Venice Biennale announces 17th International Architecture Exhibition to be curated by Lebanese educator

Show curator is Lebanese educator and MIT professor Hashim Sarkis, Program includes pavilions from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt


ROME: The Venice Biennale’s 17th International Architecture Exhibition will be open to the public from May 22 to Nov. 21, organizers said on Monday.

The exhibition is called “How will we live together?” and it will be at the Giardini, the Arsenale, and Forte Marghera areas in line with COVID-19 prevention measures and rules, they said.

It will be curated by Hashim Sarkis, a Lebanese educator, and architect who since 2015 has been a professor and dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT.

Sarkis was named curator of the 2020 Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2018, but this edition was canceled due to the pandemic.

The exhibition will include 110 participants from 46 countries, with increased representation from Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Five countries are taking part in the Biennale Architettura 2021 for the first time: Iraq, Azerbaijan​, Grenada, and Uzbekistan.

The exhibition program includes pavilions from Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE.

Saudi Arabia’s pavilion will be in the Arsenale and is called “Accommodations.” Its curators are Uzma Rizvi and Murtaza Vali. Hessa Al-Bader, Hussam Dakkak, and Basmah Kaki will exhibit their works at the Venice Biennale.

“We need a new spatial contract,” Sarkis told a press conference. “In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together.”

The architects invited to participate are encouraged to include other professions such as artists, builders, and craftspeople, but also politicians, journalists, social scientists, and everyday citizens.

“The Biennale Architettura 2021 asserts the vital role of the architect as both cordial convener and custodian of the spatial contract,” Sarkis added. “In parallel, the 17th exhibition also stresses that architecture inspires the ways we live together in its material, spatial, and cultural specificity. In that respect, we ask the participants to highlight those aspects of the main theme that are uniquely architectural.”

The curator said that the exhibition’s title was as much a “social and political” question as a spatial one.

“Rapidly changing social norms, growing political polarization, climate change, and vast global inequalities are making us ask this question more urgently and at different scales than before. In parallel, the weakness of the political models being proposed today compels us to put space first and perhaps, like Aristotle, look at the way architecture shapes inhabitation for potential models for how we could live together.”

He said the Biennale Architettura 2021 was motivated by new kinds of problems that the world was putting in front of architecture, and that it was also inspired by the emerging activism of young architects and the radical revisions being proposed by the architecture profession to take on these challenges.

“Now more than ever, architects are called upon to propose alternatives. As artists, we defy the inaction that comes from uncertainty to ask ‘What if?’ Finally, as builders, they draw from their bottomless well of optimism. The confluence of roles in these nebulous times can only make our agency stronger and, we hope, our architecture more beautiful.”

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