What’s An Architecture Biennale Good For Anyway?

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What’s An Architecture Biennale Good For Anyway?
© Maarteen Hajer

As our residency at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam comes to an end, we reflect on the impact, the legacy and the future of the 2016 edition.

While it’s not very common for architecture biennales to organise their own criticism, that’s what this year’s International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) has done. In the early spring we were asked to be this year’s ‘critics-in-residence’ and reflect on the ideas, projects and outcomes of the biennale in a series of essays. After an introductory reflection on this role, we started with a written extrapolation of the future techno-dystopia presented in the VR-installation at the entrance to the biennale, arguing that the future city might indeed look like this ‘if we don’t change course’. Then, we distilled the most important threads from the biennale’s exhibition, which can be read as a broad outline for an alternative way forward with respect to this looming dystopia.

IABR–2016 takeaways
As we noted in our introductory essay, every edition of IABR so far has been political, shedding light on the inner workings of the city and spatial production. It does not focus on “architecture as architecture as architecture”, but engages with the complex acts of urbanism, of orchestrating societal and environmental dynamics in space, and it sees design as a social and public tool. Operating in this context, IABR–2016 chief curator Maarten Hajer has developed a normative outline for the city in the Next Economy (this year’s theme), consisting of three major aspects: cities in the Next Economy are sustainable (i.e. a deep decarbonisation of all our activities), they are productive (providing meaningful employment and manufacturing) and they are socially inclusive (providing opportunities and a right to the city for all).

The projects on show have various strategies in common to realise this vision. A central mantra in all of this is that we should favour economies that add value locally (worthwhile jobs, diverse amenities, ecosystems, etc) over those that extract value (whether financially, socially, or in terms of non-renewable resources). […]