Utopias of Common Life | 17th Biennale di Venezia

The following text presents fragments of the catalogue of the Brazilian Representation at the 17. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura – La Biennale di Venezia (2021).

You can access the complete catalogue here.


01-Utopias as a place of imagination

Carlos Alberto Maciel


For the first time in the history of Brazilian representations in the International Venice Architecture Biennale a two-year interregnum period separated the invitation to the curators and the opening of the event. In the motivation for this time break there is a tragedy: the pandemic that has been overwhelming the world, Brazil being no exception. In this time, there was the conception, the standstill, the revision, the consolidation and expansion of the curatorial content we have gathered in this book.

The theme of the 17th International Architecture Venice Biennale, defined by the general curator Hashim Sarkis, presents the question “How will we live together?”. Utopias of Common Life talks around this issue in several ways. Our first initiative consisted of looking at the Brazilian Pavilion in Venice and rethinking its space. Throughout the years, it suffered many interventions that deleted some of its most striking characteristics. The main one was the opening of the first room, blocked by two storage rooms, to the side terraces with generous windows. We proposed a thorough restoration of the pavilion and its reopening. Opening doors would be a concrete answer to the question asked by Sarkis. Unfortunately, this initiative was not possible due to the change of context we all know well. But the idea stays on, it was signaled at the exhibition and is registered here.

A second way of trying to answer that main question is the very theme we proposed to investigate: the utopias of common life. The question 36 about how we shall live together brings in itself the idea of a utopia in its most fundamental sense which presupposes the construction of other places and orders, future ones, different from the existing one, in which equality and social justice will prevail in social organizations truly committed to the collectivity. Utopia is something in the realm of imagination, a driving force that displaces the present, altering the route of disaster, like Paulo Mendes da Rocha would say and Alexandre Delijaicov reminds us, into other directions and propitiating transformation. To cast the eyes of utopias over daily life and people, not over the hegemonic and erudite productions of architecture and cities, allows us to reimagine the world that comes to us with all its contradictions, to reinvent it as a dream of other possible worlds.

Lastly, Utopias of Common Life responds to the theme, and to the call of the General Curator, as it summons other voices and new visions on architecture to expand our world: of the arts, the cinema, photography and journalism; of history, the economy and the social sciences; of pedagogy, agroecology and the guarani people’s culture; of the decolonizing and feminist thoughts; of the collaborative practices and the social movements. These multiple looks constitute a kaleidoscope which allows us to glimpse at the extension and relevance of that idea, the utopia, or the utopias, so diverse and plural, which in several moments oriented the action of Brazilians, men and women, to redefine the direction of their lives and, consequently, to redirect the thread of history. 



02-Utopias of common life



“Nobody knows what the world will be like fifty years from now. We only know one thing: it will be totally different from today. When the war ended, could anyone have imagined? That the world would change so much? Development is reinventing the world. Therefore, the most important thing for Brazilians is to invent the Brazil that we want.What was the world like before Brazil existed? Brazil was born under the sign of Utopia, the Land Without Evil.” 

– Darcy Ribeiro, Brazilian anthropologist Excerpt from the documentary O povo brasileiro [The Brazilian People], by Isa Grinspum Ferraz


It has been over 5 thousand years since the Guarani people wandered the land in search of the virgin soil of a “Land Without Evil,” a place that would mirror the earth, but without famine, war or disease. In times of colonization, this migration was a movement of resistance by the original peoples. The Guarani utopia anticipated the modern way of imagining the future, which associates social advancement with inaugurating new occupied territories. 

Amplifying the public sense of space, welcoming difference, reducing inequality, and preparing the land to provide open platforms where society can fully coexist in all its complexity, without sublimating its contradictions, are values that have guided past experiences of modern Brazilian architecture and continue to appear in contemporary initiatives, allowing us to imagine the construction of “other places” — utopias — for common life.

“Past Futures” depicts a time when the belief that Brazil was the “country of the future” and that everything was yet to be built was 30 still very present. Without being nostalgic, the photographic essays by Luiza Baldan and Gustavo Minas portray deviations caused by recent everyday usage of space and the strength in two works that, in their time, were exemplary of the transformative ideas of modernity: the Conjunto Residencial Prefeito Mendes de Moraes [Residential Complex Prefeito Mendes de Moraes], known as the Pedregulho (1947), in Rio de Janeiro, and the Plataforma Rodoviária de Brasília [Brasilia Bus Station Platform] (1957). A third work that forms part of that moment is this Brazilian pavilion in Venice. Reversing its degradation with a delicate restoration and reopening its glass doors to the Giardini were starting points for a discussion on how we will live together. Unfortunately, this did not take place due to the current situation, but it remains in the form of another utopia, symbolized by the black walls in this room.

In contemporary times, building new buildings is no longer the priority. The emergent challenges we face now are to rethink infrastructures, giving them new and multiple functions with designs that are more conducive to collective enjoyment, and redefine extensive building complexes in central areas that are becoming obsolete. Is it possible to redefine an entire metropolis by inverting mobility, incorporating rivers as elements that induce mobility and urban living? Is it desirable to renovate abandoned buildings, reoccupying them as housing for the most vulnerable? Reflecting on the possibility of reversing the key problems of Brazil’s cities, “Futures of the Present” shows two films specially commissioned for the exhibition that poetically reflect on these questions, imagining a life redefined by transforming the infrastructures we use to inhabit and circulate in cities. Both projects operate on what exists, not on an “other place,” inverting the logic of exclusion imposed by the dichotomy between the city center — valued for the sheer abundance of planning, infrastructure, and investment — and the outskirts 31 — chaotic, neglected, and deprived of public authority. By suggesting a reconciliation with nature in a broad sense, the films shed light on new possibilities for a more diverse, transformative, better quality, and richer coexistence, one that is less unequal, more amiable, and environmentally conscious.

Without losing sight of the fact that every utopia bears the ideology of those who propose it, as Paul Ricœur said, it is undeniably urgent that we think about utopias today, in the contemporary world. The utopias of common life presented here show that reconciliation between tradition and change is possible and that it can be used as a potent tool for dealing with the socio-environmental debts of colonization and of an urbanization that must urgently be overcome.


“A re-examination of the recent history of the country is called for. An account of “popular” Brazilian civilization is required, even if it is poor in the light of a higher culture. This account is not one of folklore, always paternalistically pampered by higher cultures, it is the account “seen from the other side”, the participating account. It is Aleijadinho and Brazilian culture before the French Mission. It’s the Northeasterner with his leather and empty tins, the inhabitants of the villages, the Negro and the Indian. A mass that invents, that produces a contribution that is indigestible, dry, hard to swallow.”

-Lina Bo Bardi. Rough Times: design at an impasse.


So we were taught 41 years ago by Lina Bo Bardi, who has been awarded the Special Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in memoriam. This exhibition recognizes and pays tribute to the importance of the many people who, like Lina, were not born on Brazilian soil but who adopted 1 Lina Bo Bardi. Tempos de grossura: o design no impasse. [Rough Times: design at an impasse] São Paulo, Instituto Lina Bo e Pietro Maria Bardi, 1994, p.12. 32 and assimilated the country as their home and believed in and worked for equality in such an unequal country. It is an invitation to reflect on the power of the poetry and the imagination towards other possible worlds and on the possibility of recognizing the popular appropriation of high culture, redefining the ruins of modern society. 


03- About Expography 

Architecture as the art of building doors


Conceiving an architectural exhibition necessarily implies reflecting on the space that will house it. The Brazilian Pavilion at the Giardini, in Venice, is a modern building of strong symbolic value given its conception as a space for representation. Recognizing its spatiality and integration with the place where it is located was a starting point for its curatorial and expographic conception and for the definition of a legacy of Brazilian representation at the 17th International Exhibition of Architecture at the Venice Biennale.

The privileged location of the pavilion at Giardini, especially prominent because of its location on the axis of the bridge that connects the two parts of the park, reinforces the importance of its articulation with the immediate surroundings. Originally conceived as two spaces of different scales and proportions, cut by an articulating axis that reflects its implantation and defines its accesses, it presented a clear differentiation regarding openness and intimacy. While the second block, of larger dimensions and greater height, configured – and still does – an interior space with great intimacy, clearly separated from the outside, the first volume presented, in addition to the access marked on the main axis, a double opening in the transverse direction, with glazing that promoted the total visual integration of the interior space with the lateral terraces, demarcated by benches in its perimeter. This integration was gradually disfigured with the insertion of perforated metal panels for sun protection and later with the installation of two opaque partitions, forming two small closets, one at each end of the space. This intervention, which enables the creation of support spaces reduces the spatial and environmental variety of the pavilion, standardizing the experience of the rooms. Due to its relevance, because it is a building that integrates the spatiality of the main examples of Brazilian modern architecture, and because it echoes positively in the context of a public exhibition, the first cura- 224 torial action proposed was the reopening of the first room at its two ends, restoring its original spatiality.

For this, two actions were planned: first, the elimination of the closets, which, since they are essential for the proper functioning of the exhibitions, would be transferred to the second room, in a position equivalent to the one they occupied in the first room, limited to the height of the existing exhibition wall so as not to alter the quality of the perimeter upper light that sweeps across the space; second, the restoration of the original frames, replacing the panes of glass. This initiative was completed through the elaboration of a preliminary project for the restoration of the entire pavilion, recovering its roof waterproofing, renewing the coverings and replacing the acrylics of the second room’s lanterns with translucent glass in order to recover their original materiality.

The idea of reopening closed doors has a positive impact on the general theme of the Biennial – How will we live together? – by expanding the possibilities of socializing, making part of the exhibition public for those who circulate in Giardini. Ultimately, it is about enhancing the public and open character that we want for the Brazilian Pavilion, materializing, with a direct action in the physical space, the curatorial content of the exhibition. Unfortunately, this action, given the new context in which the exhibition took place, was not made possible for several reasons. In order to point out the idea, which was the conceptual basis of the curatorial proposal, we have represented on the black walls the lines of the frames of the original openings next to the original photographs of the building.

While the first room confronts the two absences through the representation of the panes, in the second and largest room of the pavilion, the original introspection is emphasized with the creation of the two dark rooms that present the two films commissioned especially 225 for the exhibition. A contradiction that the expographic proposal had to face from the start was the confrontation between the original spatiality – a longitudinal room with superior diffused lighting – and the fragmented spatiality of the three rooms, with the blocking of natural light in two of them, to enable the best environmental condition for film projection. In the central section, which forms an intermediate room of a hybrid nature – access, transition and buffer between the two immersive experiences, information about the contents and the exit – the subtle natural light from the upper openings was maintained in order to modulate the experience of immersion of the dark rooms, in a contrast that also prepares for the open-air exit that is made through the rear door on the main axis of the pavilion. The presence of the large concrete box-beam floating over the room pointedly marks its split. Here the main expographic element of this space appears: two almost parallel mirrored walls repeat the image of the beam infinitely – and of the visitors who cross from side to side, between rooms, and from the entrance to the exit of the pavilion. By promoting almost infinite mirroring – limited by the small angle – they virtually recreate the longitudinally expanded space that the room presents in its original configuration, however suggesting a deformation of both its scale and its geometry, promoted by the apparent circularity that is produced by the angle between mirrors. This expansion that suggests an extension to infinity reverberates, virtually, the same extension – physical and visual – that would be recovered with the opening of the panes of the smallest room.

In a less literal relationship, the presence of mirrors puts the viewer back in the scene between films, including him/her in the space and time of the exhibition; referring to the structuring idea of the film Metrópole Fluvial, by Amir Admoni, which imagines the dialectical coexistence between the rivers of São Paulo through the use of mirroring the image, in an ambiguous navigation between times and places; 226 finally, reverberating in the space of the exhibition the discussion on Foucault’s heterotopia.

Michel Foucault, in a conference given in 1967 entitled Of Other Spaces, distinguishes utopias – allocations without a real place – from heterotopias – “(…) There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality.”49. The basis of Admoni’s initial approach to the conceptualization of the River Metropolis is also a powerful lens for looking at the phenomenon of occupations50. The relationship between mirrors and the creation of utopian and heterotopic images is best presented by Foucault’s own words:


“I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.”

-Michel Focault. Of other spaces.


A fundamental fact that runs through the curatorial proposal is time, which informs the choice of photographic essays of the two works of modern Brazilian architecture and appears as a structuring element of the films commissioned for the exhibition. When Lucio Costa visits the Plataforma Rodoviária de Brasília and realizes that “the dream was less than the reality”, he is ultimately assuming the need for the action of time on the artifacts built to sediment through the appropriation of new and unforeseen senses. This understanding of time underlies the main expographic concepts, which seek to reveal multiple layers of the existence of a relevant architectural artifact from the most literal alternation of time between opening and closing the panes to the least literal revelation of the other spaces, virtual spaces, that can happen in the duration of a visit, in the mirrored and distorted world of mirrors.