Top Picks of Venice Architecture Biennale 2016


For Shirley Surya, Associate Curator, Design and Architecture, at M+ museum, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 is an occasion to explore the limits and potentials of constructing all aspects of the built environment through complex social, economic, ethical, and political dimensions. Here, CoBo presents Shirley’s top picks of deft displays of issues (macro and micro, local and global) that addressed the Biennale’s theme, which is possibly one of the most challenging to present in a Biennale exhibition format.

TEXT & IMAGES: Shirley Surya


Considering the feat of articulating complex factors such as scarcity, dwelling, ethics, economy, etc. in architectural production at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, the Arsenale opens on a relevant and effective dramatic note with 14 km of metal studs and 10,000 sqm of plasterboard recycled from the previous biennale.



Anupama Kundoo’s Full Fill Home – a 1:1 expression of designing with the local (materials, labour and context) and turning projects as catalysts to reflect the community that works on it.



While attempts of alternative interventions in Beijing’s hutongs aren’t new, and may even be overdone, ZAO / Standardarchitecture / Zhang Ke’s Micro Hutong Project could perhaps signify the sustained conviction of ‘acupuncturist’ architecture – breathing new lives and new modes of habitation – while keeping the traditional hutong urban fabric.



The Kingdom of Bahrain Nation Participation once again addressed the politics and economy of resource utilisation for infrastructural production with an installation, photography and film exploring the complex relationship between the oil industry, the increasing presence of aluminium construction in the urban landscape of oil cities such as Manama and the potential of the material beyond its current use.


Of pots, plants and hand-assembled pavilion by Zhu Jingxiang; of slow and organically-produced fashion by Ma Ke; of reusing traditional construction methods by 润建筑工作室 – this year’s China Pavilion ‘Daily Design Tao / 平民设计 日用即道 curated by Liang Jingyu couldn’t be more surprisingly (and hearteningly) non-bombastic and down-to-earth.



While not a believer in cladding exhibitions with full-on text and images, German Pavilion’s ‘Making Heimat’ is a truly distilled graphic and provocative punchlines about ‘The Arrival City’, going to the extent of removing the walls of the Pavilion as a simple and powerful gesture of openness, even despite the nation’s recent change in policy.



The Polish Pavilion once again demonstrates its deft communication of the Biennale’s theme through focused messaging – this time by singularly exploring the ethics of architectural production by raising the need for a ‘Fair Building’ mark, bringing attention to under-discussed decent conditions for the environment and construction workers behind architectural construction.



Shirley Surya is Associate Curator, Design and Architecture, at M+. She has researched and acquired works for the museum’s collection representing the histories of post-war design and architectural developments in Hong Kong, greater China and Southeast Asia. She has co-curated exhibitions including ‘Building M+: The Museum & Architecture Collection’ and ‘Mobile M+: NEONSIGNS.HK’. Prior to M+, she was curatorial researcher for the exhibition ‘Yung Ho Chang & FCJZ: Material-ism’ and publication Yung Ho Chang Draws. She received her BA in Media Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and MA in History of Design at London’s Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum.

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