Faculty, students, alumni at 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale

2016 Venice Biennale

The Harvard Graduate School of Design community will be active at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, which opens to the public this Saturday, May 28.

Established in 1980, the international architecture exhibition is now in its 15th biannual installment. It is curated this year by Chilean architect and 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Alejandro Aravena, who taught at the GSD in 2000 and 2005. Announced last fall, Aravena’s curatorial theme is “Reporting from the Front,” aiming to examine and illustrate architecture’s potential to affect, and ideally improve, quality of life and the human condition.

“On the one hand we would like to widen the range of issues to which architecture is expected to respond,” Aravena says in his official introduction, “adding explicitly to the cultural and artistic dimensions that already belong to our scope, those that are on the social, political, economical and environmental end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we would like to highlight the fact that architecture is called to respond to more than one dimension at a time, integrating a variety of fields instead of choosing one or another.”

GSD students, faculty, and alumni from across disciplines will be engaged in a variety of endeavors, especially during the Biennale’s opening events this week. Some are curating installations and contributing to pavilions, others presenting at collateral events and participating in related activities.

A host of faculty and alumni on design team for U.S. national pavilion

Headed by co-curators Cynthia Davidson (LF ’89) of Log magazine and Monica Ponce de Leon (MAUD ’91), recently appointed Dean of Architecture at Princeton, the design team for the United States national pavilion “The Architectural Imagination” includes GSD architecture faculty Mack Scogin and Preston Scott Cohen (MArch ’85) and alumni Marshall Brown (MArch/MAUD ’00), Michael Meredith (MArch ’00), Jesús Vassallo (MArch ’07), and Andrew Zago (MArch ’86).

Additionally, Brown collaborated with Allison Cottle (MArch ’16) on his design work for the project, and Maya White-Turre (MArch ’04) collaborated on submission to the pavilion from A(n) Office.

The Architectural Imagination will offer an exhibition of speculative architectural projects designed for four specific sites in Detroit, but with applications and provocations relevant to cities around the world. As the curators recently told Archinect, the element that makes these speculations especially interesting is their relationship to the actuality of their sites in Detroit.

To that end, the curators enlisted an advisory board of Detroit city officials, community leaders, and others who have dealt with issues in the city from different points of view; Toni Griffin (LF ’98), professor in practice of urban planning, is one of the 11 board members. The board helped select the four sites and connect the architectural team with the city.


(From Preston Scott Cohen, a model of his project “Revolving Detroit,” named after the geometry of hyperboloids of revolution and tied to the idea of turning Detroit around in a particular way, programmatically. Cohen was tasked a site near the waterfront that includes an underutilized post office processing center on a huge raised deck. “I observed that the post office coincides with one of the circles in the original largely unbuilt Detroit Woodward plan,” Cohen says. The post office not only occupies what would have been a large open circle in the plan, a public space, but also blocks off a current street from access to the water. I propose to cut the street through the post office, have it ramp up and lead to the new and displaced Woodward circle manifested by our building.”)

“What I’m very excited about is the geographical, generational, and stylistic diversity of the architects on the team,” says Brown, associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture and principal of Marshall Brown Projects. “I think that will create a very interesting discussion, especially in a site as historically charged as Detroit.”

The Architectural Imagination: Press and Sponsor Preview (invitation only):
Thursday, May 26 – Friday, May, 27, 2016: Vernissage (Biennale Preview)
Thursday, May 26, 2016, 7:00pm-9:00pm: U.S. Reception, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Friday, May 27, 2016, 11:30am: Press Conference and U.S. Pavilion Inauguration, Giardini, Venice

Pierre Bélanger curates Canada’s national pavilion

Associate professor of landscape architecture Bélanger (MLA ’00) was selected by the Canada Council for the Arts as the first-ever landscape architect to curate the Canadian national pavilion at the Biennale. Titled EXTRACTION, the project profiles Canada’s position as the preeminent extraction nation on the planet and its rise as global resource empire. Looking at fundamental issues of land and power, the project examines the scales, sources, and systems of extraction that underlie the mineral media of contemporary urban life.

The project team features a range of current students and recent graduates from the GSD including Christopher Alton (MDes ‘14), Zannah Matson (MLA ‘15), Hamed Bukhamseen (MAUD ‘15), Jinjin Zhang (MDes ‘17), Olga Semenovych (MDes ‘16), and Genevieve Ennis (MDes ‘17). The project will feature in part a selection of live research and recorded interviews from the recent seminar Ecology, Infrastructure, Power featuring the work of current GSD students from a range of graduate and postgraduate programs.

Group of GSD students and alumni curating Kuwaiti pavilion 

Ali Karimi (MArch ’16) is collaborating with Hamed Bukhamseen (MAUD ’15) to curate Kuwait’s national pavilion, “Between East and West: A Gulf,” which will “look past Kuwait’s borders to the contested hydrography of the Persian/Arabian Gulf” in order to propose a new masterplan for the region.

The project took root in an independent study project entitled “Arabistan” that Bukhamseen and Karimi completed with assistant professor of landscape architecture Gareth Doherty in the Spring 2015 semester, exploring the territory of the Persian Gulf as a political and national architectural project. Their project was exhibited at the 40 Kirkland Gallery in Spring 2015, and over that summer was presented to the Kuwaiti National Council for Culture, Arts, and Letters, which then chose it to be Kuwait’s National Participation for this year’s Venice Biennale.

Bukhamseen and Karimi are working with a team of students from the region, including Yousef Awaad Hussein, Rawan Al Saffar, and Nada Al Qallaf (all MArch ’17), as well as GSD alum Shahab Al Bahar (MLA ’15).

Rahul Mehrotra and an installation on research on cities

Mehrotra, professor of urban design and planning, was invited by the Curator to install a pavilion in the Arsenale covering his research on cities. Ephemeral Urbanism: Cities in Constant Flux aspires to trigger a discussion around the question of permanence as the default condition for cities, and what this means for architecture and the city. The project features hundreds of cases globally, organized under seven broad rubrics: Ephemeral Landscapes of Refuge, Disasters, Transactions, Military, Religion, Celebration, and Extraction.

The Ephemeral Mega City of the Kumbh Mela
, a research project carried out under the umbrella of the South Asia Institute at Harvard University and in collaboration with several Harvard schools, is featured in great detail to illustrate the expansive potentials of studying ephemeral landscapes as a productive category in the larger discussion about urbanism. The pavilion exemplifies the lightness of ephemeral landscapes through its physical construction—it comprises three materials (bamboo, rope and cloth) and is intended to be light for travel, easy to install, and 100% recyclable. Felipe Vera (MDes ‘13) co-curated the pavilion with Mehrotra.


Diane Davis presents in collateral event “GangCity”

Davis, Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism, and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, will be a main presenter in the opening presentation of “GangCity,” a symposium and multimedia exhibition that aims to reveal the reciprocal influence between the violence and geography of cities, paying particular attention to the gangs as primary groups born in, and spread throughout the urban ghettos.

Simon Battisti (MArch ’14) on curatorial team for Albanian pavilion

Battisti joins Harvard Design Magazine deputy editor Leah Whitman-Salkin and design collective Åbäke on project entitled, “I Have Left You the Mountain.” The project was selected from an open call for proposals from the Albanian Ministry of Culture held in Fall 2015.

The curators have commissioned ten preeminent writers and thinkers to compose texts on the architecture of displacement. These texts have been set to music and sung by the last remaining groups of Albanian iso-polyphonic singers, an art form now protected as “intangible culture heritage” by UNESCO. A 12-inch vinyl record will be played continuously in the pavilion as an eight-channel audio installation, filling the pavilion with the voices of Albania.

Albanian Pavilion launch and record release:

Thursday, May 26, 2016, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m., Bruno bookstore (Dorsoduro 1621/A), Venice.

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners exhibition features Wimbledon house 

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners has installed an exhibition, “Saving the City,” looking at housing. Among the projects featured in the exhibition is the Wimbledon, London home that Richard Rogers designed for his parents in the late 1960s, and which he donated to the GSD last year.

Tomás dePaor represents Ireland 

Design critic in architecture dePaor was selected by the Associazione Italiana di Architettura e Critica to represent Ireland at the Biennale, and was selected by A10 magazine to contribute to IN practice, a survey of best European architectural practice.

Sibel Bozdogan on selection committee for Turkish national pavilion

Lecturer in urban planning and design, Bozdogan was a member of the selection committee that chose the project for the Turkish national pavilion and will attend the opening together with the design team, the architectural office of TEGET Mimarlk.

Luis Callejas a finalist for Rolex’s Mentors and Protégés in Architecture award

Callejas, lecturer in architecture and landscape architecture, will attend the Biennale as a finalist for Rolex’s Mentors and Protégés in Architecture award. If chosen, Callejas will spend a year mentoring a young talent.

For a full overview of 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale programming, please visit the Biennale’s website.