Venice Biennale 2016: Reporting from the Front

Venice Biennale 2016: Reporting from the Front

This year’s architecture biennale in Venice was an accident; it wasn’t my intention to attend. I had planned on spending a few days simply seeing the sights and hunting for graffiti in one of the world’s most classic (and touristic) cities. Then I stumbled into  one the European Cultural Centre’s exhibition spaces in Palazzo Mora, where “Time-Space-Existence” took over.


The 2016 Venice biennale includes exhibits by sixty nations and hundreds of individual participants, which seek to address the complexity of artistic, social, political, environmental, and economical factors that architecture must respond to in the modern world.


Most of the exhibits are housed in two main sites called Arsenale and Giardini, but many other smaller venues scattered throughout the city create the impression of moving between worlds: step outside and cross the tourist-trails of Venice, step inside and explore realms of failed dreams and future potentials.


I had never before contemplated the true dimensions of architecture, and was deeply moved by a number of the exhibits and by the overall message, which is neatly captured by event curator Alejandro Aravena as follows:

“We believe that the advancement of architecture is not a goal in itself but a way to improve people’s quality of life. Given life ranges from very basic physical needs to the most intangible dimensions of the human condition, consequently, improving the quality of the built environment is an endeavor that has to tackle many fronts: from guaranteeing very concrete, down-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires, from respecting the single individual to taking care of the common good, from efficiently hosting daily activities to expanding the frontiers of civilization.”


In the end,  it was a fortuitous accident indeed.

The 2016 Architecture biennale runs until November 27th, and more information can be found on the official website.



Children of Men & Calais Today

Children of Men & Calais Today

This month the French government is forcibly demolishing the Calais refugee camp known as “the Jungle” – where over 3,500 migrants live in a former landfill site while trying to gain entry into Britain by stowing away on trucks and trains.

While tearing down a part of the camp on Feb. 29, 2016, police fired teargas at up to 150 residents, as captured in this video by volunteer Rowan Farrel. Protesters threw rocks, and several homes were burned. French media reported 40 vans of riot police positioned near the site. The Guardian has a slideshow of pictures available here.

I realize I am a complete book nerd who relates just about everything in life to something I’ve read, but today’s situation in Calais immediately brings to mind The Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James.

In the novel (as well as the 2006 Alfonso Cuarón  movie Children of Men) Britain is one of  the last functioning governments, and is overrun with illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who are trying to escape the chaos in the rest of the world as humanity has lost the ability to reproduce.

Addressing the value of human life, the abuse of immigrants for cheap labor, and discrimination, the book’s message about societal complicity is dark, twisted, and painfully relevant when addressing the refugees in Europe today. One of the points P.D. James makes is that willful ignorance is not an excuse for inaction – by choosing to ignore what is happening around us we enable the atrocities being committed.

“The system has the merit of simplicity and gives the illusion of democracy to people who no longer have the energy to care how or by whom they are governed as long as they get what the Warden has promised: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom.” (The Children of Men, Ch. 11)

Ring any bells?

In a globalized world, we are drawn every day closer to the consequences of our actions and attitudes. We cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot let ourselves be governed by fear. Our shared future demands better of us.

Thank you to all the volunteers working in Calais, and all those helping with other refugee and crisis situations around the world, in ways both big and small. Your dedication is an inspiration.