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The theme of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia set by curator Hashim Sarkis asks, ‘How will we live together?’ This could not be more appropriate at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the unjust and unbalanced ways in which many interconnected societies are designed. It has long been clear that the capitalist system – unilaterally oriented towards growth, production, individualism, and profit maximisation – perpetuates inequality between people and countries, leading to an alarming decline in biodiversity. 

For more than half a century, critical reports have been written, new political parties have arisen, demonstrations have taken place, cautionary statements have been made in documentaries, and grand ambitions have been formulated. These have not led to any major changes in how societies are organised. A real change requires radical choices that start from very different values such as reciprocity, curiosity, relationality, equality, and care.

It is perhaps these choices that Sarkis is looking for with his question: ‘How will we live together?’. Het Nieuwe Instituut, commissioner of the Dutch pavilion, believes that Sarkis’ question is preceded by another one, namely which we is addressed in this question? The word ‘we’ seems to imply inclusion, but it often represents a very singular perspective. As social and ecological urgencies demand immediate care and action, it is fundamental that ‘we’ becomes an even more pluralised pronoun. ‘We’ should encompass all humans and more-than-humans such as soil, plants, animals, and microbes. This multivocality and plurality creates the relations and interactions essential for building resilient societies and cities, and could transform the current – mostly exploitative – dynamic into equal and non-extractive forms of coexistence. While this position should guide all human behaviour, Who is We? calls for architects and urbanists to commit to this plurality and to an urbanism that is female, Indigenous, of colour, queer, and multispecies.

Contributors architect Afaina de Jong and artist Debra Solomon deconstruct normative concepts of space such as ‘terra nullius’ and ‘tabula rasa’, visualising what remains unseen behind the dominant structures that define spaces.

In The Multiplicity of Other, De Jong reconstitutes the dominance of a single-sided universal minority perspective on cities, identifying the spatial knowledge of the overwhelming majority of othered groups as fundamental. She presents Space of Other, a performative space, developed in collaboration with InnaVisions, using public dialogues to engage with other values, languages, and spatial practices like dance, music, and poetry. Solomon advocates Multispecies Urbanism for just urban development driven by reciprocal inter-species relations of care and climate crisis mitigation. In the pavilion she shares research tools such as Radical Observation, soil chromatograms, and rhizotrons to produce environmentally democratic urban landscapes in the form of urban food forests.

Who is We? is an empathic plea against homogeneity as polyphony and plurality create the relations and interactions essential to build resilient societies and cities.

Research Programme

Who is We? is not a conclusion, but rather an opportunity for further research, discussion, and connection with other practices. Connecting with the field of policy, Het Nieuwe Instituut is working together with local governments in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Values for Survival

The Chief Science Officer for the City of Amsterdam, Professor Dr Caroline Nevejan, is developing Values for Survival with a diverse international group of designers and researchers to publicly explore new ways to relate the social and ecological urgencies within the city. This local, national, and international programme of conversations, online research, and essays results in a series of Cahiers designed by Huda AbiFarès.

The Polder of Babel

Het Nieuwe Instituut and the City of Rotterdam have commissioned the Independent School for the City to develop The Polder of Babel: A Superdiverse City in the Anthropocene, investigating how a common sense of urgency in a city like Rotterdam can help build a greener future for all inhabitants.

Open Call

To promote and contribute to knowledge and the development of research in architecture and urbanism, Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Creative Industries Fund NL selected three design teams to present a research proposal relating to the Dutch pavilion. These teams are Bureau LADA, Failed Architecture, and Studio Wild.

Guus Beumer, artistic director Het Nieuwe Instituut
Francien van Westrenen, head of Agency Het Nieuwe Instituut
Afaina de Jong, architect and researcher; Debra Solomon, artist and researcher
Richard Niessen
Laura Pappa, Robert Milne
Juan Arturo García
Caroline Nevejan, Chief Science Officer City of Amsterdam; Huda AbiFarès, graphic design and co-editor
Mike Emmerik, Simone Rots, Independent School for the City
Lada Hršak, Bureau LADA; Chiara Dorbolò and Daphne Bakker, Failed Architecture; Tymon Hogenelst and Jesse van der Ploeg, Studio Wild