Venice Biennale – Product of Necessity

The scorching sun was out but fortunately there were no shortage of gelato sellers in this city. If only ATMs could be found as easily… The relentless wave of tourists filled the alleys and canals and we joined this throng of human bodies to make our way to the South-Eastern tip of the island on foot.

When we reached our destination, the effort was well worth it. The Giardini was far from the madding crowd and gave us the opportunity to enjoy the Biennale at our own pace.

This year, the Biennale set out to start a dialogue on many issues affecting us all globally – inequalities, sustainability, insecurity, segregation, pollution, housing shortages, migration, natural disasters, and others. There were some very  interesting and ingenious solutions presented and I certainly was happy to learn about them. I picked three themes to share with you – the reuse/recycle theme, the rethinking of construction, the challenge of rapid urbanisation.


Rethinking Construction

A notable example came from the Norman Foster Foundation‘s Prototype Droneport Shell. The prototype was the result of several disciplines coming together to create a modular structure for drones to land and take off in remote areas, especially in Africa. From the outset, the challenge was the construction using locally available materials and low skilled labour. Working with commercial partners, the team created a new material – a brick that was light and durable – for a structure to be built without any steel. It was a visionary concept that would link remote areas of Africa with the outside world thanks to the future multiple use of drones. Besides being a port for drones, the structure could be used as a meeting or market place for the communities.

Prototype of Droneport by Norman Foster Foundation. Similar modules like this would link up to create an extensive port.

In the same theme, a Paraguayan architect also combined the 2 most readily available resources – bricks and unqualified labour – ‘to transform scarcity into abundance’ (per the Biennale info). To bypass the industrialised and sophisticated building materials, the architect came up with solutions to construct only using bricks and mortar. This allowed the unqualified labour force to be able to work in construction, resulting in more housing.

Project by Solano Benitez, Paraguay


Reuse, Recycle, Redesign

My article dated 7th June and titled Venice Biennale – Sneak Preview, touched on the merits of the Spanish pavilion, Unfinished, and the new breed of architects whose visions of architecture were to serve humanity. The pavilion showcased the transformation of unfinished or abandoned buildings into practical and usable housing or community spaces, following the boom and bust of Spanish construction industry.

Pictures of abandoned and unfinished buildings found all over Spain

Lude House, in Cehegin, built above an existing building


Rapid Urbanisation

The global population is expected to reach 8.4 billion by 2030. Cities are already facing the challenges of rapid urbanisation. As a response, buildings are becoming taller and denser in order to cope with the expansion. Green spaces and public spaces are under pressure too. Liu Jiakun of China explored the expansion of the open space (as opposed to the built space) in urban areas. His proposal was to build the public space, the amenities and services upwards as well. It was a brilliant idea that fit beautifully with the concept of densifying in limited available land.

West Village Project in Chengdu, China, an open public space built upwards – ‘a series of very straightforward ramps move people gently from one level to the next’ by Liu Jiakun

 Two views of a maquette for public space built upwards including walking areas, eating areas, seating areas, playing areas, etc, by Liu Jiakun

 If only the legs could take more… I jumped at the first opportunity of seating available!

This year’s Biennale themes were clearly about architecture serving humanity. I don’t recollect any pavilion showcasing the grandeur of architecture. It was a humbling experience as one became aware of the task ahead – the amount of issues we need to tackle in urban cities or remote villages. Yet, it was an optimistic show of force too, as it highlighted our capacity for creative solutions to meet our needs. As Norman Foster Foundation proved, the best solutions will come from the joint efforts of several disciplines to find solutions for the ever more complex society we live in.

So long Venice Biennale, until we meet again…

Tule xx

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