skip to main content

sustainable living insights from venice architecture biennale 2021

in sustainable cities

After a forced stop in 2020, Venice Architecture Biennale has come back this year, resuming things from where they were left. This edition points at sustainability issues, framing the event with a simple yet crucial question: How will we live together?

Let’s explore some of the answers suggested from the various installations…

more greenery

Under the evocative title Ego to Eco, Danish studio EFFEKT has brought an architectural model to Venice Biennale, with 7 of its sustainable living projects and tiny real trees filling the space in between. The 1200 trees were pre-grown at a forest nursery and will be fed by a hydroponics system until the end of Venice Biennale. After the event, they’ll be planted in Denmark as part of an urban reforestation project.

What I personally like about this installation is the visual impact: buildings appear tiny when compared to the amount of greenery that surrounds them, which is exactly the opposite of what we see in cities these days.

Architectural model with buildings and real trees.
Credit: EFFEKT – Photo:  Rasmus Hjortshøj
Close-up of one pf the architectural models.
Credit: EFFEKT – Photo:  Rasmus Hjortshøj

the cycle of water

The Danish pavilion wants to show that everything is connected in our world. And it does so by focusing on the cycle of water. Named Con-nect-ed-ness, the installation collects rainwater and funnels it into exposed pipes and open channels that run all around the pavilion. Water then flows back into the external reservoir and starts the cycle again.

This installation has a biophilic soul. Including the cycle of fresh water into a building concept brings visitors closer to it, stimulating thoughts around the availability of this precious resource and the importance of using it mindfully. Also, the installation seeks to create a multi-sensory connection to the water element. From seeing and listening to it, to drinking a tea brewed from herbs that were watered with that same water.

View of the pavilion showing the exposed pipes and the herbal plants.
Credit: Danish Pavilion - Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects - Photo: Hampus Berndtson
Close-up of water flowing into a tank.
Credit: Danish Pavilion - Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects - Photo: Hampus Berndtson

redefining we

Looking behind the event’s theme – How will we live together? – the Dutch pavilion replies with another question: who’s we? This question blames the limitations of current urban design, which often marginalizes human minorities and excludes non-human living beings: plants and animals.

The pavilion highlights the importance of diversity for resilience as well as mutual learning. In Space of Others and Multiplicity of Other, the installation focuses on human diversity, a choice that recalls how the term sustainability goes beyond environmental matters. Multispecies Urbanism describes a new take on urban design, one that’s rooted on ecosystem regeneration rather than just human everyday life. A view that reminds the concept of biophilic city, advocating a reconciliation between “human habitats” and the natural world.

View of the pavilion with translucent screens.
Credit: Dutch Pavilion - Het Nieuwe Instituut – Photo: Cristiano Corte
Close-up of digital screens showing images of nature.
Credit: Dutch Pavilion - Het Nieuwe Instituut – Photo: Cristiano Corte


On a similar note, Singapore Pavilion presents (among the rest) Rewilding the Sky: an urban development proposal for the city of Singapore that brings people and nature together as equals. In this model, every single building has a green roof. This creates a second city, parallel to the ground floor but very different, a city whose main inhabitants are animals and plants. All around are numbers and coordinates that would guide digital beings around, adding yet another layer of city dwellers that are “other” to humans.

View of an imaginary city with all green roofs.
Credit: Salad Dressing
Close-up of green roofs.
Credit: Salad Dressing

material reuse

With, The Co-ownership of Action: Trajectories of Elements, Japan addresses future living questions through circularity, constructing its pavilion with materials sourced from a dismantled house. Benches give a new life to the old house’s roof, and stand’s partitions repurpose its exterior walls. Indoors, a pile of unused components gives a sense of how much more value is left, highlighting how wasteful building demolitions are.
This choice also opens a discussion around material use in temporary exhibitions. This is not a question we’ve been used to ask ourselves, but what happens after an exhibition is over? Where do all those materials go? The components of Japan’s pavilion will have yet another life after the exhibition, as part of a community facility in Norway.

In fact, a more circular approach to fair design is starting to rise. Stockholm Furniture Fair 2020’s Best Stand was made only with bricks, wood and gravel, all materials that can fully be reused once the fair is over. And at the coming Supersalone in Milan, all display materials will be designed to be dismantled and reused.

View of the pavilion made of all non-virgin materials.
Credit: Japan Pavilion -  The Japan Foundation – Photo: Alberto Strada
View of benches made of reclaimed wood.
Credit: Japan Pavilion -  The Japan Foundation – Photo: Alberto Strada

As a whole, Venice Biennale is raising important points that – hopefully – will soon inspire a wealth of applications in the real world, where we need them the most.

share this article
  • share on pinterest
  • share on twitter
  • share on facebook
  • share via whatsapp
  • share via email
related articles