With approximately one in seven people today being a migrant – in 2014 there were 250 million international and 750 million internal migrants – migration is naturally one of the key themes in the Venice Biennale 2016. The Finnish pavilion addresses the topic with the From Border to Home exhibition displaying results of last fall’s design competition aiming at finding housing solutions for people seeking asylum in Finland. Seven winners chosen from the 93 submitted proposals to the competition are displayed in the exhibition. Interestingly, all the presented solutions, among them mobile apps, ideas of sharing empty rooms in bigger apartments as well as retrofitting derelict office buildings, build on existing resources.
Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country
The German Pavilion’s exhibition Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country is based on Canadian author Doug Sander’s book Arrival City. The exhibition studies the conditions of the so-called arrival cities and lists various characteristics of urban environments that are able to support integration processes. The exhibition takes a symbolic role with four large openings made to the permanent walls of the prestigious German pavilion, manifesting that as the exhibition itself, also Germany should stay open. The exhibition is supported by a comprehensive database of realised and under-construction refugee buildings across Germany and Europe.
Although these districts are typically characterized as “problem areas,” they offer residents and new arrivals the most important prerequisites of an Arrival City: affordable housing, access to work, small-scale commercial spaces, good access to public transit, networks of immigrants from the same culture, as well as a tolerant attitude that extends to the acceptance of informal practices.
Redefining the Architecture of a Refugee Camp
Situated in a tent pavilion next to the entrance of the Giardini main exhibition, architect Manuel Herz together with the National Union of Sahrawi Women are presenting a Pavilion for Western Sahara with the title “Redefining the Architecture of a refugee camp as the Identity of a Nation”. Western Sahara is a country located at the western edge of the African continent. Since 1975 occupied by Morocco, most of the Western Saharan population – the Sahrawis – have had to flee into Algeria where they live settled in refugee camps, today housing approximately 160,000 Sahrawis. For the Sharawis the tent itself is a political manifestation, as it is the physical representation of a political demand for a return to the home country of the Western Sahara.
For the first time a nation in exile is represented with a pavilion at the Biennale Architettura di Venezia. The project uses the controversial concept of the “national pavilion” as an instrument to bring the Western Sahara on eye level with the other nations represented at the Biennale, while also allowing for novel ideas for the nation state to enter the debate
Places for People
Austrian Pavilion with the exhibition Places for People does not only exist in the Biennale, but includes three ongoing projects in Vienna. Three teams have been commissioned to work together with Austrian NGOs to design the conversion of empty buildings into temporary accommodation for people whose asylum claims are being processed but also to accompany these buildings in the longer term. According to the curators, the objectives of the interventions are to subject the social responsibility of architecture to a reality check, to provide humane places to live for those affected and to present the results in Venice to a broader public.
Even if the three interventions can be understood as ‘pilot projects’, they are also being developed in the knowledge that there is already a multitude of approaches, in Austria and further afield, which can be regarded as exemplary, inspiring and, at all events, worthy of discussion. The following 14 interviews [in the exhibition Newspaper] present a selection of such projects which have already been developed in Austria.
I Have Left You The Mountain
“I Have Left You The Mountain” is the title of the Albanian pavilion’s exhibition, curated by Simon Battisti, Leah Whitman-Salkin, and Åbäke. In Albania, migration has become one of the strongest forces to shape the urban fabric of the country, as in 2013, 45 percent of Albanian nationals lived abroad. The exhibition is built around a sound installation playing traditional Albanian iso-polyphonic singing. The pavilion addresses the emotional side of migration as iso-polyphony has historically been used to process the emotional impacts of migration, loss, nostalgia, and spaces of unfamiliarity. Lyrics of the songs are interpreted from texts commissioned from different writers, poets, and thinkers including artist Claire Fontaine, architect Yona Friedman, anthropologist Michael Taussig, economist Yanis Varoufakis and urbanist Finn Williams, who also co-curated this year’s British Pavilion at the Biennale.
“I Have Left You the Mountain” initiates a conversation about the urbanism of displacement, projecting the Albanian case onto an international stage, with the express intention to transmit that dialogue and its speculations back into Albania.