Reporting From the Biennale: What is the Future of the Home?

At this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, multiple pavilions grappled with one vital question: What is the future of the home?

Courtesy Making Heimat

With this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale demanding that architects grapple head-on with the social issues of our day, it’s unsurprising so many chose to explore housing. While some pavilions take a straightforward approach—the German focusing on housing refugees and the Danish on community-oriented architecture—the British pavilion goes a more philosophical route, turning its exhibition into a to-scale journey through “housing” typologies. Across Chinese Cities falls somewhere between these two curatorial poles. But all ask one vital question: What is the future of the home?

Across Chinese Cities/China House Vision

Courtesy China House Vision

This collateral exhibit explores the future of housing and the home in China through 12 architectural proposals submitted by an impressive group that includes the likes of Kengo Kuma and Ma Yansong. From a plan for micro-gardens that would place toilets in the hutongs of Beijing, to the design for a Bike House that encourages a return to cycling, to research into the phenomena of China’s millennials, the so-called Ant Tribes who live packed in small apartments, each, in the words of co-curator Beatrice Leanza, attempts to balance “an elemental notion of home—a culturally specific phenomenology of togetherness—with the temperamental character of contemporary sharing culture.” Across Chinese Cities is a fascinating collection of proposals relevant not only to China but to urban conditions around the world, as it addresses a complex, vital question of our time: With demographics changing, collective identity shifting, and mobile work becoming more commonplace, what is the future of housing?

Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country

Courtesy Making Heimat

Curated by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), the German pavilion expands beyond the boundaries of its provocative exhibit, which offers guiding principles for integrating refugees into cities, by also offering an online database of refugee housing in Germany. This collection provides a bird’s-eye view of not just temporary shelters but housing more generally, and hints at
a more harmonious future of resettlement. As Leonard Streich, partner in Something Fantastic, the architectural firm responsible for the design
of the pavilion, told us, the exhibit “is advocating an architecture that is in tune with its surroundings, reacts to it, lives with it, enhances it, rather than locking it out. It gives direct and immediate solutions to the needs of the program and its users, and there is a beauty in the readability of that.”

Home Economics

Courtesy British Council/Cristiano Corte

“Domestic life has changed immeasurably, yet the homes we live in have not kept in step,” says Shumi Bose, co-curator of the British pavilion. “Expectations are tied, through rigid policies, to spatial requirements and societal orders that no longer hold true.” Home Economics attempts to puncture these expectations by looking at the home in an unusual way; rather than focusing on questions of style, site, or material, the exhibit uses time as its organizing principle. Wandering through the pavilion, the visitor encounters houses designed to be inhabited for hours, for days, for months, for years, or for decades. Each model suggests an alternative way of envisioning domesticity, and in so doing provokes questions about our concepts of privacy, ownership, and community.

Art of Many—The Right to Space

Brick House, by LETH & GORI

Courtesy Stamers Kontor

Denmark’s contribution to the Biennale, an array of architectural models, surveys the wave of new humanism sweeping the country. “If you zoom in and look at the individual housing projects, I think there’s a number of interesting tendencies,” says co-curator Boris Brorman Jensen. One of these is to rethink the suburban home—even as we focus on the pressures of housing urban communities, homes in outlying areas are in desperate need of an overhaul from the point of view of sustainability. Brick House, completed by LETH & GORI in 2014, is one standout example: Constructed from innovative building materials, it will be maintenance-free for 50 years and last 150. As Jensen says, “It’s trying to inject architectural fantasies into the standard suburban house.”

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