“Acknowledging human – and not only human – extinction, is a call for us to act now,”1 with these words architect José Mateus opened the 6th edition of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2022 entitled “Terra”.2 After listing a fueled record of the global challenges humans are facing today, from ice loss to waste emergency, social instability, mass migrations and global warming, Mateus (who is the chairman director of the Triennale, founder of ARX Portugal Arquitectos together with Nuno Mateus, and is chief curator of the first Lisbon Triennale in 2007 entitled “Urban Voids”3) ended his opening speech with a very human and determined consideration, namely that we cannot “leave this mess to our children”. This urgent issue has become more and more important within cultural institutions in the last few years and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale addressed it clearly while guiding us towards a positive change. Clear examples of similar approaches are Rotterdam’s IABR 2018-2020 entitled “The Missing Link”4 where it tried to overcome the gap between knowing what needs to be done to save the world and effectively doing it, and Paola Antonelli’s “Broken Nature” at the XXII Triennale di Milano,5 where she declared in her opening speech that if humanity had to become extinct we needed to design a “more elegant ending".6
“Terra” claims to be a call to action directed to everyone, from architecture professionals to the wider public, it “looks into communities around the world to embrace our common home, Planet Earth”.
Chief curated by architects Cristina Veríssimo and Diogo Burnay, founders of CVDB Arquitectos,7 “Terra” claims to be a call to action directed to everyone, from architecture professionals to the wider public, it “looks into communities around the world to embrace our common home, Planet Earth”.8 It does so through four exhibitions entitled “Visionaries”, “Cycles”, “Multiplicity” and “Retroactive”, four books (Fig. 1a, 1b), a selection of Independent Projects and three Awards.9 All of which share worldwide local insights to help us see an alternative to the “linear-growth system”, a model that leads to thinking the cities as machines, towards the “circular-growth system”10 that, instead, looks at “cities as machines”. The exhibitions are the result of a three-years-long collective and international curatorial work, where chief curators decided to “let others speak through an inclusive exhibition and with a variety of voices”11 using the Triennale as a platform for non-hierarchical exchange.
But what does it mean for an architecture Triennale to “call for action”? When faced with the question, the ten curators replied that by simply showing to as many people as possible what others do, or have done, can ignite an inner change that brings back ethics in the discourse. The exhibitions were scattered throughout the city of Lisbon in several iconic sites such as the MAAT museum, the CCB – Garagem Sul, the Culturgest or the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Curated by scenographer and researcher Anastassia Smirnova together with architectural firm SVESMI and co-curated by Anupama Kundoo and Caroline Voet for the sections Tabula Rasa and Contemplating Space, this show at the Culturgest is designed by BUREAU as a giant curtain (Fig. 2) that unveils the exhibition rooms, presenting a selection of visionaries (artists, architects, designers or engineers) who aspired to systematically change the world both in the past and today. Divided in sections such as “Tabula Rasa Temptation”, “Cathedral Thinking” or “Monovisionaries”, visitors are faced with case studies such as Auroville (Fig. 3), the utopian city in India designed by Roger Anger (1923-2008), which wanted to be “the city that Earth missed” and is still an ongoing project with its failures and successes; or Dutch architect and benedict monk Dom van der Laan (1904-1991) who believed in the transformative power of architecture and who developed his own alternative to the golden section, “the plastic number”, to design monasteries, churches and one house. Galina Balashova (Fig. 4) was the only architect and woman at the Soviet space bureau OKB-1 to have created interior designed for the first orbital station Soyuz to “domesticate life in space”.12 The exhibition goes on with projects from Ensamble Studio, Bruno Munari, Selgascano, Aristide Antonas, Tokyo Toilet Project or Tomoaki Uno, to name a few, and features videos by artists Nuno Cera, Elena Koptiaeva and Mila Bauman.
Fig. 4 - Drawing by Galina Balashova, 1970, as exhibited within "Visionaries", 6th Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2022. Photo: Marianna Guernieri
“Potentially each one of us is a visionary,” said Smirnova during the presentation, “but we decided to show some that have dedicated their life into systemically thinking and practically doing something to change the world.”
This was, overall, the most engaging among the four exhibitions on show. The presentation of original themes and thinkers, as well as the clarity in the exhibition design (not by accident the curator has a background in scenography) accomplished the curator’s mission to generate curiosity and activate a change in the visitor’s mind. The exhibition, in specific, could be browsed freely with no predetermined order, it gathered photos, ad hoc videos, drawings and rare archive materials. “Potentially each one of us is a visionary,” said Smirnova during the presentation, “but we decided to show some that have dedicated their life into systemically thinking and practically doing something to change the world.” The names that have been put forward were presented not in a chronological order, but rather grouped according to the way they acted during their life and career. Cathedral Thinking, for example, relates to that approach typical of medieval cathedral building, where a group of people would work hand by hand into something that they would not see during their lifetime, but was meant for future generations. Smirnova found in many contemporary projects this same ethical approach, where the architect works with communities, sometimes even losing the ownership of a design, as in the case of Selgascano’s Second Home in Miami where his concept was taken by the client and replicated in several parts of the world without bearing the signature of the Spanish studio (Fig. 5).
Smirnova found in many contemporary projects this same ethical approach, where the architect works with communities, sometimes even losing the ownership of a design.
Fig. 5 - Official image of the "Visionaries" exhibition as part of the 6th Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2022. Selgascano, Second Home Hollywood offices, 2019, Los Angeles, California ©Iwan Baan
Cycles and City Mining
“When we look at a building, we don’t make a distinction on whether it’s new or demolished. To us it represents the same mass of matter that has to be sourced and discarded somehow,” declared Pamela Prado and Pedro Ignacio Alonso, the Chilean curators of the exhibition “Cycles” which insists on the need to design sustainable cycles for the materials used in the architecture industry. It puts forward concepts like urban mining (extracting materials from existing urban contexts) and brings forward a variety of case studies by architects like Jorge Ambrosi + Gabriela Etchegaray, BC Architects & studies & materials (Fig. 6), the Ruinorama Collective and Sebastian Contreras. The exhibition’s standfirst, “The architects who never threw anything away” takes its inspiration from Ilya Kabakov’s short story The Man who Never Threw Anything Away (1977) (Fig. 7), stressing that organization and cataloging are fundamental ingredients in the process of transformation and redistribution of matter. Here is exhibited “Biogenic Construction” by The Royal Danish Academy that won the Triennale’s Universities Award with a research on thatched construction, hay and clay (Fig. 8)
Organization and cataloging are fundamental ingredients in the process of transformation and redistribution of matter.
The curators take the chance of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale to show us cases of virtuous reuse and reclassification of used building materials to hasten the need to never think of materials in the status they present themselves when we decide to implement them in construction, but rather think of the whole cycle they come across, from sourcing to discarding. Even if the theme might sound naïf at first glance, this was the exhibition with the clearest examples of architectural reuse or virtuous use of resources: very practical and down to earth, literally. An interesting example is the 1:1 model in clay and hay by students from the Royal Danish Academy who presented a real alternative to mass real estate building consumption.
The curators show us cases of virtuous reuse and reclassification of used building materials to hasten the need to never think of materials in the status they present themselves when we decide to implement them in construction, but rather think of the whole cycle they come across, from sourcing to discarding.
Fig. 8 - "Biogenic Construction" by the Royal Danish Academy, exhibition view of "Cycles" as part of "Terra", 6th Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2022. © Biogenic Constructions
Retroactive and Multiplicity
In a way interconnected, the exhibitions “Retroactive” (curated by Mexican architects Loreta Castro Reguera and José Pablo Ambrosi at MAAT in Lisbon) and “Multiplicity” (curated by Tau Tavengwa and Vyjayanthi Rao at the MNAC in Lisbon) look at the responses that have been given worldwide to spaces and places where architecture was absent or “broken”, meaning that it was not able to accomplish its initial role, becoming abandoned or vandalized. The Tempelhof in Berlin is a clear example exhibited that represents a virtuous re-appropriation of a “broken” space. “Rather than focusing on the design of beautiful buildings and interiors, the exhibition is a call to action that asks the architect to take his pen and use the power of design as a healer,” explained Castro Reguera.13 On the other hand, “Multiplicity” presents a variety of projects that take into account the fact that most of the world is building itself without architects.14 Projects vary from the modular “Bookworm Pavilion” by Nudes (Fig. 9) in Mumbai to the “Ibasho House” created by the elderly in the Massaki district of Ōfunato, Japan, after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2013. In both these curatorial projects we observe the power of overcoming architecture’s disciplinary boundaries. In the case of “Retroactive”, however, the clear and impacting presentation of broken cities throughout the world was not sustained by a clear presentation of the projects where architects actually intervened transforming discarded places into places of community making.
Fig. 9 - “Bookworm Pavilion” by Nudes, exhibition view of "Multiplicity" as part of "Terra", 6th Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2022. © Sara Constanca SMA
Beyond the construction of buildings, all four-exhibitions challenged the profession of the architect and its potential within society as that of the activator and the connector between a wide range of actors – from politicians, to citizens, scientists, and other professionals.
What did this Triennale achieve? This edition of the Lisbon Triennale expanded and opened the architectural discourse on the current emergencies facing our “Terra” to a multidisciplinary pool of thinkers, challenging a more collaborative approach to the thinking, and making, of architecture. Beyond the construction of buildings, all four-exhibitions challenged the profession of the architect and, most importantly, its potential within society as that of the activator and the connector between a wide range of actors – from politicians, to citizens, scientists, and other professionals – to achieve common projects for better cohesion and cooperation through design. As curators Loreta Castro Reguera and José Pablo Ambrosi explained to KoozArch, through their pens, architects have the power to generate dreams. Nonetheless, as curator Anastasia Smirnova told us, this can only be achieved by overcoming one’s ego. Communicating to the wider public visiting the Triennale the challenges which lie ahead and the effective solutions taken so far in this hard but potentially exciting scenario, as Buckminster Fuller thought us in his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth16, should be a primary goal for the next Triennale, in order to move from a “call to action” to “action!”.
Designer and journalist, born in Milan in 1987, Marianna Guernieri trained as an interior designer at the Politecnico of Milan and the Rhode Island School of Design. She has been part of Domus editorial staff for over 10 years, working as a web editor, writer and content manager covering design, architecture and art stories with a special interest in radical sustainability and the margins. In 2022 she started her own independent activity that includes writing, designing and art making. She lives between Italy, Mexico and the United States.
1 From José Mateus’ opening speech at the inauguration of “Terra”, Lisbon Architecture Triennale on September 29th, 2022.
2 The 6th Lisbon Triennale will be open to the public until December 5, 2022. Available at Editorial: Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2022 “Terra” – KoozArch and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale website
3 The first Lisbon Architecture Triennale took place from 31 May to 31 July 2007.
4 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2018+2020, chief curated by Geroge Brugmans, which took place from June 1 to July 8, 2018. Available at shorturl.at/bkoC0
5 See Broken Nature available at https://www.brokennature.org and XXII Triennale di Milano, available at https://www.triennale.org/xxii-triennale
6 From Paola Antonelli’s opening speech at the inauguration of “Broken Nature” at the XXII Triennale di Milano on March 1, 2019.
7 Available at http://www.cvdbarquitectos.com/
8 Terra mission statement
9 The Lifetime Achievement Award was assigned to Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum, the Début Award was assigned to Brazilian Studio vão and the Universities Award to The Royal Danish Academy.
11 As Diogo Burnay explained to Koozarch during the opening days.
12 From exhibition informative panels.
13 Koozarch interview with Loreta Castro Reguera and José Pablo Ambrosi during the opening days of the 6th Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
14 As stated in the exhibition statement.
15 Francesco Pasta, What we learned from John F. C. Turner about the informal city?, Domusweb, 2020. Available at shorturl.at/bsDPX
16 Richard Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1969).