A Robust Presence for MIT at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale

Architects, artists, and designers from the MIT community will constitute a robust presence at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.

With ten full-time and visiting faculty, multiple alumni, and numerous contributing researchers and graduate students, the MIT community is deeply integrated into the extensive programming associated with the Biennale, including the main exhibition, national pavilions, and collateral locations across the historic city. In all, individuals from the MIT community are represented in many separate installations and exhibitions.

The 15th international architecture exhibition, opening May 28, is curated by Chilean architect and 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Aravena’s theme, announced last fall, is “Reporting from the Front,” focusing on architecture’s capacity to address issues relating to segregation, inequality, suburbia, sanitation, natural disasters, the housing shortage, migration, crime, traffic, waste, pollution, and community participation.

"With this year’s theme, Alejandro Aravena has issued a challenge to architecture: to mobilize design as a mode of inquiry to realize alternate and better futures. The theme and the challenge tap directly into the MIT ethos," says Hashim Sarkis, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P). "Our faculty, students, and alumni do not shy away from hard problems. Their numerous installations in Venice will reflect the breadth of the MIT community’s efforts to apply the tools of architecture and design to build a better world."

The group of Venice participants from MIT also reflect the international make-up and worldview of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, Sarkis adds, noting that the faculty, alumni, and students come from more than 10 countries and their projects span five continents.

Sarkis has also been appointed to the five-person jury for the Biennale, working with the other jurors to award the Golden Lion for Best National Participation, the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition Reporting From the Front, and the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Participant in the International Exhibition Reporting From the Front. Jurors will also have the opportunity to award one special mention to National Participations and two special mentions to the participants in the International Exhibition.

The MIT-related projects and the associated faculty and alumni include:

Rwanda Droneport Prototype
John Ochsendorf, Class of 1942 Professor
Matthew DeJong SM ’05 PhD ’09
Philippe Block SM ’05 PhD ’09

Location: Arsenale

Ochsendorf, DeJong (Senior Lecturer, University of Cambridge), and Block (Associate Professor, ETH Zurich) are collaborating 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 team that includes Ochsendorf DeJong & Block is participating at the  invitation of Mr. Aravena.

Beyond Bending: Learning from the Past to Design A Better Future
John Ochsendorf, Class of 1942 Professor
Matthew DeJong SM ’05 PhD ’09
Philippe Block SM ’05 PhD ’09

Location: Corderie dell’Arsenale

With “Beyond Bending,” Ochsendorf, DeJong (Senior Lecturer, University of Cambridge), and Block (Associate Professor, ETH Zurich) draw upon historical principles and methods to advocate for compression-only forms, such as vaults, as innovative, modern, and vital structures not only because of their uniquely expressive aesthetics but also because of their potential to achieve efficiency and stability while curbing material waste. The team that includes Ochsendorf DeJong & Block is participating at the invitation of Mr. Aravena.

After Oil
Rania Ghosn, Assistant Professor

Location: Kuwait Pavilion

Ghosn’s creative practice, Design Earth, joins a discussion to reimagine and reinvent the urban and social landscape of the Pan-Gulf region. Through speculative narratives on the post-oil future, After Oil engages issues of relevance to the present operations of extraction, transport, and broadly logistics of oil and highlights the environmental implications of tanker operations, wars, and oil spills on the environment of the Gulf.

“Brussels Market Building”
Alexander D’Hooghe, Associate Professor
Kobi Ruthenberg SM ’07, Project Manager, ORG

Location: Gaggiandre

D’Hooghe and his firm, Organization for Permanent Modernity (ORG), are showcasing an innovative design for a mixed-use market building in Brussels serving new and older immigrant populations and a key first step for an urban plan for Brussels’ diverse community. The building is made from “platonic panels”—simple concrete planes that can be assembled in almost any direction. ORG is participating by invitation from Mr. Aravena.

“The Druzba Project”
Gediminas Urbonas, Associate Professor
Nomeda Urbonas, MIT research affiliate

Location: Baltic Pavilion, Palasport Arsenale

Urbonas is the director of MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). His installation, in collaboration with MIT research affiliate Nomeda Urbonas, is “DRUZBA: A Psycho-cultural Infrastructure of the Oil Network.” The project maps a fictional journey along the Druzba, the world’s longest pipeline built by the Soviets. Druzba studies the spaces and territories, and their relations to power—the flows and energies rendered by the metabolism of the infrastructure of ideology.


“Supraextructures versus Structures of Landscape”
Antón García-Abril, Professor

Location: Arsenale

"Supraextructures Versus Structures of Landscape,” is an installation from Ensamble Studio, headed by García-Abril and MIT research scientist Débora Mesa. The project confronts two battles in two antagonistic contexts, evidencing the apparently disconnected but actually strongly interrelated- challenges when designing for highly urban versus highly rural domains. The juxtaposition of these simultaneous realities in the same space evidences the tension of urbanization processes. Ensemble is participating by invitation from Mr. Aravena.


“Urban Meta-Genomics: The Microbiological World of Cities”
Kevin Slavin, Benesse Career Development Professor

Location: GAA European Cultural Center, Palazzo Mora

Founder of the Playful Systems group in the MIT Media Lab, Slavin is investigating urban genomics to reveal the invisible microbiological world of cities. Using honeybees to gather samples and hives modified to capture “bee debris, the project employs genetic sequencing to discern and visualize urban micro-biological neighborhoods and draw a microbiological portrait of cities.


“A New MAM for Sao Paolo”
Angelo Bucci, Visiting Professor

Location: Arsenale

Sixty years after the emergence of Brazil’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM) within Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paolo, Bucci’s practice, SPBR Arquitetos, offers a new configuration to revitalize these landmarks. Four identical transparent prisms—each 750 meters long—form a three kilometer square around the original architectural ensemble of Oscar Niemeyer and blur the boundary between museum and park. SPBR is participating by invitation from Mr. Aravena.


“The Non-Built”
Clara Solà-Morales, Visiting Professor

Location: Arsenale

“The Non-Built,” from visiting professor Solá-Morales and her practice Cadaval and Solá-Morales, elaborates on architecture understood as the physical frame that enhances social interaction and society. The installation considers the constructed environment as more than just walls and explores how the discipline is making the landscape part of architecture and vice versa, at all scales and in urban and rural settings. Cadaval and Solá-Morales are participating by invitation from Mr. Aravena.


Meejin Yoon, Professor, Department Head for Architecture

Location: Spanish Pavilion

The Spanish Pavilion’s exhibition, “Unfinished, explores the economic and construction crisis in Spain over recent years. The exhibition includes a continuous projection of 10 interviews with globally relevant  architects and academic leaders—including J. Meejin Yoon, professor and head of the MIT Department of Architecture—sharing their thoughts and reflections about “Unfinished” and Spanish architecture.


“Courtyard House Plug-In”
James Shen SM ’07

Location: China Pavilion, EMG Art Foundation at Zen Palace

Shen’s practice People’s Architecture Office of Beijing, China, offers two exhibitions related to the Courtyard House Plug-in, an innovative approach to repurposing dilapidated buildings Beijing’s old neighborhoods. The design employs modular, lightweight panels that fit within the existing houses by locking together without screws or nails, and that can be removed just as easily from the historic structures.


“The Circuit of African Heritage”
Sara Zewde MCP ’10

Location: Brazil Pavilion

The Circuit of African Heritage is an existing collection of historic sites in the port zone of Rio de Janeiro. Its official designation was sparked by the 2011 archeological discovery of the Cais do Valongo—the ruins of one of the world’s largest slave ports—just below Rio’s downtown streets. The Brazilian Pavilion’s exhibition, “Juntos” (“Together”), will feature her collaboration with the city government and the curatorial working group to develop a design for the circuit.


Other roles and participants

Additional members of the extended MIT community with roles at the Biennale include:


  • Hashim Sarkis
    Dean, MIT School of Architecture and Planning
    Professor, Architecture and Urbanism
    Appointed to the Jury, 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale
    As one of the jurors, Sarkis will help award the Biennale’s prizes and awards.


  • Curtis Roth MA ’12
    “All That is Solid Melts into ETC …”
    Assistant Professor, Ohio State University
    Roth’s investigates “architecture’s processes of cultural, economic, and juridical valuation after the Internet.” His project, “All That is Solid Melts into ETC …” will be exhibited at the Biennale. Details forthcoming.


  • Muneerah Alrabe, current graduate student
    Publications coordinator, Kuwait Pavilion
    Editor, Between East & West: A Gulf Book
    Muneerah Alrabe, a SMArchS candidate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT, is the Publication Coordinator and Editor of the Between East & West: A Gulf book, which will be available in both English and Arabic at the Kuwaiti Pavilion in Venice. This year’s Kuwaiti pavilion looks beyond the shores of the country and argues in favor of a masterplan for a united Gulf. By presenting the untold history of the region and proposing an alternate future, the pavilion casts the hydrography as a singular entity of neither East nor West but as an untapped archipelago which defined the region and offers the greatest possibility for its reconciliation.


  • Pelin Tan
    Former fellow, MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology
    Cyprus Pavilion
    Tan is contributing to the “Contested Fronts” exhibition in the Cyprus Pavilion. Her project, "Institute of Threshold,” explores Cyprus as a contested borderland in the Mediterranean sea surrounded by refugee/migrant flow, civil war, sea patrols and liquid military control.


  • Juliet Koss, PhD ’00
    Associate Professor of Art History, Scripps College
    AoN Symposium
    Koss, an alumna of the program in History, Theory and Criticism (HTC) in the MIT Department of Architecture, is participating in the AoN Symposium, a conference on architecture and neuroscience before the opening.


  • Katja Schechtner
    Visiting Scholar
    Changing Places Group, MIT Media Lab

Schechtner’s project, "Home Is, Where Your Phone Is," is part of the exhibition in the Austrian Pavilion. The project reflects on the creation of places for people with phones and how refugees—as digital natives, not digital naïves—are designing their physical and digital futures together with architects and urban planners in their new host countries.


The Venice Biennale opens to the public on May 28, 2016. Preview days for journalists and the media are May 26-27.