Interview with Dutch Pavilion curator, Jan Jongert, on water-related challenges at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023

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Dutch Pavilion
Dutch Pavillion in Venice. Photo: Daria Scagliola

The Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, titled “Plumbing the System,” will be showcased from May 20 to November 26, 2023. Curated by Jan Jongert of Superuse Studios and commissioned by Nieuwe Instituut.

Aligned with the Biennale’s theme of “Laboratory of the Future”, the Dutch Pavilion aims to demonstrate how alternative systems can function on a large scale while also implementing and testing tangible changes at a local level. In essence, the objective is to think globally and act locally.

Specifically, the pavilion focuses on the concept of water and addresses the water-related challenges faced by Venice. Jan Jongert proposes the integration of a low-tech water retention system within the pavilion, taking inspiration from the metaphor of water. This system would not only meet the pavilion’s water requirements but also enhance the resilience of the surrounding garden by capturing rainfall. The underlying question is whether cultural events can go beyond mere discussions, debates, and awareness-raising, and actually contribute to addressing urgent issues.

Here is a conversation between Jan Jongert, the curator of the Pavilion of Kosova, and Serra Utkum Ikiz of PA!

Dutch Pavilion
The Waterworks of Money by Carlijn Kingma

Serra Utkum Ikiz (PA): What inspired you to explore the use of water as a metaphor at the Dutch Pavilion in 2023? What other sources of inspiration did you draw upon in conceptualizing and realizing the Dutch Pavilion, such as other exhibitions, architecture, or design projects?

Jan Jongert: The presentation of Carlijn Kingma’s work uses water as a metaphor because it helps to clarify the communication about a rather complex subject: the workings of our economy. Just like money, water is a flow that runs from one point to another. Its currents haven’t been designed or adapted, but over time they have turned into an invisible construct that no one seems to fully understand. By using water, the story of the economy can be explained to a larger audience, which helps us understand how we can restructure the currents in the future to build a more equal and sustainable society. We have countered this macro-scale narrative with a proposal for a concrete intervention on a micro-scale that addresses the underestimated value of real water. One of the most precious sources that we are wasting with the help of invisible technical systems.

Just like with the economy, the real value is not entering our society in a beneficial way. We tested this in the case of the Dutch Pavilion itself. Our inspiration here comes from the continuous and growing effort to build more climate-resilient cities and the obvious hurdles to speeding up the transition.

Dutch Pavilion
Green and waterflows within Boschgaard Social Housing Den Bosch, 2022. Image by Superuse.

Serra (PA): What innovative construction technologies were used in the design and construction of the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, and how do they reflect the exhibition’s theme of “Building Ecosystems”?

Jan: Although still valid, we found the theme “Plumbing the System” to be more appropriate for our contribution. With both counterparts of the presentation, we test and challenge the current systems of money and water and, at the same time, show alternatives that we can enhance ourselves. The design and construction of the exhibition are rather low-tech, using mostly natural and reclaimed materials, some even from a previous biennial that was used in the Netherlands and is now being returned.

As well, the technique of Kingma’s drawings is old-school hand-drawn manual labor—20,000 hours of ink pen handling turned a magnificent, expressive spatial view of our current economy into three similar but smaller drawings that express the options for alternative economies. In the exhibition, we also show three versions of water retention roofs, of which one is industrial hi-tech, another is built with scrap materials you can find in your surroundings, and especially for this exhibition, we developed an all-natural water retention roof combining food and animal-produced materials that had never been matched for this purpose before. The design of the lab for water systems exemplifies the hands-on mentality and actionable nature of our proposed interventions.

Carlijn Kingma. Photo: Ivo van der Bent

Serra (PA): How does the pavilion’s use of rainwater capture and redistribution systems reflect the Netherlands’ efforts to manage its water resources more sustainably?

Jan: Just like in many countries, the management of water becomes a more precious problem every day. Both increasing drought and rainfall put pressure on the systems that we rely on today. Understanding the flow of water in a more integrated and holistic way and redesigning our urban environment to accommodate this, is an urgent new skill that planners and architects need to become acquainted with. In our opinion, this cannot be done without a drastic renovation of our economy and how value is defined in our society.

Serra (PA): What impact do the curators and construction team of the Dutch Pavilion hope to have on the global conversation about water management and sustainability, and how does the exhibition contribute to this larger dialogue? So, how will the documentation of the efforts to capture and redistribute rainwater be presented throughout the exhibition, and what impact do the curators hope this will have on visitors?

Jan: With the help of De Urbanisten, we have extended our proposal to turn the pavilion into a water-resilient actor into a concept of how, in time, all of Giardini could be turned into a sponge garden. We see many opportunities for collaboration between countries to turn this monumental environment into one that provides positive solutions and has an impact on the water challenges we are facing.

At the same time, with Temporiuso, selected Dutch designers, and various local stakeholders like ER and WAH Venice, we have employed a parallel program to seek opportunities for other systemic interventions regarding water and the economy in other parts of Venice. In this way, we believe we can help turn the Biennial into a permanent laboratory for the future.

We encourage you to stay tuned to ParametricArchitecture for detailed updates on the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023.

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