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Biennale: Thinking outside the box

Rainer Traube ss
May 26, 2018

The Biennale Architectura in Venice highlights the latest trends in design and showcases new approaches to architecture. This year, there are five trends that make this edition of the Biennale unique.

Biennale Architettura Venice 2018
The Scandinavian pavilion examines the concept of generosityImage: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/G. Cosua

The world's biggest exhibition on architecture is back. The Biennale Architectura attracts thousands of visitors to Venice as of this weekend. Anyone who is anyone in the world of construction, design and city planning descends on the Italian city to learn what kind of new trends are emerging. DW's culture team took a look around and observed five new currents in architecture to follow.

1. More than just four walls

You'll be sorely disappointed if you're looking for spectacular architecture here. The two curators of the Biennale, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, both of whom work as successful architects in Dublin, want to move the exhibition as far away from the everyday realities of the real estate market as possible.

"We chose people who are driven by a passion, who engage with a discipline which is about serving the quality of life of the human being, not just to make money," they said.

As a result, this edition of the Biennale highlights ideas pertaining to the concepts of space and time and focuses much less on sleek designs for office blocks. Examples of the kind of design shown at the Biennale include rich grassy landscapes from Australia, woven carpets from Bangladesh, and an elegant bamboo sculpture from Vietnam, where visitors can seek the shade and relax.

Biennale Architettura Venice 2018
The Vietnamese pavilion invites visitors to relax in the shade under bamboo structuresImage: DW/R. Traube

2. Breaking the infinity loop

Erecting buildings that are designed to last forever is no longer considered en vogue. The French pavilion, for example examines places, whose uses continue to change and evolve. Entitles "Infinite Spaces," the French contribution to the Biennale ask the question: "Do we construct buildings or rather places?"

Architecture today has to respond to the rapidly changing environment it is in, which can result in incomplete structures and provisional designs. With this in mind, this section of the exhibition in Venice highlights living quarters for refugees made from wood and presents ideas how the quality of life of people living in informal settlements can be raised. Jana Revedin, founder of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, says that architects have to be "service providers working for the people, and not for investors."

Biennale Architettura Venice 2018
Social housing is one of the biggest themes of the 2018 BiennaleImage: DW/R. Traube

3. The new materialism

This edition of the Biennale Architectura stands out for being particularly sensual. The scents of Chinese pine trees, Australian eucalyptus and natural material such as clay and rocks surrounding the exhibition prove that architecture can be about so much more than just concrete, steel and gllas.

"The choice of materials reveals architecture as a physical phenomenon. Material is not just stone: Light is a material, gravity is a material," curator Shelley McNamara explains.

4. Sustainable design

Architecture can certainly breathe new life into entire cities. Just take a look at the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg or the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. These building revive entire neighborhoods, but they are also seen as major political statements that help cities redefine themselves in contemporary times.

At the Biennale, there's a notable move away from such prestige projects, which in the past have often been driven by big names in architecture like Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid. But the new generation of architects prefers to realize their dreams on a smaller scale in their home environments instead of selling out to soulless brand design.

The Chinese pavilion highlights this change quite well with such talented up-and-comers like Xu Tian Tian, whose light projections combine tradition with modern design. Like many others at the Biennale, Xu's designs focus on sustainability.

Biennale Architettura Venice 2018
The Danish pavilion examines time, space, light and even climate as aspects of architectureImage: DW/R. Traube

5. Design for all senses

Architecture can be a magical thing. If you take a look at the Vatican's contribution to the exhibition you can see why. The Holy See commissioned ten architects to build chapels on the San Giorgio Maggiore Island opposite St Mark's Square in Venice.

The beauty of these contemplative spaces is rather breathtaking; there's even a contribution by star architect Norman Foster – a chapel covered in intricate branches of fragrant jasmine trees. The sense of quiet inside these chapels complements the feeling that design in the 21st century has to cater for a all senses.

Biennale Architettura Venice 2018
Sir Norman Foster's chapel, commissioned by the Vatican, employs all sensesImage: picture-alliance/A. Calanni