La Biennale di Venezia: Reporting on the Report from the front

(2016’s Golden Lion-winning Spanish Pavilion focuses on unfinished structures left in the turmoil of the 2008 financial crash and architects who are constructing a profound path to rebuilding Spain)

The Biennale always manages to draw a large crowd each year to the beautiful and fascinating city of Venice. This year is the 15th International Architecture exhibition that occurs every two years, focusing on contemporary design and architecture.

Titled “Reporting from the Front” and curated by Alejandro Aravena, this year’s exhibition offers a new perspective from the knowledge and experiences gained by addressing the list of global issues for 2016 such as sustainability, waste, crime, pollution, and migration. Innovative projects, arranged in different pavilions, each with different concepts are showcased in the Giardini and the Arsenale, the two different venues of the Biennale.

The dense greenery that twined through the Giardini was the perfect backdrop to host the central pavilion and 29 national pavilions. The central hall was a collection of different projects and innovations by leading architects from all over the world, while the individual permanent pavilions tackled the global topics through the differing lenses of each country.

A project that stood out to me in the Central Pavillon was by Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, that used innovative architecture techniques to investigate on behalf of environmental and political justice groups, international prosecutors, and human rights organizations. Four recent investigations were exhibited that challenged the norms of an architect’s mindset to think forensically, forcing them to utilize architecture in all its methodologies, and apply it to investigation and discovery in a built environment. The goal becomes anything from figuring out a bomb radius within an interior to using surveillance technologies to reconstruct how 63 migrants lost their lives in the mediterranean sea . Another part of the exhibition was the attack by Israelis on the city of Rafah in Gaza. The team of architects was able to analyze the urban environment and reconstruct the events primarily through material found on social media.

From the Central Pavilion to the Arsenale there was a shift in atmosphere due to the environment that reflected the varying impressions the temporary exhibition projects portrayed. The Arsenale, today hosting all different exhibitions of the Biennale, was once the largest pre-industrial production center in the world showing the historic military and economic power of Venice. The old rustic interiors of stone columns and archways provides a beautiful canvas for the numerous projects housed within the Arsenale’s winding halls and complexes, setting a monumental scene.

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(“The Armadillo Vault” by Block Research)

In one of the large halls, surrounded by columns and stone, a team of researchers, led by ETH Zurich, constructed an expansive canopy, using 399 slabs of limestone and no glue, titled “The Armadillo Vault”. They worked with engineering firm Ochsendorf DeJong & Block and masonry specialist The Escobedo Group to create this centerpiece of the “Beyond Bending” exhibition. The vault and floor system was the business card for this team of architects to promote their reasoning behind compression-only forms and how it can be used to construct with minimal and relatively weak materials. Not only is the canopy beautifully and uniquely constructed but it also shows the potentiality to cut costs, weight, and the environmental impact better than conventional methods with concrete slabs.

It is impossible to talk in details about all the countless interesting and inspiring projects, models and mixed media presentations, that you can find at the Biennale. The Biennale brings the world together to see, discuss, and solve problems through thoughtful architecture and ingenious design. These innovative projects encourage and invite the audience to face global issues head on but then, more importantly, see that there are progressive solutions.

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(Makoko floating school by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, awarded the Silver Lion)


julianaJuliana Inglese is a full time student at Marist-LDM in Florence working towards her bachelor’s degree in Interior Design and Art history. Writing for the Interior Design Department blog allows her to not only utilize her passion for design and travel, but also encourages in-depth research and discovery about her fields of study. After graduation, her goal is to work for an established sustainable design firm on projects around the world.