MIT at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale

Faculty, researchers, graduate students, and alumni represented in 15  exhibitions and pavilions.

Architects, artists, and designers from the MIT community constitute a robust presence at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.

With eight full-time and visiting faculty, four alumni, and numerous contributing researchers and graduate students, the MIT community is deeply integrated into the extensive programming associated with the Biennale, including the main exhibition, national pavilions, and collateral locations across the historic city. In all, individuals from the MIT community are represented in 10 separate installations and exhibitions.

The 15th international architecture exhibition, opening May 28, is curated by Chilean architect and 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Aravena’s theme, announced last fall, is “Reporting from the Front,” focusing on architecture’s capacity to improve the human condition by responding on many fronts — such as segregation, inequality, suburbia, sanitation, natural disasters, the housing shortage, migration, crime, traffic, waste, pollution, and community participation.

"With this year’s theme, Alejandro Aravena has issued a challenge to architecture: to mobilize design as a mode of inquiry to realize alternate and better futures. The theme and the challenge tap directly into the MIT ethos," says Hashim Sarkis, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P). "Our faculty, students, and alumni do not shy away from hard problems. Their numerous installations in Venice will reflect the breadth of the MIT community’s efforts to apply the tools of architecture and design to build a better world."

The group of Venice participants from MIT also reflect the international make-up and worldview of SA+P, Sarkis adds, noting that the faculty, alumni, and students come from more than 10 countries and their projects span five continents.

Read the related MIT News stories:

MIT at the Venice Biennale: On a global stage, MIT helps steer architecture toward solving worldwide challenges

A Robust Presence for MIT at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale


The MIT-related projects and associated faculty and alumni include:

“Rwanda Droneport Prototype”
John Ochsendorf, Professor
Matthew DeJong, SM ’05 PhD ’09
Philippe Block, SM ’05 PhD ’09

Location: Arsenale

Ochsendorf, DeJong (senior lecturer, University of Cambridge), and Block (associate professor, ETH Zurich) are collaborating with Norman Foster and Foster + Partners to construct a full-scale earthen masonry shell as a prototype for an African “droneport,” which could serve as small airport for drones in areas that lack access to roads. The team that includes Ochsendorf, DeJong, and Block is participating at the invitation of Mr. Aravena. 

“Beyond Bending: Learning from the Past to Design A Better Future”
John Ochsendorf, Professor
Matthew DeJong, SM ’05 PhD ’09
Philippe Block, SM ’05 PhD ’09

Location: Arsenale

With “Beyond Bending,” Ochsendorf, DeJong, and Block are working with The Escobedo Group, drawing upon historical principles and methods to advocate for compression-only forms, such as vaults, as innovative, modern, and vital structures not only because of their uniquely expressive aesthetics but also for their potential to achieve efficiency and stability while curbing material waste. The team that includes Ochsendorf, DeJong, and Block is participating at the invitation of Alejandro Aravena.

“After Oil”
Rania Ghosn, Assistant Professor

Location: Kuwait Pavilion

Design Earth, the creative practice co-founded by Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy (assistant professor at the University of Michigan) joins a discussion to reimagine and reinvent the urban and social landscape of the pan-Gulf region. Through speculative narratives on the post-oil future, “After Oil” engages issues of relevance to the present operations of extraction, transport, and logistics of oil and highlights the environmental implications of tanker operations, wars, and oil spills on the environment of the Gulf.

“Brussels Foodmet”
Alexander D’Hooghe, Associate Professor, and Kobi Ruthenberg SM '13

Location: Gaggiandre

D’Hooghe and his firm, Organization for Permanent Modernity (ORG), are showcasing an innovative design for a mixed-use market building in Brussels serving new and older immigrant populations. A key first step for an urban plan for Brussels’ diverse community, the building is made from “platonic panels” — simple abstract planes in concrete that can be assembled in myriad configurations. ORG is participating at the invitation of Alejandro Aravena.

“The Druzba Project”
Gediminas Urbonas, Associate Professor, and Nomeda Urboniene, MIT Research Affiliate

Location: Baltic Pavilion

Urbonas is the director of the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). His installation, in collaboration with MIT research affiliate Nomeda Urboniene, is “DRUZBA: A Psycho-cultural Infrastructure of the Oil Network.” The project maps a fictional journey along the Druzba, the world’s longest pipeline built by the Soviets. Druzba studies the spaces and territories, and their relations to power — the flows and energies rendered by the metabolism of the infrastructure of ideology.

“Supraextructures versus Structures of Landscape”
Antón García-Abril, Professor, and Débora Mesa, MIT Research Scientist

Location: Baltic Pavilion

"Supraextructures versus Structures of Landscape” is an installation from Ensamble Studio, headed by García-Abril and MIT research scientist Débora Mesa. The project confronts two battles in two antagonistic contexts and reveals the apparently disconnected but actually strongly interrelated challenges when designing for highly urban versus highly rural domains. The juxtaposition of these simultaneous realities in the same space shows the tension within urbanization processes. Ensamble is participating at the invitation of Alejandro Aravena.

“Urban Meta-Genomics: The Microbiological World of Cities”
Kevin Slavin, Benesse Career Development Professor,Media Lab

Location: GAA European Cultural Center, Palazzo Mora

Founder of the Playful Systems group in the MIT Media Lab, Slavin is investigating urban metagenomics to reveal the invisible microbiological world of cities. Using honeybees to gather samples and hives modified to capture “bee debris," the project employs genetic sequencing to discern and visualize urban microbiological neighborhoods and render microbiological landscapes of the city. The exhibition includes a "metagenomic beehive" installed at Palazzo Mora.  

“A New MAM for Sao Paolo”
Angelo Bucci, Visiting Professor

Location: Arsenale

Sixty years after the emergence of Brazil’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM) within Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, Bucci’s practice, SPBR Arquitetos, offers a new configuration to revitalize these landmarks. Four identical transparent prisms — each 750 meters long — form a 3-kilometer square around the original architectural ensemble of Oscar Niemeyer and blur the boundary between museum and park. SPBR is participating at the invitation of Alejandro Aravena.

“The Non-Built”
Clara Solà-Morales, Visiting Professor

Location: Arsenale

“The Non-Built,” from visiting professor Solà -Morales and her practice, Cadaval and Solà-Morales, elaborates on architecture understood as the physical frame that enhances social interaction and society. The installation considers the constructed environment as more than just walls and explores how the discipline is making the landscape part of architecture and vice versa, at all scales and in urban and rural settings. Cadaval and Solà-Morales are participating at the invitation of Alejandro Aravena.

Meejin Yoon, Professor, Department Head

Location: Spanish Pavilion

The Spanish Pavilion’s exhibition, “Unfinished, explores the economic and construction crisis in Spain over recent years. The exhibition includes a continuous projection of 10 interviews with globally relevant  architects and academic leaders—including J. Meejin Yoon, professor and head of the MIT Department of Architecture—sharing their thoughts and reflections about “Unfinished” and Spanish architecture.

Alumni and Students

“Courtyard House Plug-In” -- China Pavilion and the EMG Art Foundation at Palazzo Zen
James Shen, MArch ’07, People's Architecture Office

Designed by the The People’s Architecture Office, including MIT alumnus James Shen MArch ’07, the Courtyard House Plug-In project will be exhibited at the China Pavilion and at full scale at the EMG Art Foundation’s Palazzo Zen. Essentially a house within a house, the plug-in is an innovative approach to repurposing dilapidated buildings in Beijing’s old neighborhoods. The design employs lightweight, modular panels that fit within existing houses by locking together without screws or nails, and that can be removed just as easily from the historic structures.

Kuwait Pavilion, Between East & West: A Gulf
Muneerah Alrabe, SMArchS AKPIA '16

Muneerah Alrabe, a SMArchS candidate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT, is the Publication Coordinator and Editor of the Kuwait's Pavilion publication, Between East & West: A Gulf, which is available in both English and Arabic at the Kuwaiti Pavilion in Venice. This year’s Kuwaiti pavilion looks beyond the shores of the country and argues in favor of a masterplan for a united Gulf. By presenting the untold history of the region and proposing an alternate future, the pavilion casts the hydrography as a singular entity of neither East nor West but as an untapped archipelago which defined the region and offers the greatest possibility for its reconciliation.

Cyprus Pavilion
Pelin Tan, Former fellow, MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology

Tan is contributing to the “Contested Fronts” exhibition in the Cyprus Pavilion. Her project, "Institute of Threshold,” explores Cyprus as a contested borderland in the Mediterranean sea surrounded by refugee/migrant flow, civil war, sea patrols and liquid military control.

Juliet Koss, PhD ’00, Associate Professor of Art History, Scripps College

Koss, an alumna of the program in History, Theory and Criticism (HTC) in the MIT Department of Architecture, is participating in the AoN Symposium, a conference on architecture and neuroscience before the opening.

Mechtild Widrich, PhD '09, Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Widrich, an alumna of the History, Theory and Criticism (HTC) program contributed "On Found Objects and Finding Ourselves in Space" to the Arch + Swiss Pavilion Catalogue "Contributors consider how the object stands in relation to the subject in a world where the capacity for technological and digital reproduction increasingly renders the distinction between depiction and reality moot."

Nina Baier-Bischofberger, BS '96

Baier-Bischofberger, an alumna of the undergraduate program in architecture and civil engineering, co-curated the 'Sarajevo Now' exhibition with Urban Think-Tank and in partnership with the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Venice Biennale opens to the public on May 28, 2016. For more information, visit the Biennale's website.


Media Contacts:
Tom Gearty
MIT School of Architecture and Planning