View of IRTH, National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the 18th International Venice Architecture Biennale, 2023. Courtesy of Ministry of Culture.
The Laboratory of the Future
May 20 – Nov 26, 2023
18th International Architecture Exhibition
Venice Biennale, Italy

The 18th International Architecture Exhibition, titled The Laboratory of the Future, will be open to the public from Saturday May 20 to Sunday November 26, 2023 at the Giardini and the Arsenale, and at Forte Marghera; it will be curated by Lesley Lokko and organised by La Biennale di Venezia.

“What does it mean to be ‘an agent of change’? (…) Over the past nine months, in hundreds of conversations, text messages, Zoom calls and meetings – stated Lesley Lokko – the question of whether exhibitions of this scale – both in terms of carbon and cost – are justified, has surfaced time and again. In May last year, I referred to the exhibition several times as ‘a story’, a narrative unfolding in space. Today, my understanding has changed. An architecture exhibition is both a moment and a process. It borrows its structure and format from art exhibitions, but it differs from art in critical ways which often go unnoticed. Aside from the desire to tell a story, questions of production, resources and representation are central to the way an architecture exhibition comes into the world, yet are rarely acknowledged or discussed. From the outset, it was clear that the essential gesture of The Laboratory of the Future would be ‘change’.”

The Laboratory of the Future is an exhibition in six parts. It includes 89 Participants, over half of whom are from Africa or the African Diaspora. The gender balance is 50/50, and the average age of all Participants is 43, dropping to 37 in the Curator’s Special Projects, where the youngest is 24. 46% of participants count education as a form of practice, and, for the first time ever, nearly half of Participants are from sole or individual practices of five people or less. Across all the parts of The Laboratory of the Future, over 70% of exhibits are by practices run by an individual or a very small team”.

“Central to all the projects is the primacy and potency of one tool: the imagination – Lokko said. It is impossible to build a better world if one cannot first imagine it. The Laboratory of the Future begins in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, where 16 practices who represent a distilled force majeure of African and Diasporic architectural production have been gathered. It moves to the Arsenale complex, where participants in the Dangerous Liaisons section – also represented in Forte Marghera in Mestre – rub shoulders with the Curator’s Special Projects, for the first time a category that is as large as the others. Threaded through and amongst the works in both venues are young African and Diasporan practitioners, our Guests from the Future, whose work engages directly with the twin themes of this exhibition, decolonisation and decarbonisation, providing a snapshot, a glimpse of future practices and ways of seeing and being in the world. (…) We have deliberately chosen to frame participants as ‘practitioners’ – the Curator stated – and not ‘architects’ and/or ‘urbanists’, ‘designers’, ‘landscape architects’, ‘engineers’ or ‘academics’ because it is our contention that the rich, complex conditions of both Africa and a rapidly hybridising world call for a different and broader understanding of the term ‘architect’.

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