Patrik Schumacher on Venice Arhitecture Biennale


Amidst the bustling Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, it seems like not everyone shares the same level of excitement for this year’s annual architectural exhibition. Patrik Schumacher, the principal architect of Zaha Hadid Architects, has expressed his concerns about the Biennale in a Facebook post titled ‘Venice Biennale Blues,’ arguing that the event ‘does not show any architecture.’


‘The Venice ‘Architecture’ Biennale is mislabelled and should stop laying claim to the title of architecture. This title is just generating confusion and disappointment (…)’ shares Schumacher. ‘Assuming Venice to be not only the most important item on our global architectural itinerary, but also representative of our discourse in general: What we are witnessing here is the discursive self-annihilation of the discipline.’

'venice biennale does not show any architecture,' states patrik schumacher
the main pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale | image courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia (also head image)



is there no noteworthy architecture in the western world? 


In his Facebook post, the famed London-based architect asserts that the majority of national pavilions, including the ones from Germany, France, Spain, UK, Belgium, Holland, Norway/Sweden, Finland, as well as Japan, Canada, Australia, and the USA, refrain from showcasing any architectural works. Schumacher expresses his frustration, stating, ‘I don’t know about other national pavilions. I gave up after seeing no architecture in 12 out of 12 pavilions.’ 


Schumacher then ponders whether the absence of architectural exhibits suggests a shortage of remarkable architecture in the Western world. ‘What does this tell us? That there is no noteworthy architecture in Germany, France etc. etc .etc. or anywhere in the Western world? Is the design and construction of buildings only an occasion for bad conscience? Is this bad conscience the motive force behind the refusal (by now pervasive for more than a decade) to display any contemporary architecture whatsoever?’

'venice biennale does not show any architecture,' states patrik schumacher
view of the German Pavilion at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale | image courtesy of Büro Juliane Greb



schumacher’s Critique of the german pavilion


Patrik Schumacher seems especially critical of German participation, commenting on its focus on the imperative of material recycling, which has been around for years. ‘The German pavilion is filled with piles of construction material. There is no point to spend more than two seconds in there.’ He further critiques the British Pavilion, before highlighting the recurring observation that architecture-focused events like the Biennale always prioritize issues other than architecture.‘The obvious question of why we should look at documentations of the refugee crisis when coming to Venice for the Biennale after we have been hearing about the refugee crisis on television every day for months was apparently never asked.’ he mentions.

'venice biennale does not show any architecture,' states patrik schumacher
the German Pavilion is titled ‘Open For Maintenance’ | image © designboom



china shines among other pavilions, according to Schumacher


Regarding the exhibits that Patrik Schumacher found architecturally significant, he specifically highlights the Chinese pavilion as a standout. ‘It’s again only Chinese architects who show work: Neri&Hu, and especially Zhang Ke (Standard Architecture) is showing an impressive suite of projects.’ However, the Chinese contribution is not the sole exhibit that captured the architect’s attention. Schumacher also praises the works by Adjaye Associates.‘The other fantastic exception is the suite of equally impressive projects by Adjaye Associates.’ he mentions. ‘Everybody else invited has been playing along with using exhibition space for documentary-style intellectual-artistic allusions to moral issues, garnished with pretentious critical-speak, of course without ever taking the risk of really taking up an explicit position or offering constructive proposal.’

'venice biennale does not show any architecture,' states patrik schumacher
the Chinese Pavilion | image © designboom



spotlighting david adjaye’s work


‘This show is meant to be at least to 50% featuring architects (at least originally) from Africa. Without David Adaye’s work – which I would suspect is the only display at this Biennale that would fill a visitor from Africa with pride – there would be no African architecture in the show.’ continues Schumacher. ‘I was curious about African architects and African architecture but I am no wiser after seeing the show. The notable exception are Adjaye’s projects. I think it is a significant fact and signal of development and aspiration, that such sophisticated world-class buildings now exist on the African continent, a fact the importance and impact of which for the continent should not be underestimated.’

'venice biennale does not show any architecture,' states patrik schumacher
David Adjaye’s ‘The Kwaeε’ | image by Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia



‘how long can this continue?’


Schumacher concludes his statement by raising concerns about the current state of architectural exhibitions and their deviation from showcasing architectural design. ‘Is my conception of architecture as discipline too narrow if I expect to see architectural design in an architecture biennale? I don’t think so. Whatever social, political or moral issues we want to address, the way to show their relevance to architecture is via projects that claim to respond to these issues.’ he says. Schumacher firmly believes that addressing social, political, and moral issues in architecture should not be done by relying on documentaries, critical art practices, and symbolic installations.


‘How long can this continue? The Venice Architecture Biennale, over many years, has built up a stellar, unrivaled position as the #1 global architectural gathering. However, I think the event is now gradually consuming and drawing down its built-up reputation. It’s consuming its social capital. If the event keeps diluting, even actively avoiding or displacing its mission as an architectural event, it becomes vulnerable to new possible contenders if they are delivering what is being expected by the silent majority of architects and I presume by the general public. There is nothing in sight here but the vital function the Venice Architecture Biennale used to fulfill for our discipline for many years (and that needs to be fulfilled) is up for grabs.’ 

'venice biennale does not show any architecture,' states patrik schumacher
architectural model of the new KNMA | image courtesy of David Adjaye Associates and KNMA