The theme of this Biennale Architettura is its title. The title is a question: How will we live together? The question is open.
How: Speaks to practical approaches and concrete solutions, highlighting the primacy of problem-solving in architectural thinking.
Will: Signals looking toward the future but also seeking vision and determination, drawing from the power of the architectural imaginary.
We: Is first person plural and thus inclusive of other peoples, of other species, appealing to a more empathetic understanding of architecture.
Live: Means not simply to exist but to thrive, to flourish, to inhabit, and to express life, tapping into architecture’s inherent optimism.
Together: Implies collectives, commons, universal values, highlighting architecture as a collective form and a form of collective expression.
?: Indicates an open question, not a rhetorical one, looking for (many) answers, celebrating the plurality of values in and through architecture.
The question, “How will we live together?” is at once ancient and urgent. The Babylonians asked it as they were building their tower. Aristotle asked it when he was writing about politics. His answer was “the city.” The French and American Revolutions asked it. Against the tumultuous backdrop of the early 1970s, Timmy Thomas passionately pleaded it in his song “Why Can’t We Live Together?”
It is indeed as much a social and political question as a spatial one. More recently, rapidly changing social norms, the political polarization between left and right, climate change, and the growing gap between labor and capital are making this question more urgently relevant 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 in order to imagine potential models for how we could live together.
Every generation feels compelled to ask this question and answer it in its own, unique way. Today, unlike with previous ideologically-driven generations, there seems to be a consensus that there is no single source from which such an answer can come. The plurality of sources and diversity of answers will only enrich our living together, not impede it.
We are asking architects this question because we are not happy with the answers that are coming out of politics today. In the context of the Biennale Architettura we are asking architects this question because we believe they have the ability to present more inspiring answers than politics has been thus far offering in much of the world. We are asking architects because architects are good conveners of different actors and experts in the design and construction process. We are asking architects because we, as architects, are preoccupied with shaping the spaces in which people live together and because we frequently imagine these settings differently than do the social norms that dictate them.
In that sense, every space we design simultaneously embraces the social contract that willed the space and proposes an alternative to it. We aspire to enable the best of the social contract and to propose alternatives where we can improve on it. A single-family home may ultimately replicate the explicit values and implicit oppressions of the post-WWII nuclear family model, but we have also seen powerful experiments from architects who have challenged the detached house’s familial hierarchies and gender segregations by proposing alternative layouts and degrees of openness.
Hopefully, the question continues to propel us hopefully ahead and, in doing so, to build on the optimism that drives architecture and architects. Our profession is tasked with designing better spaces for better living. Our challenge is not whether to be optimistic or not. There we have no choice. It is rather how successful we are at transposing the inhabitants to better lives through the ‘wish images’ that we produce with architecture.
The current global pandemic has no doubt made the question that this Biennale Architettura is asking all the more relevant and timely, even if somehow ironic, given the imposed isolation. It may indeed be a coincidence that the theme was proposed a few months before the pandemic. However, many of the reasons that initially led us to ask this question - the intensifying climate crisis, massive population displacements, political instabilities around the world, and growing racial, social, and economic inequalities, among others - have led us to this pandemic and have become all the more relevant.