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People stand in a room with blank white walls as light streams in, using tablets and smart phones
The inside of the German pavilion is largely devoid of people and objectsImage: Federico Torra/dpa/picture alliance

Blank walls and big ideas

Stefan Dege
May 25, 2021

The half-empty German pavilion at the world-renowned Venice Architecture Biennale is showcasing ideas for sustainable building.


Visitors to the German pavilion at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, one of the industry's most important events, are met by blank, white walls and QR codes. Curatorial team Arno Brandlhuber and Olaf Grawert have created a space that enables discussion about how we will build in future to take place from a point that is years ahead of us. In other words, it's a restrospective from the future.

While the pavilion, a historic building in Venice's Giardini parkland, is hosting films and debates, the team has focused mainly on digital content that allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to take a look at their work. 

Post-pandemic global architecture

Biennale curator Hashim Sarkis also focused on the global perspective when answering journalists' questions. He is responsible for the overarching architecture exhibition that is separate from the country pavilions. The theme is: "How will we live together?"

Hashim Sarkis
Hashim Sarkis is the curator of this year's Architecture BiennaleImage: Mirco Toniolo/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

"Lots of people want to know whether the pandemic has changed architecture," Sarkis, a dean of architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told DW. "Architecture reacts to global changes like climate change, migration, political polarization." Even if the pandemic ends one day, the challenges will remain, Sarkis says. "We'll have to find answers to these, because how we'll live in the future depends upon this," he said, emphasizing the transformative power of architecture.

Looking back from the future

Cities without noise, structures made of living plants, and new ideas for recycling old building components? Not magic, just architects' dreams of the future, say German pavilion curators Grawert, an architect, and Brandlhuber, a professor at the ETH Zurich.

Arno Brandlhuber and Olaf Grawert wearing masks stand next to a giant QR code
Arno Brandlhuber and Olaf Grawert designed the German pavilion with their thoughts on the futureImage: bureau-n/dpa/picture alliance

"Sustainability" and "social participation" are keywords in their interview with German news agency dpa, as is "life cycle thinking." Both believe in the power of positive visions, which they hope will emerge in the German Pavilion through the use of multimedia.

An interdisciplinary team of experts contributed to the concept for the pavilion, called "2038 – The New Serenity." The aim over the next few months is to have as many people as possible take part in conversations about the future of living. All the films and projections are therefore also accessible online in a "pavilion cloud."

"2038 is a positive look back from the future," Grawert said, describing it as a cinematic mixture of fact and fiction. Framing the content is the short film "Interrail 2038," whose main protagonist was born during the coronavirus pandemic. In the short film, two 18-year-olds meet in Venice and look back at growing up and how life has changed. The "History Channel" goes into more depth on the events they discuss, with experts weighing in.

Because there are pandemic-related limits on the number of visitors that can enter the German pavilion, the web address, "2038.xyz," is more important than ever.

The 17th Architecture Biennale will be gathering ideas from more than 100 participants from 46 countries until late November. More than 60 countries have also opened national pavilions. At the last Biennale, in 2018, the Swiss pavilion received the Golden Lion, the event's top prize.

This article has been translated from the German.

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