18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2023 Fertile Futures (more than a drop of water)

At Reservatório – Museu do Porto, with the presence of the Minister of Culture Pedro Adão e Silva, the Mayor of Porto Rui Moreira and the Director-General of DGARTES Américo Rodrigues, the first public presentation of the Fertile Futures project programme took place, which will officially represent Portugal at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2023, between May 20 and November 26. With lead curator Andreia Garcia, assistant curators Ana Neiva and Diogo Aguiar, based on the general theme The Laboratory of the Future, proposed by the Biennale Architecture Commissioner Lesley Lokko, the Fertile Futures project addresses a critical global issue, which also has serious consequences in Portugal: the scarcity of fresh water, its management and distribution, through a project that intends to accommodate other narratives, those that have not yet given rise to the built work[1].

Underlining the importance of Architecture for a decarbonized, decolonized and collaborative future in cooperation across disciplines, generations and species – with the aim of building shared knowledge – Fertile Futuresjoins a group of international consultants from different areas and geographies, where water scarcity has long been present, to raise public discussion and awareness of conflicts that limit the sharing and management of water resources. Using as a starting point the experience of the national territory – mainland and islands – regarding freshwater scarcity, there are seven case studies on seven hydrogeographies, which the official Portuguese representation will present in Venice. Commissioned from seven multidisciplinary teams, consisting of architectural studios and experts from different fields – engineers, geologists, landscape architects, geographers, researchers and activists – who will think and read the national territory, the projects and propositional models will be shown to the public in May, in the seven rooms of the Palazzo Franchetti’s second floor. Between devices willing to tackle issues and others that opt for utopian speculation; with artistic approaches to political issues from an activist architecture, Diogo Aguiar points out an X-ray of seven distinct and relevant practices: some use the building as architecture and others the words as architecture, as this paradigm represents the moment we live in. Architecture is not only building, it can be much more, and that is what we are proposing with this representation.

The case studies include the Tâmega river basin, in a challenge proposed to the team formed by Space Transcribers and geographer Álvaro Domingues; the high banks of the Douro will be analysed by Dulcineia Santos Studio and civil engineer João Pedro Matos Fernandes; the impact of the mining industry in the Middle Tagus region will be assessed by the team consisting of Guida Marques and environmental engineer Érica Castanheira. Oficina Pedrêz and landscape architect Aurora Carapinha explore new solutions arising from the environmental impacts of the Alqueva dam project; the team comprising Corpo Atelier and anthropologist Eglantina Monteiro argues for architecture’s political potential based on the creation of mobilizing objects, using high-yield farming on the Mira river irrigation perimeter as a case study; the fight against pollution and the utopian remaking of Lagoa das Sete Cidades will be done by the Ilhéu Atelier and the geographer João Mora Porteiro; finally, the critical reflection on the alluvium in the Madeiran riversides and the presentation of hypotheses for the revitalization of the water lines, today highly artificialized, was the challenge launched to the Ponto Atelier team and to the researcher Ana Salgueiro.

Besides the exhibition component, Fertile Futures has complementary and transdisciplinary undertakings, with five Assemblies of Thought[2] and the International Summer Seminar. Extending the work developed by the seven teams of Oficinas de Projeto, the assemblies of thought, whose first session took place in January at Palácio Sinel de Cordes in partnership with the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, are transdisciplinary conversations that, according to Andreia Garcia, open a public discussion between Venice and Portugal.

The involvement with the academic community, the sharing of knowledge and the awareness of the younger generation will be possible through the International Summer Seminar, in Fundão, between July 10 and 22. Open to the participation of architecture students from all over the world, the seminar allows contact with the seven teams of Oficinas de Projeto and the construction of 1:1 scale architectural devices on water management issues. The intention is to raise awareness among future generations about alternative methods of making architecture and the importance of this field in creating a more equitable society.

We highlight the publication of the two-volume catalogue Fertile Futures by Architectural Affairs and Park Books, supported by publishing partnerships with e-flux, Umbigo and Canal 180.

Finally, we underline the importance of the participation of the Portuguese project Fertile Futures in the discussion on new strategies for water resources management, key to build a collective and environmentally more sustainable future.





[1] Quote from the intervention of the curator Andreia Garcia during the press conference on March 9, 2023.

[2] The next Assemblies of Thought will take place on May 20 at Palazzo Franchetti, Venice; June 3 at gnration in Braga; September 2 at Fábrica da Cerveja in Faro, and October 7 in Porto Santo, at PORTA33 school.

Mafalda Teixeira, Master’s Degree in History of Art, Heritage and Visual Culture from the Faculty of Letters of the University of Porto. She has an internship and worked in the Temporary Exhibitions department of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. During the master’s degree, she did a curricular internship in production at the Municipal Gallery of Oporto. Currently, she is devoted to research in the History of Modern and Contemporary Art, and publishes scientific articles.

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