From the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Hashim Sarkis and opening to the public today, you exit differently from how you enter. This is why it is a successful project

In times of Covid, when every move makes you think (and sometimes worry) and admissions are limited everywhere, asking yourself whether it is worth going to the Architecture Biennale is more than legitimate. After visiting the section curated by Hashim Sarkis (How Will We Live Together, at the Arsenale and at the Central Pavilion of the Giardini) our answer is yes.

First of all, allow us this incipit, because after a year and a half of cultural life with almost zero presence, arriving in a city-museum like Venice, when it is more culturally lively, is a cure-all for the mind and heart. Which has nothing to do with the value of the Biennale but is that human factor” that it would be absurd not to take into account.

The other reason, the more rational one, has to do with the relevance and value of curatorship. Because this year's Architecture Biennale, conceived by an architect who is above all a scholar, a thinker and a teacher, questions an issue that was already important before the pandemic but which is now even more so: how we will live together. He does it in the only way that makes sense in the contemporary world, that is, by widening the audience of contributions by exiting the architecture border. Together with the architects and designers, Sarkis has in fact also involved scholars of apparently distant disciplines (from computer science to neuroscience to biology), thinkers, philosophers, artists. Which are not a corollary but a decisive part of the exhibition itinerary.

The freedom of imagination but within a clear path

There was talk of the quality of the curatorship. It is excellent because clarity reigns supreme: everything is organized according to a path that is free and imaginative  but enclosed within an iron structure. You can therefore have fun getting lost in the thoughts provoked by individual projects: you will never lose track of where you are and where you are heading. All the selected projects have in fact been organized into five sections, which Sarkis calls “scales”, that is, focuses ranging from micro to macro. Each completes the starting question How Will We Live Together: Among Diverse Beings, As New Households, As Emerging Communities, Across Borders and As One Planet.

“We ask architects to imagine spaces in which we can live generously together”, said Sarkis in his lectio introducing the Biennale. “Together as human beings who, despite growing individuality, yearn to connect with each other and with other species through digital and real space (Among Diverse Beings). Together as new families in search of more diversified and dignified living spaces (As New Households). Together as emerging communities that demand equity, inclusion and spatial identity (As Emerging Communities). Together beyond political borders to imagine new geographies of association (Across Borders). Together as a planet that is facing crises that require global action so that we all continue to live (As One Planet) ".

The aim of this effort is to conceive, together, a new space contract”.

The space contract as a political choice

What is this space contract? It is the way of conceiving the places we live (from micro to macro) as political choices. If there are four chairs in a room and there are five of us, we can play Musical Chairs or put the seats next to each other so that we can all fit in.

This is the key to understanding that it is right to keep in mind while visiting the Sarkis Biennale: every project is a political proposal rather than an architectural one. A lens to see a situation in a different way from the current one. A task, therefore, which has always been that of art even before that of architecture.

There is a lot of art in this Biennale

Perhaps this is why the visitor's impression is that, especially in the first and last scale, that is, in the micro and decidedly macro (where we are talking about the planet and the universe) there is much more art than architecture. You immediately notice walking in the first rooms of the Arsenale Corderie: where we find ante-litteram social distancing projects (Social Contracts by Allan Wexler), wearable religious architectures (Silk Road Works by Azra Aksamija), a canopy of sound clouds (Grove by Philip Beesley), a metaphoric landscape of the open city without barriers.

And a lot of science

Following this, science assumes an increasingly important role: with probiotic buildings, made with porous and organic walls (by David Benjamin of The Living), the landscape curated by a robotic gardener (Magic Queen by Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme by MAEIS), the architectural structures created by artificial intelligence on the basis of the neurological signals of our brain (Sense of Space by Refik Anadol with Gokhan S. Hotamishgil).

While technology emerges as the savior of nature

While in the macro area (the one in the central pavilion of the Giardini) it is the turn of technology, proposed in a decisive way by various projects as the only tool capable of stemming the environmental crisis that we have caused and continue to feed.

Just think of the proposal of the Self Assembly Lab of MIT (Building With Waves), which has devised a method to move the sand of the sea floor using the force of the waves to save territories that will soon be submerged, such as the Maldives. Or Satellights by Angelo Bucci, which explores the possibility of using spatial geostations as sources of artificial light to illuminate and supply electricity to entire cities.

Exiting as a different person

Despite the richness of the contents, therefore, the ongoing curatorship chosen by Sarkis, far from being professorial and boringly educational, allows the visitor to follow the unfolding of the discourse of this broad, multi-disciplinary and complex Biennale with great clarity. The result is that we happily feel different when we leave than when we enter: the yardstick that always works to understand the true value of an exhibition.