The Laboratory of the Future is a high-intensity Architecture Biennale that requires reflection: denouncing a lot, responding often and also offering some glimmers of an optimistic future

Every single contribution of this Venice Biennale 2023 – which belongs to the Special Participations, Dangerous Liasons, Curator's Special Projects, Force Majeure, or Guests from the Future a - is an essay, if not a declaration of intent, an enlarged project that embraces and investigates architecture in its broadest sense.

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It is an exhibition which, by specific choice of the curator Lesley Lokko, stops the conventional conception of architecture with the intention not “to replace, but to augment. Expand, don't contract. Add, don't subtract."

“The idea that the architect is the sole author of the architectural creation process is no longer valid” confirms Mass Design Group, one of the participants in the Force Majeur section in Central Pavilion of the Gardens. With his 'redefinition' Afritect, presents a new generation of African architects who work on solutions and ideas that are both African and globally inspired.

The Laboratory of the Future, agent of change

Following the leitmotif of Change, The Laboratory of the Future tells many stories that capture concentration - it was perceived in the attentive and amazed gazes of many of the visitors, also attracted by the multiplicity of ancestral sounds and smells - and obliges to dissect them in their facets which are declined in production, resources, representations, all equally indispensable in an architecture exhibition.

The themes of the installations: decolonization and decarbonization

The installations are crossed, with more or less power, by the complex and often painful themes of decolonization and decarbonization. It was precisely the latter that was addressed right from the staging of the exhibition which reused, adapting it, the structure inherited from Cecilia Alemani, curator of the previous Biennale Arte (a principle fully espoused, for example, by the German pavilion).

"We are well aware of the need to quantify efforts from a statistical point of view, with concrete numbers instead of vague and generic objectives - said Lokko during the opening press conference - but we also recognize that the changes must also be cultural and that the philosophy of architecture exhibitions is destined to change. Changes have to come from both sides: from the participants and from the audience.”

Africa and the African diaspora

Topics that have remained abstract in these months of preparatory readings for the exhibition can finally be understood and internalized by observing them live. Just as one fully grasps the meaning of the curator's choice to shine the spotlight "on Africa and the African diaspora, that fluid and tangled culture of people of African origin that now crosses the globe".

“…Because the past, for them (the peoples once subjected by the West), was the jungle of Western capitalism, not the light that the missionaries thought they had brought with them” underlines the writing by Nadine Gordimer who welcomes visitors in the Central Pavilion of the Gardens.

Chidirim Nwaubani and the digital repatriation of stolen works of art

Just to name a few of the creative proposals projected into the future, that of the Nigerian designer Chidirim Nwaubani (Special Project at the Corderie dell'Arsenale) is a revolutionary "digital repatriation" operation of stolen, preserved in prestigious institutions located mainly in the Northern hemisphere. Its Looty platform digitally records them and makes them available on the blockchain as NFTs, offering an unexpected solution to African artwork restitution disputes. In this way young African students, artists, architects and creatives have access to ancestral cultural production.

Thandi Loewenson, Silver Lion: graphite as a tool for climate justice

Also linked to art is Thandi Loewenson, born in 1989 in Harare in Zimbabwe and winner of the Silver Lion as a promising young participant. Her Uhuru Catalogs bring together the inextricably intertwined sites through which African liberation must be sought. Here, graphite becomes “a charged tool” that aims to spur movements for climate justice, for a fair future for all, on the continent and beyond.

What possible futures? Questions from young architects

“With a short-sighted look we took our existence on Earth for granted…. Why has the Earth been considered in such a limited way?” asks the Cameroonian Achille Mbembe, one of the leading theorists of postcolonialism, whose reflection introduces the installations at the Corderie dell'Arsenale.

Origins by MMA design studio Mphethi Morojele (Maseru, Lesotho, 1963) ventures a poetic solution: "To survive the future, we must go back to an even more ancient future, a future that reintegrates us into a living world of other animate and inanimate beings" .

Liam Young's radical optimism

Liam Young's radical optimism excites. With the short film The Great Endeavor (the great effort) the feat of removing the carbon dioxide and storing it underground is handy. The "major effort" to capture all this carbon will involve the construction of the largest engineering project in human history and the development of a new infrastructure equivalent in size to that of the entire global fossil fuel industry.

The laboratory of the present

The Laboratory of the Future exhibition is highly concentrated on the climatic consequences and - as the president Roberto Cicutto underlined on the occasion of the award ceremony of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, which took place a few days after the devastating floods of Emilia Romagna - transforming into a laboratory of the present.

Starting therefore from an existing laboratory, Africa, which in its history has already faced crises that the rest of the world is facing now, is proving to be the most suitable choice.