First Assembly of Thought for Fertile Futures

On January 28 and 29, the First Assembly of Thinking for Fertile Futures took place at Palácio Sinel de Cordes, Lisbon. The event marked the beginning of the Official Portuguese Representation at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2023, organised and curated by the Directorate-General for the Arts, of which Umbigo is an editorial partner. Fertile Futures is curated by Andreia Garcia, Ana Neiva and Diogo Aguiar are associate curators, and answers to the call by Lesley Lokko, curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2023, whose title and theme is “The Laboratory of the Future”.

Centred on the issue of fresh water, a vital and scarce natural resource, Fertile Futures invites reflection on how to manage, reserve and transform it. An urgent discussion whose openness to the public is essential. Andres Lepik, director of the Architecture Museum of the Technical University of Munich and former curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at New York’s MoMA, is one of Fertile Futures’ advisors. In this first Assembly of Thought, he has proposed the premise that “Architecture exhibitions are not a goal for themselves. Based on critical curatorial process they address social, political, environmental and other challenges related to the design profession to enhance information, discourse, reflection with the audience. They aim for change.” Fertile Futures strives to achieve just that: a change.

Focusing on the Portuguese territory, where the scarcity of fresh water has dramatic consequences – the worsening of soil aridity, the exponential increase of risk of fires or stronger floods – it has chosen seven distinct hydro-geographies and challenges young architects to collaborate with experts from other areas of knowledge, presenting proposals for a “fertile future”, “for a more sustainable, healthy and equitable tomorrow”, according to what we can read in the event’s guide.

The seven case studies are based on human action on water resources, natural and finite: the impact of Gigabateria on the Tâmega basin (Space Transcribers + Álvaro Domingues); the breaking of the agreement in the International Douro (Dulcineia Santos Studio + João Pedro Matos Fernandes); mining in the Middle Tagus (Guida Marques + Érica Castanheira) ; the stakes in the Alqueva Reservoir (Oficina Pedrêz + Aurora Carapinha); the anarchy in the irrigation perimeter of the Mira River (Corpo Atelier + Eglantina Monteiro); the overload of the lagoons in Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Ilhéu Atelier + João Mora Porteiro) and the risk of alluvial flooding in the Madeiran Streams (Ponto Atelier + Ana Salgueiro Rodrigues).

The first Assembly of Thought represents the beginning of this exhibition project, which will include five similar events, open to the public and free of charge, moments of debate, awareness and mediation, to take place in Lisbon, Venice, Braga, Faro and Porto Santo. It counted with the interventions of Álvaro Domingues, Ana Salgueiro Rodrigues, Ana Tostões, Andres Lepik, Eglantina Monteiro, Érica Castanheira, Francisco Ferreira, João Mora Porteiro, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Luca Astorri, Margarida Waco, Marina Otero, Pedro Gadanho and Pedro Ignacio Alonso.

The discussion on the theme of Fertile Futures covers different geographies in the world, not only related to the management of the natural resource of fresh water and all the social, economic and political issues inherent in this management, but also related to curation and the importance of architecture in solving problems on a territorial scale.

Luca Astorri, founder of the AOUMM studio, presented the project it developed together with the NGO RISE International, Lesotho, for the twenty-third edition of the Milan Architecture Triennale. “Lesotho Water Realms. An ongoing visual research on geopolitics, society and rituals” materialises the Lesotho pavilion and observes the country through the masses of water running through the soil, considering water as the centre of the land’s identity, visible but not accessible to all. “Lesotho Water Realms: is a visual research on geopolitical scale, society and rituals” based on three dimensional aspects: the landscape, through the infrastructure of the dams; the human, seen from the perspective of access to water and the spiritual, where water is pictured in the sacred Basotho rituals, between the rainfalls and caves.”

Pedro Ignacio Alonso focused on the evaporation of water to mine lithium in the Atacama Desert, reflecting on the possible and future life in this type of territory, increasingly abundant, and how architecture could allow this livelihood, mentioning his Deserta X project. Marina Otero continued this reflection on the lack of water in populations living near lithium pools, where astronomical amounts of water are evaporated daily.

Eglantina Monteiro addresses conflicts as “ways of existing and projecting contents” about the situation in the territorial strip between Sines and Aljezur, which covers the Mira River irrigation perimeter. “The globalisation of subtraction generates a social and ecological imbalance” in the region. These are the bases for the project developed in conjunction with Corpo Atelier.

These are just some of the issues addressed at the first Assembly of Thinking for Fertile Futures. Two intense days of debate and reflection, where the relevance of Architecture in designing the future was enhanced. This was the first stone of the Fertile Futures project, whose exhibition will take place at the Palazzo Franchetti in Venice during the Venice Biennale of Architecture, from May 20 to November 26.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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