Mirko Zardini: Curation Holding Architecture to a Higher Standard

By provoking and critiquing the profession, he sets a new standard for architectural exhibitions.

OCCUPATION: Curator, architect, editor
AFFILIATION: Canadian Centre for Architecture
LOCATION: Montreal, Quebec

Curated architectural exhibitions are typically monograph-based shows, highlighting the work of a star architect with framed sketches and drawings that are hung like works of art. For the past seven years, Mirko Zardini, the director and chief curator of Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), has been quietly and methodically subverting that staid and formulaic tradition. “I feel there is a moment in which you need to redefine the discourse, because the old paradigm and ideas are vanishing, especially in the context of how we live,” says Zardini, a trained architect who came to the CCA in 2005, after stints as an editor at Casabella and Lotus magazines during the 1980s and ’90s. “We try to incorporate a thematic or general problem, which is a way to speak about architecture without having to do a glorified monograph.”

For the CCA’s 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas exhibition (2007–08), the curators looked at innovations that were spurred by the 1973 oil crisis: investigations into wind and solar technologies; research initiatives, such as the University of Minnesota’s Underground Space Center; alternative modes of urban life; and pioneering in the field of sustainability. But the exhibit’s underlying theme contained a critique of the current green movement, which Zardini feels is needed today: “Architects are telling you their buildings are sustainable, even though the environments they place the buildings in are not. The idea of sustainability, in reality, is not a technical problem but it’s more a political, social, and economic issue.”

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Exhibitions under Zardini’s direction often have an underlying moral argument. Sense of the City (2005–06) called for an architecture that is more than just pretty pictures. Actions: What You Can Do With The City (2008) demonstrated that you can produce change in a city from the bottom up, a message that seems especially relevant in today’s Occupy Wall Street world.

“All of our exhibitions are an effort to investigate the gray zone of our society, trying to make architects more conscious of the complexity of the problem that they’re part of, instead of pretending, every time, to be the solution, while reducing complex social and political problems to simplicities,” Zardini says. The CCA’s current exhibition, Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture, explores the field’s approach to wellness. “Architecture has never really produced a real solution to medical issues,” Zardini notes. “It could contribute to producing a less polluted environment but perhaps it’s an even larger task to take care of people.”

Recent Projects