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La Biennale di Venezia

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Venice, 28 May > 27 November 2016


15th international architecture exhibition

The International Exhibition

Open to the public from Saturday May 28th to Sunday November 27th 2016 at the Giardini and the Arsenale, the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, titled REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, is directed by Alejandro Aravena and organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta. The preview took place on May 26th and 27th, the awards ceremony and inauguration was held on Saturday May 28th 2016.

The Exhibition also includes 63 National Participations in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the historic city centre of Venice. Four countries are participating for the first time: Philippines, Nigeria, Seychelles and Yemen.

The Italian Pavilion at the Tese delle Vergini in the Arsenale, sponsored and promoted by the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, Direzione Generale Arte e Architettura Contemporanee e Periferie Urbane, has been assigned to the curatorial team TAMassociati: Massimo Lepore, Raul Pantaleo, and Simone Sfriso.

The Exhibition REPORTING FROM THE FRONT is laid out in a unitary exhibition sequence from the Central Pavilion (Giardini) to the Arsenale, and includes 88 participants from 37 different countries. 50 of them are participating for the first time, and 33 architects are under the age of 40.

“The lady on the ladder who, climbing up onto the highest steps can gaze over a far broader horizon, and by doing so conquers an “expanded eye”, announces the Biennale Architettura 2016 curated by Alejandro Aravena. We immediately loved this picture – stated President Paolo Baratta - because in a way it represents La Biennale as a whole, with our attitudes and our goals.

“It is also in part a counterpoint to the image chosen for the most recent Biennale Arte. The symbol selected last year by Okwui Enwezor – Baratta noted - was Paul Klee’s famous “Angelus Novus” as interpreted by Walter Benjamin; the winged angel looking backwards in shock, seeing only the past and in the past, debris and tragedy, but also insights that could be useful some day, in a future towards which the hidden forces of providence are driving him, like a wind blowing on his wings.”

“What does the lady see? I think - commented Baratta -mainly desolated land comprising immense swathes of human habitation which no human could be proud of; great disappointments representing a sad, infinite number of missed opportunities for humanity’s ability to act intelligently. Much of this is tragic, much is banal, and it seems to mark the end of architecture. But she also sees signs of creativity and hope, and she sees them in the here-and-now, not in some uncertain aspirational, ideological future.”

“Is this a sign of optimism? We have often deplored, in previous Biennale Exhibitions – the President recalled – that our present time seems to be characterised by increasing disconnection between architecture and civil society. Previous Exhibitions have addressed this in different ways. This time, we wish to investigate more explicitly whether and where there are any trends going in the other direction, towards renewal; we are seeking out encouraging messages.”

“And we are not just interested in exhibiting concrete results for critical appraisal. We also want to see into the phenomenology of how these positive examples came about. In other words: what drives the demand for architecture; how are needs and desires identified and expressed; which logical, institutional, legal, political and administrative processes lead to demand for architecture and how they allow architecture to come up with solutions which go beyond the banal and self-harming.”

“Because this is clearly a serious impasse; not as much in architecture as a discipline, but in human organisation, in our ability to harness it, be saved by it and enter into dialogue with it.”

“We feel the need to highlight how positive outcomes have been achieved through the evolution of decision-making chains which link need - awareness - opportunity - choice - execution in a way that leads to a result where “architecture makes the difference”, as Aravena puts it.”

“We are not interested in architecture as the manifestation of a formal style, but rather as an instrument of self-government, of humanist civilisation, and as a demonstration of the ability of humans to become masters of their own destinies.”

“Architecture in action as an instrument of social and political life, challenges us to assess the public consequences of private actions at a more fundamental level.”

“Presenting architecture in action is also one of the answers to the permanent question raised by La Biennale. What is an architecture exhibition? – asked Baratta. And what should an architecture biennale be? In the Biennale Arte, which is the parent of the Biennale Architettura, the works are there in front of the visitors; with an architecture exhibition, the works are elsewhere. What should there be here? And indeed, the search goes on. We must avoid turning into a magazine, a convention, a critical essay, or a place for specialists alone: an exhibition just for architects. We also need to avoid condescension and falling into the trap whereby architects are tempted to present themselves as artists.”

“We need to engage with the public and with all possible stakeholders in the decisions and actions whereby our living spaces are created, both as individuals and as communities. As Architecture is the most political of all the arts - concluded the President - "the Biennale Architettura must recognise this.”


“In his trip to South America – related Alejandro Aravena - Bruce Chatwin encountered an old lady walking the desert carrying an aluminium ladder on her shoulder. It was German archaeologist Maria Reiche studying the Nazca lines. Standing on the ground, the stones did not make any sense; they were just random gravel. But from the height of the stair those stones became a bird, a jaguar, a tree or a flower. “

Aravena thus expressed his hope that the Biennale Architettura 2016 might “offer a new point of view like the one Maria Reiche has on the ladder. Given the complexity and variety of challenges that architecture has to respond to, REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about listening to those that were able to gain some perspective and consequently are in the position to share some knowledge and experiences with those of us standing on the ground.”

“We believe  - explained Aravena - that the advancement of architecture is not a goal in itself but a way to improve people’s quality of life. Given that life ranges from very basic physical needs to the most intangible dimensions of the human condition, consequently, improving the quality of the built environment is an endeavour that has to tackle many fronts: from guaranteeing very concrete, down-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires, from respecting the single individual to taking care of the common good, from efficiently hosting daily activities to expanding the frontiers of civilization.“

The curator’s proposal is therefore twofold: “on the one hand we would like to widen the range of issues to which architecture is expected to respond, adding explicitly to the cultural and artistic dimensions that already belong to our scope, those that are on the social, political, economical and environmental end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we would like to highlight the fact that architecture is called to respond to more than one dimension at a time, integrating a variety of fields instead of choosing one or another.”

“REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about sharing with a broader audience, the work of people who are scrutinizing the horizon looking for new fields of action, facing issues like segregationinequalitiesperipheriesaccess to sanitationnatural disastershousing shortagemigrationinformalitycrimetrafficwastepollutionand the participation of communities. And simultaneously it will be about presenting examples where different dimensions are synthesized, integrating the pragmatic with the existential, pertinence and boldness, creativity and common sense. “

“It is not easy – concluded Aravena – to achieve such a level of expansion and synthesis; they are battles that need to be fought. The always menacing scarcity of means, the ruthless constraints, the lack of time and urgencies of all kinds are a constant threat that explain why we so often fall short in delivering quality. The forces that shape the built environment are not necessarily amicable either: the greed and impatience of capital or the single mindedness and conservatism of the bureaucracy tend to produce banal, mediocre and dull built environments. These are the frontlines from which we would like different practitioners to report, sharing success stories and exemplary cases where architecture did, is and will make a difference.”


The Special Projects

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition features three Special Projects, the first promoted by La Biennale, the other two the result of agreements stipulated with other institutions, organized and realised by La Biennale itself.

The exhibition curated by architect Stefano Recalcati, titled Reporting from Marghera and Other Waterfronts, to be shown in the exhibition venues of Forte Marghera (Mestre, Venezia), examines significant projects for the urban regeneration of industrial ports, helping to fuel the debate on the conversion of production in Porto Marghera.

The collaboration agreement with the Victoria and Albert Museum of London takes its first step in the Applied Arts Pavilion at the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale, with the exhibition entitled A World of Fragile Parts, curated by Brendan Cormier.

 Finally, in view of the United Nations – Habitat III world conference, to be held in Quito, Ecuador, during the month of October 2016, and as part of the Urban Age programme, organized jointly by the London School of Economics and the Alfred Herrhausen Society, La Biennale presents, also in the Sale d’Armi, a pavilion dedicated to the themes of urbanisation – Report from Cities: Conflicts of an Urban Age – with particular attention to the relationship between public spaces and private spaces, curated by Ricky Burdett.

The programme of conversations about architecture

The Biennale Architettura 2016 is accompanied throughout its duration by a wide-ranging programme of encounters to discuss the themes and phenomena presented in the Exhibition. The Meetings on Architecture return this year with the architects and protagonists of the International Architecture Exhibition curated by Aravena, scheduled for every last weekend of the month. The “Special Projects” will also be enriched with a series of conversations and symposia to explore the issues they raise.

On July 16th and 17th, in Venice, the exhibition venues will host the annual Urban Age conference organized by the London School of Economics Cities, jointly with the Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society. The complete programme of events will be announced shortly.

“Biennale Sessions”, the project for Universities

The Biennale Sessions project is held again for the seventh consecutive year, following the success of its previous editions. This initiative is dedicated by La Biennale di Venezia to institutions that develop research and training in architecture, the arts and related fields, and to Universities and Fine Arts Academies. The goal is to offer favourable conditions for students and teachers to organize three-day group visits for fifty people or more, offering reduced price meals, the possibility to organize seminars free of charge at the Exhibition's venues, and assistance in organizing their journey and stay. As of today, 53 international institutions from 13 countries and every continent have signed a protocol of understanding.


Educational activities will again be offered for the year 2016, addressed to individuals and groups of students from schools of all levels and grades, from universities and fine arts academies, and to professionals, companies, experts, architecture fans and families. These initiatives aim to actively involve participants in both Guided Tours and Creative Workshops.


The official catalogue, titled REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, consists of two volumes (format 21x27 cm). Volume I is dedicated to the International Architecture Exhibition, and is edited by Alejandro Aravena. Each project is presented on specific pages within the catalogue. In individual dedicated essays, Aravena introduces the architectural design, the author’s or Firm’s “approach”, describing the project’s specificities and explaining the reasons that led him to include the project in the Exhibition. The curator’s texts are accompanied by drawings, sketches, original manuscripts and repertory images by the various authors. Each section is also accompanied by short technical and biographical notes. Volume II is dedicated to the National Participations, the Collateral Events and the 3 Special Projects. Each section includes detailed texts dedicated to the individual projects, repertory images and renderings of the installations in the exhibition spaces.

The Exhibition Guide (one volume, format 10.5x27 cm) is conceived to accompany the visitor through the exhibition, thanks to its practical “pocket-sized” format. The projects and authors are published in the order in which they appear along the sequence through the spaces of the Exhibition.

The design of the graphic identity of the Biennale Architettura 2016 and the layout of the books are by Studio Elemental, Santiago de Chile. The books are published by Marsilio Editori.


The 15th International Architecture Exhibition was made possible by the support of Rolex, Partner and Official Watch for the event, Artemide, Vela-Venezia Unica, Laminam, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, and JTI.

We would like to thank the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, the regional Institutions that each in their own way support La Biennale, the City of Venice, the Regione Veneto.

Our thanks go to our Donors, who are essential to the creation of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition.

And finally we would like to thank the highly professional staff of La Biennale, who work with such great dedication on the organization and management of the Exhibition throughout its six-and-a-half month duration.

Biennale Architettura 2016
Biennale Architettura 2016