An architect, educator, and writer with a unique vision of the relationship between architecture and the most pressing social, cultural, and economic-environmental needs, Lesley Lokko has been appointed curator of the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2023. Roberto Cicutto, president of the Venice Biennale, recommended her candidature. A member of the international jury of this year’s event (which closed its doors at the end of November, recording higher visitor numbers than in 2018), Lokko will continue her predecessors’ mission to deliver as complete a picture as possible of the architecture of tomorrow.
Following the appointment of Hashim Sarkis from Lebanon as curator in 2021, the board of the Venice Biennale has once again looked beyond Europe’s borders to fill the position. As Cicutto explains, “The appointment of Lesly Lokko is a way of embracing the vision of an international professional who, because of her different roles, is uniquely placed to interpret the contemporary discussion of architecture and cities, beginning with her experience in a continent [Africa] that’s become a testing ground for new ideas for the entire world.”
Lokko, who’s half Ghanaian, half Scottish, and born in Dundee, has always combined architecture and teaching. Her most recent achievement in the two areas was the foundation in 2020 of the African Futures Institute in Accra, Ghana, a postgraduate school of architecture and important center for public events. Five years earlier, she was involved in a similar project, setting up the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Lokko says she has a passion for teaching in her soul, and her work in education has led to numerous awards as well as professorships all over the world, from London to Chicago to Sydney. Also in 2023, Lokko’s new novel will be released. Titled The Lonely Hourand published by Pan Macmillan, this will be her twelfth book since 2004.
Judged as one the hundred most influential African women in 2021 by New African magazine and with a deep insight into the situation in Ghana, a country that’s increasingly becoming a testing ground for new ideas, Lokko is also uniquely placed to understand the needs of attendees at the Venice Architecture Biennale. “A new world order is emerging, with new centers of knowledge production and control,” commented Lokko. “New audiences are also emerging, hungry for different narratives, different tools, and different languages of space, form, and place.” The pandemic has greatly accelerated this situation, giving architects a unique opportunity to “put forward ambitious and creative ideas that help us imagine a more equitable and optimistic future in common.” And a more equitable and optimistic future is precisely what a country like Ghana is striving for, where work has been underway for years to upgrade public and private buildings, schools, and health facilities using easily replicable design and structural models that combine local traditions with the latest technology.
The exhibition will be held from Saturday, May 20 through Sunday, November 26, 2023 (pre-opener, May 18 and 19).
Cover photo: Photography by Murdo Macleod, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Photo gallery: Photography by Debra Hurford-Brown, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia