When the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly throughout Italy, in March, it remained unclear whether or not major events on the cultural calendar would proceed. Soon enough, major tentpoles like Salone del Mobile and the Venice Architecture Biennale postponed their editions until later in 2020, when the pandemic would hopefully have subsided. That, of course, didn’t happen, and events are still being canceled left and right as the world struggles with a chaotic vaccine rollout.
The Venice Architecture Biennale, however, has decided the show must go on. Proceeding with a physical edition that opens on May 22 until November 21, the exhibition’s 17th edition focuses on the topic “How will we live today?” and makes connections to cooperative living in an era marked by widespread climate and geopolitical crises. The Nordic Pavilion, for example, will allow visitors to tour a conceptual apartment complex with shared amenities built out of timber components; the United States Pavilion, which will take place in a monumental installation in the Giardini, plans to highlight the democratic values inherent to wood-framed structures.
“The pandemic has no doubt made the question I asked in the form of the Biennale theme and title, “How will we live together?” all the more relevant even if somehow ironic, given the isolation that the pandemic has imposed on all of us,” the Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis, who curated this year’s edition, told The Architect’s Newspaper. “It may indeed be a coincidence that we asked the question a few months before the pandemic hit. However, the same reasons that led us to ask this question (climate crisis, massive population displacements, political polarization, and growing racial, social, and economic inequalities) have led us to this pandemic.”
With an uncertain vaccine rollout and travel restrictions still in place, it’s tough to predict exactly how the physical edition will take shape. Major industry shows stateside continue to opt for virtual programming, yielding an abundance of Zoom lectures and lackluster virtual viewing rooms. Even if this year’s edition enjoys a smaller audience, it’s a relief the Biennale is doubling down on staging a show—the themes it’s exploring are simply too urgent to overlook.