Review: Venice Biennale 2016

Venice Biennale 2016: The Highlights of the 15th international Architecture Exhibition in Italy

“How do we want to live in the future?” This question hangs in the air at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale curated Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect known for his predilection for actionism who also recently won the renowned Pritzker Prize. He’s given it the title Reporting from the Front, which is maybe confusing at first, but also perhaps hits the nail on the head after longer consideration.

My first destination after my arrival is the German Pavilion, which responds to the refugee crisis in Germany—“Making Heimat” was conceived by curators Oliver Elser and Peter Cachola Schmal (German Architecture Museum) and designed and carried out by project coordinator Anna Scheuermann and Berlin-based architecture firm Something Fantastic. 48 tons of bricks were removed from the building to create an open space with four large openings. So as not to exceed figurative—but also real—planes, there are no models or floor plans in the interior. Spartanly prepared on posters and text boards, the focus is exclusively on the topic of the refugee debate and how the German “arrival cities” are handling it. Within an hour of arriving at the Biennale, it was already clear: this was going to be less about concrete solutions, and rather more about political discussions.

A day later, veterans Rem Koolhaas and Sir Norman Foster sit down with five other experts in a completely overfilled auditorium to discuss infrastructure (or better said, the widespread lack of satisfactory availability in Nairobi and Columbia, and in contrast to Foster’s brilliant Droneports Projects in Africa).


It’s easy to lose track of time in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, and it’s the same in the Arsenale. There was hardly time left for the other national pavilions: Australia dedicated itself to its own social history, and interestingly enough also the history of swimming pools, while Britain dealt with living scenarios that were broken up by time increments (hours, day, month, year, decade).

Over the course of the Biennale’s six month run, the rest of the city’s cultural scene is also buzzing. At Palazzo Grassi, we marveled at 75 works by Sigmar Polke—from Polizeischwein to Schiesskebab and Sternhimmeltuch, they were all there. The Pinault Collection (Punta della Dogana) is showing the exhibition Accrochage, a selection of previously never exhibited acquisitions including Philippe Parent’s self-playing piano in Quasi Objects: My Room is a Fish Bowl. Recently deceased architect Zaha Hadid has a retrospective in which, among many other pieces, her first hand-drawn creations from the 80s are on display. Peggy Guggenheim remains Peggy Guggenheim, and is an uncontested highlight even without a noteworthy special exhibition. With Belligerent Eyes, the Fondazione Prada delves into the world of experimental film art with Luigi Alberto and film director Giovanni Fantoni Modena.


Like in Paris at the moment, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is working with French artist Daniel Buren. Chanel is opening the exhibition The Woman Who Reads on the 17th of September. Together with designer Erdem, Mytheresa is hosting a considerable dinner in Hotel Aman, located in the Palazzo Papadopoli. The terrace of the Bauer Hotel was filled every evening with star architects, over whom possibly no further thought will be given after this Biennale and also simply aren’t needed anymore for its major themes? At the end of the day, isn’t it simply about getting a change of perspective and to grips with the essentials as quickly as possible and celebrating the anti-aesthetic?

For anyone who still needs inspiration, just take a look at the official poster for the Biennale: during his travels in South America, photographer Bruce Chatwin met German archeologist Maria Reiche, who with a ladder over her shoulder was carrying out a study on the Nazca Lines (mysterious marks on the desert floor of Peru). Observed from a worm’s eye view, they don’t make any sense. Viewed from above, however, forms that resemble birds, trees, and flowers become recognizable. The ladder therefore becomes a symbol of possibility: make a lot with little—the mission statement of the show. By the way, they use word “scarcity” with striking frequency on the boards that explain the designs, all of which couldn’t be more resourceful.

Impressions from Venice

Other good articles:

NY Times, T Magazine. German Only: FAZ und  ZEIT


Basic Information:

The 15th Architecture Biennale runs until 27.11.2016, closed Mondays. 24-hour tickets cost 48 Euro. More information is available on


Translation: Melissa Frost