Composite Presence, the Belgian pavilion at the 17th Architecture Biennale

Bovenbouw Architectuur,

Filip Dujardin, ,

Venice, Italy,

Biennale di Venezia,

Venice Biennale, Exhibition,

The Belgian pavilion at the 17th Architecture Biennale proposes the exhibition Composite Presence, composed of 50 projects which curator Dirk Somers of Bovenbouw Architectuur exhibits as a report on the contemporary city in the Flanders, asking: how can the city and architecture grow together?

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Composite Presence, the Belgian pavilion at the 17th Architecture Biennale 
Curator Hashim Sarkis of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at Biennale di Venezia poses the question “How will we live together?” 
In response to an initiative of the Flemish community and a commission of the Architecture Institute of Flanders (VAi), Belgium appointed Bovenbouw Architectuur to present its pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale. Entitled Composite Presence, the Belgian pavilion embodies the love/hate relationship which curator Dirk Somers sees between architecture and the city in a spectacular installation: a landscape made up of a series of models on a scale of 1:15, at table height, representing a typical Flemish urban environment.
It is this colourful, self-explanatory form of presentation that attracted our attention: a celebration for the eyes, a toy city which invites us to explore the variety of projects on display, as the landscape represented reveals how historical layering, morphological specifics and unexpected contrasts between the elements making up the urban fabric offer an inexhaustible source of inspiration for contemporary architecture. In this regard, curator Dirk Somers comments that "The model landscape is a unique illustration of the energetic friction between urban planning and architecture in Flanders”.
The exhibition explains this “friction” through fifty architectural projects built over the past twenty years by forty-five different studios, providing the base of the imaginary landscape. The selection reveals a balanced architectural ecology in which a variety of styles, functions and types are encountered. 
It’s particularly interesting to note that a large number of the projects illustrated in the models are renovation and adaptation projects, implemented in and on existing buildings, revealing a vast range of forms, times and textures. Whether they are modest renovation projects or sparkling new constructions, all the projects contribute to the creation of a city that is highly varied yet balanced. Moreover, the selected projects testify to the importance of current urban planning and contracting policy, because many of the projects in the urban composition on display originated in the procedures established, at the municipal level, by administrative and/or political officials in charge of creating a high quality urban environment for the Flemish government and public institutions in both Flanders and Brussels. A number of these figures, including some from Gand and Antwerp, along with the Flemish Government Architect Team, also helped in the planning of the exhibition. As strong>Sofie De Caigny of the Flanders Architecture Institute, a commissioner of Composite Presence, explains: “Dealing in a respectful and inventive manner with the city’s historical layers leads automatically to different perspectives on society. In that sense, Composite Presence draws on the core of the discipline of architecture to answer the question posed by curator Hashim Sarkis: how will we live together?”
The Belgian pavilion definitely offers an attractive answer to the question of how we will live together, at least in a Belgian city, in an environment as stratified and stimulating as the spectacular installation presented at the 17th Architecture Biennale in Venice.

Christiane Bürklein

Composite Presence, Belgian Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at Biennale di Venezia
22 May to 21 November 2021
Giardini della Biennale, Venezia
Producer & commissioner Flanders Architecture Institute
Curator and scenography Bovenbouw Architectuur
Images: Filip Dujardin
Find out more: https://www.vai.be/en/press/belgian-pavilion-at-biennale-architettura-2021