The Laboratory of the Future

Lesley Lokko
31. May 2022
Lesley Lokko and Roberto Cicutto (Photo: Jacopo Salvi, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia)
Statement by Lesley Lokko on "The Laboratory of the Future":

"Firstly, Africa is the laboratory of the future. We are the world’s youngest continent, with an average age half that of Europe and the United States, and a decade younger than Asia. We are the world’s fastest urbanizing continent, growing at a rate of almost 4% per year. This rapid and largely unplanned growth is generally at the expense of local environment and ecosystems, which put us at the coal face of climate change at both a regional and planetary level. We remain the most under-vaccinated continent at just 15%, yet recorded the fewest deaths and infections by a significant margin that the scientific community still can’t quite explain. So often on the wrong side of hope and history, the resilience, self-reliance and a long, long history of grass-roots community health care suddenly tipped the balance in our favor. The long and traumatic history of forced migration through the trans-Atlantic slave trade is ground on which successive struggles for civil rights and a more civil society are being fought all over the world today. In all the talk of decarbonization, it is easy to forget that black bodies were the first units of labour to fuel European imperial expansion that shaped the modern world. Racial equity and climate justice are two sides of the same coin.

"But hope is a powerful currency. To be hopeful is to be human. At a deeply personal level, I owe my presence at this table today to the tireless demands for a more just, more inclusive and more equitable fought for by generations before me. The vision of a modern, diverse, and inclusive society is seductive and persuasive, but as long as it remains an image, it is a mirage. Something more than representation is needed, and architects historically are key players in translating images into reality.

"Secondly, La Biennale di Venezia itself is also a kind of laboratory of the future, a time and space in which speculations about the discipline’s relevance to this world — and the world to come — take place. Today, the word ‘laboratory’ is more generally associated with scientific experimentation and conjures up images of a specific kind of room or building. But Richard Sennett’s examination of the word ‘workshop,’ from which the word ‘laboratory’ stems, deepens the concept of collaborative endeavors in a different way. In the ancient world, in both China and Greece, the workshop was the most important institution anchoring civic life. In the aftermath of the American civil war, Booker T, Washington, an ex-slave, conceived a project in which freed slaves recovering from slavery would leave home, train at two model institutions, the Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes, and return to their home communities. Importantly, during this temporary relocation, cooperation would be forged by direct experience and daily contact with one another as equals. We envisage our exhibition as a kind of workshop, a laboratory where architects and practitioners across an expanded field of creative disciplines draw out examples from their contemporary practices that chart a path for the audience — participants and visitors alike — to weave through, imagining for themselves what the future can hold."

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Image: Fred Swart, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
"The Laboratory of the Future," the 18th International Architecture Exhibition / Venice Architecture Biennale will take place from May 20 – November 26, 2023, in the Giardini, at the Arsenale, and at various sites around Venice.

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