Autumn is the season for visiting shows, and one of the most interesting of recent years is the Trienal de Arquitectura de Lisboa. Now in its sixth edition, it is curated by an international team pairing Cristina Verissimo with Diogo Burnay, and focuses on the theme of the Earth. The expo will remain open until 5th December 2022 and is made up of four main exhibitions ‒ Retroactive, Multiplicity, Visionaries and Cycles ‒ that share the same aim of showcasing useful ways of using architecture to deal with the current and future challenges for the planet. In practice, it is a call to action to evolve from "the current model of a linear and fragmented system, characterised by the excessive use of resources, to a model of a circular and holistic system, motivated by a greater and deeper balance between communities, resources and processes," as the curators explained.
"As a planet, Earth has survived the most diverse catastrophes, changed and moved on. But the same did not happen to most of its inhabitants in the critical moments, whose fate was extinction. And that is what humanity must reflect on, with the additional awareness that we do not have the right to leave such a heavy legacy to our children and generations to come, we have to move on to action" — José Mateus, the Chairman of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
The city as an organism is referred to several times within the various pavilions, as a place knowing how to live and exist in harmony with the ecosystem; an environmentally friendly and green entity. The image of a grey, polluted city structured on consumption is entirely banished. In fact, what emerges in Lisbon is a new role not only for urban environments but for architecture in general. A role that is actually a very old one, returning to its roots to once again savour a sense of community and local resources. This is also the departure point for careful attention to parts of the world considered 'marginal' until recently, such as Cambodia or Mexico. Referred to also as the world's South, this region emerges at the Triennale with all the power of its ideas and a desire to achieve them. Countries that do not betray their traditions but instead emphasise their spiritual and intellectual past.
For anyone already in Lisbon or deciding to visit it in the coming weeks, these are THE PLAN's recommendations on what to see at the 2022 Triennale.
Retroactive is the title of one of the Lisbon Triennale exhibitions. Curated by Loreta Castro Reguera and José Pablo Ambrosi, its venue is the Tejo former power station housing the Museum of Art Architecture and Technology. The exhibition offers small- and medium-scale projects simulating the regeneration of cities, and its aim is to showcase contexts that reconcile today's challenges, such as migration, land ownership, waste management, access to drinking water, or management of possible inter-ethnic tensions.
The various projects include, for instance, Sapé and WaterHall. With design concept by Base Urbana and Pessoa Arquiteto, Sapé simulates redevelopment of a neighbourhood of the same name in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. Three areas for new buildings have been created in place of precarious shanty towns, while public space has also been maximised, extending park areas and pedestrian routes. Routes that the project also accompanies with spaces for open-air businesses so that they can contribute to generating employment and improving the residents' financial situation. Instead, WaterHall is a project by Magic Kwan and Kenrick Wong, and it took shape in the Cambodian village of Sneung during the extreme drought of 2019. Constructed for collecting rainwater, a tank was built entirely using local materials and techniques, and fitted with a filtering system to provide drinking water.
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In these two exhibitions, Visionaries and Multiplicity, the theme of community comes to light. The former is based at Culturgest, while the latter at the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea.
Visionaries includes large and small projects alike, selected by the curator Anastassia Smirnova. They all pivot on the same core strategy: to contribute to changing ‒ for the better ‒ the world and society, and the relationship between people and spaces. The exhibition route is an intriguing one and unfurls following a theatre curtain that conceals the ideas by designers such as Bruno Munari, Aristide Antonas, Ensamble Studio, MVRDV and Selgascano, to name but a few. A project that more than others expresses the 'delicate' role of nature for community is Auroville, the town of peace which has gradually been taking shape in India since 1968, in Viluppuram District in Tamil Nadu State. Yet to be completed, it is based on philosopher and mystic Sri Aurobindo's vision, and was developed by Roger Anger, who structured it in such a way as to keep it open to the community's future needs. An interesting detail is that when working on the project, Anger had to wait for the Auroville community to have reached an adequate level of maturity in striking a balance between personal freedom and the dynamics of communal living before he could finish a few key edifices for the town, such as cultural centres and administration buildings. This illustrates how architecture can foster maturity in civic relations.
Multiplicity takes visitors to corners of the world where architecture is not built, nor made of bricks or edifices: instead it is made of individuals or organisations that experiment and gradually redefine architecture itself. Curated by Tau Tavengwa, co-founder of the magazine Cityscapes, and by the Indian anthropologist Vyjayanthi Rao, Multiplicity brings together this series of collective and informal processes. Some such examples are Community Fridges in Brooklyn Heights – popping up during the pandemic and evolving into a network of hundreds of volunteers ‒ or Granja Transfronteriza ‒ an organisation managed by the Torolab collective in Tijuana, which has been supporting and working with the migrant community in Camino Verde for over 25 years through projects ranging from food to art. Also worth a special mention is the work by the Sri Lankan collective Let’s Build Great Things, combining architecture, art and design. The volunteers arrange weekly courses at a children's centre in Colombo, teaching the kids how to face the challenges of our era right from an early age so as to make them aware participants in building tomorrow's societies.
The fourth of the Lisbon triennial shows has the Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém architecture space Garagem Sul as its venue, and is curated by two Chileans: the art expert Pamela Prado and the architect Pedro Ignacio Alonso. The idea for Cycles stems from Ilya Kabakov's 1977 work The man who never threw anything away, where the central character collects and catalogues discarded items, without managing to get rid of them, a little like a hoarder. Nonetheless, this attitude gives them new life, precisely because these objects lose their connotations of 'waste' items and become something else. The question that the curators ask the public is therefore the following: What would happen if we treated demolition debris and salvageable construction materials as a departure point for something else? The exhibition brings together a series of projects, installations and proposals that try to conceive these waste and discarded items and materials in a different way.
The Universities Award is the recognition given to universities by the Lisbon Triennale, and this is the first year it is split into two categories: Master and Research. Due to the high quality and topicality of the entries, the Master award has been jointly assigned to four winning projects: Aquatic Livelihoods, by Harvard University; Coastal Interference, by Bergen School of Architecture; The (in)visible traces of the landscape, by Paris-Saclay University; The Theater of the People, by City College of New York. Instead, the prize in the Research category has been awarded to Biogenic Construction, by the Royal Danish Academy.
Recognising the best newcomer, Début goes to Studio vão, for the originality, eco-sustainability and elegance of its work, both in terms of architectural design and a skilful use and knowledge of building materials.
Lastly, the Lifetime Achievement Award honours Marina Tabassum, the Bangladeshi architect. She was chosen for the positive influence her designs are exerting on the current architectural scene, and for their scope to combine traditional construction techniques with technological transformation to ensure greater eco-sustainability.
All images courtesy of Trienal de Arquitectura de Lisboa