the UK pavilion was commended, one of the contributors demonstrated this with a background of architecture but the piece presented was dominated by art. However there is an argument that can be valid for the design process of a building being art in itself.

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