The construction of the structure of The Laboratory of the Future will adopt the concept of change as its essential gesture. In illustrating the structure of the exhibition, curator Lesley Lokko sets new firsts and asks many questions

At the 18th International Architecture Exhibition - open to the public from Saturday 20 May to Sunday 26 November 2023, at the Giardini, Arsenale and Forte Marghera - 63 national participations are expected, on show in the pavilions at the Giardini (27), at the Arsenale (22) and in the historic center of Venice (14).

The exhibition is divided into six parts.

Of the 89 participants, more than half are from Africa or the African diaspora. The gender balance is equal and the average age is 43, which drops to 37 in the Curator's Special Projects section. 46% of the participants consider training as a real professional activity. In all sections of the exhibition, over 70% of the works on display were designed by studios managed by a single person or a very small team.

Read also Biennale Architettura 2023: who is the curator Lesley Lokko

Many firsts at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition:

  • The first by an African curator (and the first nominated by the President of the Venice Biennale, Roberto Cicutto, as he himself underlined).
  • “(…) For the first time, the spotlights are on Africa and its diaspora, on that fluid and intertwined culture of people of African origin that today embraces the world,” says Lokko.
  • The first major exhibition in this discipline to experiment in the field a path for achieving carbon neutrality, with reflection on the themes of decolonization and decarbonization.
  • For the first time at the Biennale Architettura, the Special Projects of the Curator and the Special Participants constitute a large category out of competition. They are defined as "special" due to the close relationship with the Curator and her assistants, who collaborate in the production of works in specific categories chosen by the Curator to complement the Exhibition.
  • For the first time the participants are defined as Practitioners: “not as architects, urban planners, designers, landscape architects, engineers or academics, because we believe that the dense and complex conditions of Africa and a rapidly hybridizing world require a different and broader understanding of the term architect,” explained Lokko.
  • For the first time, almost half of the participants come from self-led studies or studies with up to five people.
  • For the first time, the Architecture Biennale includes Biennale College Architecture (we talked about it here), which will take place from 25 June to 22 July 2023. During the four weeks of the educational program, fifteen international lecturers will work with fifty students, graduates, academics and emerging professionals from all over the world and selected by Lesley Lokko through an open call process. When the call closed on February 17, 986 applications were received (a result that surprised Lokko herself, who had expected no more than a few hundred).
  • The first time of Niger at the Biennale and the first of Panama alone, which in the past participated as I.I.L.A. (Italian-Latin American international organization).

Read also: Architecture Biennale 2023: information, calendar and updates

The Laboratory of the Future, the International Exhibition as an agent of change

According to the curator Lesley Lokko it was clear from the outset that The Laboratory of the Future would adopt the concept of change as its essential gesture.

“An architecture exhibition – he explains – is both a moment and a process. It borrows structure and format from art exhibitions, but is distinguished by critical aspects that often go unnoticed.

In addition to the desire to tell a story, issues of production, resources and representation are also central to how an architecture exhibition comes into being, yet they are rarely acknowledged and discussed.

What do we want to say? How will what we say change anything? How will what we say influence and involve what the “others” say? Why is the exhibition important?

Lokko replies: “In architecture in particular, the dominant voice has historically been a singular and exclusive voice, whose scope and power have ignored vast swathes of humanity – financially, creatively and conceptually – as if listening and spoke in one language. The "history" of architecture is therefore incomplete.

Not wrong, but incomplete.

That's why exhibitions are important. They constitute a unique opportunity to enrich, change or retell a story, whose audience and whose impact are perceived far beyond the walls and physical spaces that contain it.

What we say publicly is fundamental, because it is the terrain on which change is built, both in small and large steps".

And then?

It will close with this open question The Laboratory of the Future which, with The Archive of the Future, intends to produce a visual testimony of the processes, drawings, discussions, ideas , of the conversations, of the explored themes, of the proposals and of the new awarenesses that collectively will have given life to the exhibition.

The Laboratory of the Future is intended as a kind of break, a agent of change, in which the exchange between participant, exhibit and visitor is a mutual exchange, from which everyone emerges transformed and encouraged to move forward towards a new future.