There are many projects at the 17th International Architecture Biennale that, looking towards a post-Anthropocene future, seek to consider the reciprocal and fragile relationship between different species. They do it through various approaches: adaptation, coexistence, collaboration, mimesis. The message is fairly clear: if we want to get out of the age of man, the one in which human beings have dominated, conditioned and destroyed the Earth’s ecosystem, if we want to aim for a peaceful and synergistic coexistence between species, it is desirable to broaden our horizons. Looking at the projects on display within the thick walls of the Arsenale – in the exhibition curated by Hashim Sarkis and especially in the Stations developed by researchers from universities all over the world – but also in some of the national pavilions in the Giardini, it is clear that the role of the designer in this process is anything but secondary.
If multidisciplinary collaboration appears to be increasingly widespread, an almost essential element of the game, it is not surprising that the architect works alongside anthropologists, ethnologists, biologists, geographers and scientists. And while it is true that there are still those who continue, in a more classic way, to propose elegant models of buildings in refined pastel shades (see the Belgian pavilion), this Biennale consolidates a wider definition of the architect’s profession. He represents one of the many participants in a broader debate, in an experiment of increasingly global, continuous and open collaboration, maybe also accelerated by this year of pandemic. In short, we need the vision that has always been the hallmark of architects to pull the strings of this new approach, but also the contribution of many other experts in many different fields.
As anthropologist Anna Lowenthaup Tsing – author of the classic of ecology The Mushroom at the End of the World – writes: “Collaboration means working across differences, which leads to contamination. Without collaborations”. In Venice, original forms of writing, design, analysis and research emerge from this contamination: Studio Ossidiana’s birdcages, the vegetable atlas of a barrio in Caracas (Enlace Arquitectura), the mushrooms collected on the Arsenale’s walls and examined in the lab in Athens (Thomas Doxiadis), the dragonflies-barometer of monsoon climate and climate change (Lindsay Bremner). As “the necessary multispecies dynamic diversity of the forest” (Tsing again), a choral narrative emerges, made up of different voices, but in dialogue with each other, united in addressing current issues: social, urban, spatial and political. Some of them try to answer the question How will we live together? launched by Hashim Sarkis: the American David Benjamin investigates bio-receptive materials, while Studio Libertiny designs structures inspired by bees. However, most of the times the research and projects raise further issues or open up a more complex debate, such as the Israeli pavilion, transformed into a cold morgue with extinct animals from what was once a land of plenty, or the border ecology along the Gaza Strip (Malkit Shoshan).
In doing so, and in the same vein of Alejandro Aravena’s Reporting from the front, the Biennale is fulfilling its task of catalysing stimuli from around the world, awakening the imagination and offering a platform for conversation that starts with architecture and embraces all the knowledge it needs to redesign the world.