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XVIII Biennale Architettura

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by Enrico Maria Davoli

The Venice Architecture Biennale, the 18th since the event’s inception in 1980, ended on Nov. 26, 2023 with an excellent public response and much attention from the international press and media. This is good news, because the organizational effort was remarkable and best accompanied artistic director Lesley Lokko (Scottish-Ghanaian, professor of architecture and writer) in the realization of her exhibition project entitled The Laboratory of the Future. It is an effective representation of Lokko’s cultural milieu and the practicioners from all over the world, but largely referable to the African diaspora, she has summoned to Venice. However, the ambition was another; to take stock of the political, economic and ecological horizons that, in Lokko’s perspective, make the decolonization and decarbonization of the planet no longer postponable.

If by diaspora one simply means the condition of so many professionals, artists and intellectuals of African descent (Lokko included) living abroad, then the Venetian exhibition gave a credible cross-section of them. It is another thing, however, to understand how much the architects/artists/researchers gathered in Venice really have the pulse of their homelands, being that their point of observation is mostly identified in the Western capitals where they live and work; New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and so on. While only a minority live and work in their homelands, and here a leading economic power such as South Africa stands out, with two “global” metropolises such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. The same thing has long been observed at the Art Biennale; so many authors of African or Asian origin, and yet now Americanized or Europeanized.

It should be noted that Africa (a huge continent, which it is absurd to continue to consider as a whole, but evidently the time is not yet ripe) is not the only “global south” on which The Laboratory of the Future focused. It featured, among many others, case-studies concerning African American communities in the U.S., the Amazonian population of Colombia, the Chinese population of Xinijang detained and re-educated en masse by the central government, and then nomadic communities in the Maghreb and Switzerland, prehistoric settlements in Ukraine, and so many other territories in search of an acceptable transition that would remedy the failures of forced industrialization. Many of these thematic insights have not produced any architectural or urban planning proposals (however broad the meaning in which the discipline is presented to the public today), but statistical, sociological and anthropological investigations, sometimes more, sometimes less interesting. The Golden Lion of Extravagance goes to an analysis conducted on Borgo Rizza, a Sicilian village of fascist foundation, redeemed from its original sin (or, if you prefer, “decolonized”) through an installation-performance worthy of Beckett and Ionesco’s theatre of the absurd.

While following the track of the main exhibition, the national pavilions offered, as always, special and surprising scenarios, to be explored one by one. We mention two European ones: the Hungarian, with the new Ethnographic Museum of Budapest, and the Romanian, dedicated to the role of scientific-technological invention as an activator of interdisciplinary processes. The completely sealed Israeli pavilion, where a buzzing sound coming from inside symbolized the IT cloud enveloping the country, on rethinking it today sounded like an eerie omen. Not far away was the Russian Pavilion, now in its third year of forced closure. Finally, of note was the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to Nigerian architect, designer, artist and writer Demas Nwoko (1935).

Homepage; Francis Kéré, Primary School (the architect is posing inside the library), 2001, Gando, Burkina Faso (photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk/Biennale di Venezia). 
Below; Demas Nwoko, the architect's house-atelier, 1976, Idumuje Ugboko, Nigeria (

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