Lesley Lokko to Curate 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale

John Hill
14. December 2021
Photo © Murdo Mcleod

Lokko will follow Hashim Sarkis, who curated the 17th International Architecture Exhibition that recently wrapped up its six-month run at the Giardini and Arsenale, having been bumped to an odd-number year due to the coronavirus pandemic (see list at bottom). His theme, How will we live together?, continued the trajectory the Biennale has taken since Alejandro Aravena in 2016, namely a move away from architectural form-making and toward social, environmental, and other concerns. Although it is far too early to know her theme for the next Biennale, Lokko's appointment is clearly aligned with broader shifts in architecture toward incorporating underrepresented voices and considering places often overlooked. These ideas are echoed by La Biennale di Venezia President Roberto Cicutto, who recommended Lokko's appointment.

The 17th International Architecture Exhibition confirmed, perhaps definitively, the need to represent a discipline so closely intertwined with the needs of humanity and the planet in general. The curators of the Biennale’s International Exhibitions have always tried, through the vision of the participants they invite, to afford us as comprehensive an overview as possible of the themes and projects which are suitable for dealing with future scenarios. The appointment of Lesley Lokko as curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition is a way of welcoming the gaze of an international personality who is able to interpret, through different roles, her own position in the contemporary debate on architecture and cities, which takes as its starting point her own experience immersed in a continent that is increasingly becoming a laboratory of experimentation and proposals for the whole contemporary world. I believe that this immersion in reality is the best way to dialogue with the questions raised by the 2021 Exhibition curated by Hashim Sarkis.

Statement from Roberto Cicutto

Lokko, who founded the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg in 2015, entered our radar in 2019, when she was hired as dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York (this writer's alma mater). But just one year later, Lokko resigned from the post in what she called "a profound act of self-preservation." That same year she founded the African Futures Institute in Accra, Ghana, as a postgraduate school of architecture and public events platform, which she also directs. In January 2021, Lokko was named recipient of the Ada Louise Huxtable Prize for Contribution to Architecture, one of many accolades she has received for her contributions to architectural education.

A new world order is emerging, with new centres of knowledge production and control. New audiences are also emerging, hungry for different narratives, different tools and different languages of space, form, and place. After two of the most difficult and divisive years in living memory, architects have a unique opportunity to show the world what we do best: put forward ambitious and creative ideas that help us imagine a more equitable and optimistic future in common. Speaking to you from the world’s youngest continent, I would like to thank President Cicutto and the entire team of La Biennale di Venezia for this bold, brave choice.

Statement from Lesley Lokko

Lokko had experience with the Biennale before today's appointment as curator: she was a member of the International Jury of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia alongside Kazuyo Sejima, Sandra Barclay, Lamia Joreige, and Luca Molinari, awarding Golden Lions to Raumlaborberlin and UAE.

A list of the previous curators of the Venice Architecture Biennale:

  • 2021 (17th International Architecture Exhibition): Hashim Sarkis
  • 2018 (16th International Architecture Exhibition): Yvonne Farrell, Shelley McNamara
  • 2016 (15th International Architecture Exhibition): Alejandro Aravena
  • 2014 (14th International Architecture Exhibition): Rem Koolhaas
  • 2012 (13th International Architecture Exhibition): David Chipperfield
  • 2010 (12th International Architecture Exhibition): Kazuyo Sejima
  • 2008 (11th International Architecture Exhbition): Aaron Betsky
  • 2006 (10th International Architecture Exhbition): Richard Burdett
  • 2004 (9th International Architecture Exhbition): Kurt W. Foster
  • 2002 (8th International Architecture Exhbition): Deyan Sudjic
  • 2000 (7th International Architecture Exhbition): Massimiliano Fuksas
  • 1996 (6th International Architecture Exhbition): Hans Hollein
  • 1991 (5th International Architecture Exhbition): Francesco Dal Co
  • 1986 (4th International Architecture Exhbition): Aldo Rossi
  • 1985 (3rd International Architecture Exhbition): Aldo Rossi
  • 1982 (2nd International Architecture Exhbition): Paolo Portoghesi
  • 1980 (1st International Architecture Exhbition): Paolo Portoghesi

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