Sustainable Italy: Resilient Communities At Venice’s Architecture Biennale

Urban design cannot be separated from environmental effects. That's why Resilient Communities is Italy's theme at the 2021 Architecture Biennale.

Resilient Communities: Milan Vertical Forest
Vertical Forest, Milan. Photo: Alex Mihu on Unsplash.

Hashim Sarkis, architect and director of the Architecture Biennale 2021, believes that architecture is key to the post-pandemic future and to fight climate change. The title of the event, How will we live together?, suggests how important is to live together in a world that has become more and more individualist and selfish, inviting us to reflect on the meaning of ‘living together’ — with other human beings, animals, plants, and natural elements, such as water and air.

The importance of urban design for local communities — and for society as a whole — is clear: architecture is able to fill up buildings with lifeblood, making them a safe and common space where everyone can build solid social relationships. Indeed, the way we design our cities and more in general our environment, cannot be separated from the direct consequences on people’s lives. The climate crisis, carbon footprint, political instability, and socio-economic inequalities must all be taken into account when it comes to re-thinking urban centers, especially now that the pandemic has drastically increased these differences, stressing the strong link between health and nature.

Starting from these assumptions, the Italian Pavilion of the Architecture Biennale curated by Alessandro Malis, architect, professor, and director of the Cluster for Sustainable Cities of the University of Portsmouth, is based on the fact that the climate crisis is the biggest challenge that humanity has to face in the next few decades. In this context, architecture has a significant role, as it can contribute to improve life standards and to mitigate the effects and consequences of climate change. Moreover, the pavilion has produced (almost) zero impact on the environment, using materials that have been reused (80%) or recycled (20%) from the previous edition.

Resilient Communities

Resilient communities, the Italian exhibition, is aimed at all architects all around the world, as their role is crucial to tackle the problems of unsustainable cities and depletion of natural resources, and to build a more equal and sustainable world for the future generations. The key elements presented in the pavilion as starting points for the creation of resilient cities are equity, inclusiveness, closing the gender gap, and ecology.

The Italian Pavilion is a ‘resilient community’ itself — a place where different ideas, disciplines and suggestions live and work together as neural connections. The exhibition is interdisciplinary and creates a dialogue between architecture, agroecology, biology, art, social sciences, technology and history. The selected projects belong to different research themes, such as climate crisis, built environment, health, social pressure, creativity and ecology, following a sort of handbook or decalogue (Platform, Collective, Reduction of Emissions, Internationality, Exaptation, Immersiveness, Impact, Creative and Industrial Arts, Education, and Creative Serendipity), declined in 14 sections which outline the resilience paths.

One of the many examples presented in the exhibition is that of the Laboratorio Peccioli, created in Peccioli, Tuscany. In this case, a municipal landfill has been transformed into a waste disposal point where the collected materials are recycled and reused by artists and innovators who give them back to the community in the form of artworks or scientific innovations. For example, the first social robotics experiment in the world is taking place here: robots are able to clean the city and deliver food and other essential products to the elderly or to people with limited mobility.

Overall, the Architecture Biennale 2021 presents architecture through a non-conventional lens: visitors should not expect to see traditional architecture projects. Instead, artistic installations, innovative structures, and interesting building and urban examples are well-presented, offering an interactive and participatory experience.

Unfortunately, the effects brought by the pandemic are pretty clear and even the 2021 edition of the Architecture Biennale suffered the situation like the rest of us. However, it is undeniable that huge efforts have been made to overcome the difficulties, offering an amazing experience for everyone willing to discover the beauty and the importance of architecture for our planet.

Rethinking Climate is a youth-led international cooperation nonprofit whose mission is to understand how best we can communicate, and therefore comprehend, the climate crisis and sustainability in its variety of topics. What is it about the way we are communicating climate issues that makes it so difficult to implement the solutions available?

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