MIT returns to the Venice Architecture Biennale

Faculty, students, alumni contribute as curators and exhibitors at the world’s premiere forum for architecture and design.

MIT faculty, students, and alumni will make significant contributions as exhibitors and curators at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Considered one of the foremost global forums for architecture and the built environment and drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, the Architecture Biennale takes place every two years in Venice, Italy.

The MIT-related participants are represented across the Biennale’s broad presence in Venice, from the official exhibition and national pavilions in the Arsenale and Giardini areas in the eastern end of the Venetian island to the collateral exhibitions and installations hosted around the city.

Curated by Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the Biennale’s main exhibition is entitled FREESPACE. The title refers to “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself,” Farrell and McNamara state in a manifesto on the Biennale website.

This year’s event, the 16th  international architecture exhibition organized in Venice, will open to the public on May 26. Participants from the MIT community include:

Brazilian Pavilion: Gabriel Kozlowski SM ’15
The Brazilian Pavilion’s exhibition, “Walls of Air,” explores the interaction of material and immaterial spaces in Brazil and its architecture. As one of the pavilion’s co-curators, Kozlowski led an architectural design workshop in January at MIT to produce maps for the exhibition.

Kozlowski received a Master of Science in Architecture Studies (SMArchS Urbanism) from MIT in 2015. He is currently a teaching fellow and research associate in the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU).

Canadian Pavilion: Réjean Legault PhD ’97
The Canadian Pavilion is celebrating the historic renovation of its building at this year’s Biennale with an exhibition, curated by Legault, entitled “Canada Builds/Rebuilds a Pavilion in Venice.” The landmark pavilion in the Giardini di Castello will officially re-open on Saturday, May 26, to mark the 60th anniversary of its construction. Legault, an associate professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, received a PhD in 1997 at MIT from the History, Theory, and Criticism section in the Department of Architecture.

Dutch Pavilion: Kyle Branchesi, Darle Shinsato, and Calvin Zhong ’18
Branchesi and Shinsato are graduate students in the MIT Department of Architecture. With Zhong, an undergraduate student majoring in architecture, their project, “Aquatic Distribution Systems in Rivers,” is part of an exhibition in the Dutch Pavilion entitled “The Institute of Patent Infringement.”

Italian Pavilion: Carlo Ratti
The Italian Pavilion's exhibition, "Archipilego Italy," will focus on urban space formed by interior areas of the country, with particular attention to post-earthquake response for the Central Apennine region. One of the 30 projects being exhibited is from the firm of Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and professor of urban technologies and planning in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning.

Japanese Pavilion: Miho Mazereeuw
“Architectural Ethnography,” the exhibition mounted by the Japan Foundation at the Japanese Pavilion, considers drawing—from design specifications and spatial-activity charts, to maps of urban hybrids and large studies of rural farming and fishing villages following natural disasters, originating from university design studios, architectural offices, or artistic practices—as a vehicle for reappraising the changes to Japanese society in the 20th century.

Among the more than 40 works on display is a contribution from Mazereeuw, director of the MIT Urban Risk Lab and an associate professor of architecture and urbanism in the MIT Department of Architecture.

Lithuanian Pavilion: Gediminas Urbonas, Nomeda Urbonas
Gediminas Urbonas is an associate professor in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology. He and Nomeda Urbonas, an ACT affiliate, are curators and organizers of the Lithuanian Pavilion and its theme, “the Swamp.”

Headquartered in the Giardino Bianco Art Space in the Castello district, the Swamp program will involve exhibitions, performances, sound transmissions, installations, and other activities in various locations around Venice through November.  The Swamp team includes numerous graduate students, researchers, and others from multiple departments within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.

U.S. Pavilion: Rania Ghosn, El Hadi Jazairy, and Ann Lui SM ’15
The theme of the U.S Pavilion’s exhibition is “Dimensions of Citizenship.” Among the seven architecture and design teams selected for participation is Design Earth, the practice of Ghosn, an assistant professor of architecture and urbanism in the Department of Architecture, and Jazairy, a research scientist in the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism.

Lui, who received a Master of Science in Architecture Studies from MIT in 2015, is one of the pavilion’s co-curators. She is co-founder of Future Firm and an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Official exhibition: Cino Zucchi ’78, Pratik Raval
An alumnus of the Department of Architecture, Zucchi is the chief architect of Cino Zucchi Architetti in Milan, Italy. He is one of 71 architects and designers honored by the curators with inclusion in FREESPACE, the official exhibition.

Lecturer Pratik Raval is also participating in FREESPACE. Transsolar Climate Engineering, where Raval serves as a director, is a collaborator with CASE Design, of Mumbai, India, for an installation in the exhibition. Raval provided climate-responsive design and sustainability consulting for Avasara Academy in India, a completely passive, net-zero energy school campus designed by CASE Design.

Across Chinese Cities: Catherine McMahon SM ’09 and James Shen SM ‘07
One of 12 official collateral events, “Across Chinese Cities” is the third installment of an exhibition program focusing on the planning and development of urban and rural communities in China. Across Chinese Cities is hosted by the Università Iuav di Venezia in the Santa Croce section of the city.

The exhibition includes the Plug-in Project from The People’s Architecture Office, co-founded by alumnus Shen, who received his Masters of Science in Architecture Studies from MIT in 2007, as well as the Guizhou Project from ATLAS, a multi-disciplinary design studio based in Beijing co-founded by Catherine McMahon SM ’09.

Time Space Existence: Rafi Segal, Sarah Williams MCP ’05, Brent Ryan PhD ’02
An official collateral event by the European Cultural Center at Palazzo Mora, "Time Space Existence" will feature "Bight: Coastal Urbanism“ as part of a group show. The Bight project was developed in 2017 in response to a competition which called on architects, designers, and urban planners to visually demonstrate how policy changes, new investments, and innovative thinking can transform different geographic areas in the Tri-State region and prepare them for the next 25 years.

Led by Rafi Segal, the project team includes faculty, graduate students, researchers, and alumni from multiple departments within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.

Close Encounter: Gordon Bunshaft ’33 SM ’35
The Biennale also includes a historical intersection with an MIT-educated architect. Accompanying the main exhibition is a special section called “Close Encounter,” which presents “works that originate in a reflection on well-known buildings of the past." One of the 16 buildings chosen for this section is the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Designed by Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft, who received undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from MIT in the 1930s, the Beinecke building is famous for its façade, made from panels of marble so thin they are translucent. Heneghan Peng Architects, based in Dublin, Ireland, will reflect upon Bunshaft’s design as part of this special section.


One MIT-related installation from the 2016 biennale is still on view in Venice:

2016 Rwanda Droneport: ODB Engineering
For the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, three members of the MIT community collaborated with Norman Foster and Foster + Partners to construct a full-scale earthen masonry shell as a prototype for an African “droneport,” which could serve as small airport for drones in areas that lack access to roads. The ODB team consists of Professor of Architecture John Ochsendorf and two MIT architecture alumni, Matthew DeJong SM ’05 PhD ’09 (now at Cambridge University) and Philippe Block SM ’05 PhD ’09 (now at ETH-Zürich).

Constructed on-site for “Reporting from the Front”—the 2016 official exhibition curated by Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena—the droneport still stands in the Arsenale, adjacent to the Giardini delle Vergini. See the Rwanda Droneport location on Google Maps.