In Celebrating Architecture Part I published in NESS 1, we felt the need to map and quantify the biennials and triennials in a two-year span (2016 – 2018). We looked into the number of editions, into the processes by which curators were appointed, and into the background of all participants to picture the network of global representation of each event. Now, however, as the number of events has grown we found ourselves hesitant to review the data sets to produce legitimate, comparable information. We have come to the preliminary conclusion that these kinds of events are most vivid if engaged with the local or regional community.
Current curatorial proposals for biennials and triennials seek to give visibility to productions that deserve greater attention: on the one hand, by fostering the work of local creators and emerging profiles and, on the other hand, by redistributing its focuses in order to expand to other platforms and address local audiences. The latest editions have set themselves free from a principal venue and have spread into the city with the apparent desire to get closer to peripheral neighborhoods and construct a new collective sense of locality.
At the same time, the emphasis on the hosting city’s architecture, landscape, urban planning and design scene in the text of each press release or curatorial statement seems to be mandatory— the aim is to be situated. If lost in the translation of global capital, trends, and names, biennials and triennials would only perpetuate Dostoyevsky’s characterization of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 in Paxton’s Crystal Palace as discussed by Sloterdijk: they would become the power display of Western Civilization. In an updating globalized world, architecture continues to propose a critical reading of contemporary events by redefining the local to, and from there, engage in a wide-ranging and relational discussion.
The case of the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) is illuminating. The second CAB edition in 2017 co-curated by Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee focused on several foundational modern and postmodern moments of Western architectural thought such as the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. These episodes are different to the ones highlighted in the current edition. The third CAB curated by Yesomi Umolu, Sepake Angiama, and Paulo Tavares recounts Chicago’s intricate stories of colonialism, migration, and exploitation and showcases projects from different places that critically reflect on those processes as well as propose collective forms of association to build community.
It is certainly complicated to understand our environments and the avocational role design plays in them. In any case, it is hard not to notice the dichotomist agenda of either focusing on socially engaged displays of spatial practice or on the technological and esthetical discourses on architecture.
We wonder: what reunion of these accounts is possible since architectural discourse, as well as cities and the built environment, is tainted by it all?
During the length of this editorial, we will be posting regularly on the biennials and triennials that are inaugurating between September and November (such as the events in São Paulo, Sharjah, Tallinn, Seoul, Lisbon, Orléans, among others), asking practitioners what role these events have and forwarding related articles we think relevant to understand contemporary architecture culture. Stay tuned!