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Can design contribute to improving the living standards of populations in conflict zones? A conversation with the curators of the Austrian, German and Dutch pavilions at the Venice Architecture Biennale and Luke Korhaar of UNHCR. Read the report.

Can (or should) a designer engage with complex social and political issues? What stance can architects take within this field? Are they really given room to bring about improvements or is it simply a matter of good intentions? These and other questions were discussed in relation to several exhibitions currently on view at the Venice Architecture Biennale under the banner ‘Reporting from the Front'. With contributions from curators Sabine Dreher (Austrian pavilion, Places for People), Oliver Elser (German pavilion, Making Heimat), Malkit Shoshan (Dutch pavilion, BLUE. Architecture of UN Peacekeeping Missions) and Luke Korlaar (protection officer UNHCR). The discussion will be led by Lilet Breddels, director of Volume.

Following the Thursday Night with Chief Government Architect, Floris Alkemade, this was the second evening in a series dealing with architecture’s role in society.

This Thursday Night was also made possible by the Goethe Institut

Sabine Dreher – Places for People

In reaction to the refugee crisis, the Austrian contribution to this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale is not restricted to the pavilion in Venice. Places for People also includes three projects in Vienna. Three teams were commissioned, in partnership with NGOs, to transform empty buildings into temporary housing for asylum seekers and to manage them in the longer term.

Sabine Dreher is co-founder of Liquid Frontiers, a think-and-do-tank and design studio located in Vienna’s museum district. The studio initiates exhibitions and publications about design and architecture and develops projects in collaboration with architects and designers. Together with Elke Delugan-Meissl, Liquid Frontiers is curator of the exhibition Places for People in the Austrian pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. 

Oliver Elser – Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country

Four large openings have transformed the German pavilion into an open house. More than forty-eight tonnes of bricks have been removed from the building’s walls. The pavilion is open. Germany is open. Last year, Germany’s borders were opened up to admit more than a million refugees. In the meantime the EU’s borders have largely been closed to refugees. The gesture of opening up the pavilion is an appeal to Germany to remain a welcoming country for immigrants.

Oliver Elser studied architecture in Berlin and since 2007 has been curator of the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM). He also works as an architecture critic and journalist. He has curated several exhibitions, including The Architecture Model: Extra, Fetish, Mini-Utopia (2012) and Mission: Postmodern – Heinrich Klotz und die Wunderkammer (2014). Elser is the curator of Making Heimat in the German pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. 

Malkit Shoshan

The presentation in the Dutch pavilion is based on research into the UN base Camp Castor in Gao, Mali. The UN peacekeeping mission is located in the desert area of the nomadic Tuareg people, whose borders are fluid and change with the seasons. War and climate change have plunged the region into a permanent state of crisis. Shoshan proposes seeing the UN base not as a closed fort but as a catalyst for local development by adding an additional ‘D’ for Design to the UN’s integrated policy of Defence, Diplomacy, and Development.

Malkit Shoshan is founder of the architecture think tank FAST (The Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory). In her work, she explores the relationships between architecture, planning, politics and human rights. She is the author of the award-winning publication Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine (2010) and the book Village (2014). As a research fellow at Het Nieuwe Instituut she conducted a study into the contemporary architecture and landscape of war, entitled ‘Drones and Honeycombs’. Shoshan is the curator of the exhibition BLUE: Architecture of UN Peacekeeping Missions in the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale.  

Luke Korlaar

Luke has been working in various capacities for UNHCR for over 10 years in Bosnia, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia and Lebanon. In Syria and Tunisia he worked on the resettlement of refugees. From 2012-2014 he was deployed to Beirut in the Regional Resettlement Hub and assisted in the development of the humanitarian admission and resettlement programme for Syrian refugees. He is currently working with UNHCR in the Netherlands as a Protection Associate.

Lilet Breddels

Lilet Breddels is an art historian living and working in Amsterdam. She is director of the Archis Foundation, a cultural think tank promoting debate on spatial and urban urgencies and publisher of Volume Magazine. Archis initiates projects, exhibitions and debates all over the world Breddels is guest teacher, curator and lecturer mainly on issues dealing with the crossroad of art and architecture and its role in society. Recent exhibitions are The Good Cause (together Arjen Oosterman) that investigates the possible role of architecture and urbanism in post conflict situations and Connected (together Arjen Oosterman) on the Self Made City.

Also on 7 july: afternoon talk Reporting from Venice – Exchanging experiences from the Front in theHipHopHuis

Prior to the debate, the Creative Industries Fund NL cordially organised an afternoon talk ‘Reporting from Venice’. How can a practice be developed at the front, based on a personal, societal or humanitarian agenda? During this afternoon we explored the different realities in which engaged architecture is operating now and in the near future. We reflected on this year’s theme of the architecture biennale in Venice. With a keynote by architect Kunlé Adeyemi on the rapid African urbanisation in relation to the water issue and two parallel sessions focussing on working at the front and the role of artistic and speculative design driven research. 

20:00 – 22:00

Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam

BLUE: Architecture of UN Peacekeeping Missions
Malkit Shoshan
Irma Boom

This project is part of the programme track International and the folder Biennales.

Malkit Shoshan presents her research at the Dutch Pavilion during the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016.