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Living together sustainably


Rolex is supporting the International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia for the fourth time since 2014. The event, part of Rolex’s commitment to the arts and culture, is a crucible for ideas that reflect an era of intense change.

The International Architecture Exhibition has been the biggest and most influential forum for architects and their boldest ideas for a better world since 1980. Visitor numbers have more than doubled to 275,000 over the past 20 years and the event attracts most of today’s important and successful architects. But equally significant was that half of the visitors at the last Biennale Architettura were under 26, showing that this event is of great interest and importance to the younger generation.

The exhibition’s settings – Venice’s serene tree-shaded Giardini and the buildings of the Arsenale and the Forte Marghera – are historic. But the event, thronged with architecture’s superstars, design theorists, students and cultural tourists, always presents a multifaceted critique of the qualities of lives and places in the here and now.

Rolex is supporting the Biennale Architettura for the fourth time since 2014 as Exclusive Partner and Official Timepiece as part of its wider commitment to the arts and culture. Beginning on 22 May and running through to 21 November, it takes place at a pandemic-induced point of societal change all over the world that has affected how people think about places and ways of living and working.

The decision to open the Biennale Architettura in May, despite the uncertain availability of international travel, demonstrates a determination to face up to what the President of La Biennale di Venezia, Roberto Cicutto, describes as the current “phenomena of intense change”.

In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together.Hashim Sarkis

The event is curated by the eminent architect, Hashim Sarkis, who is Dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning in the United States. Professor Sarkis has encapsulated his chosen theme in five words directly related to social and physical sustainability: How will we live together?

“We need a new spatial contract,” he explains. “In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together.” He says this guiding idea also reflects the “emerging activism of young architects and the radical revisions being proposed by the profession of architecture to take on these challenges”.

Professor Sarkis has encouraged exhibitors to include other professions and constituencies in their presentations – artists, builders and craftspeople, but also politicians, journalists, social scientists and everyday citizens. This wide-angled cultural strategy is well understood by Rolex, which has supported innovators in the cultural and environmental fields for decades as part of the legacy of Hans Wilsdorf, who founded Rolex in 1905, based on an ethos of excellence, constant innovation, technological advances, precision and the best use of form and space.

Professor Sarkis’ theme is experienced through exhibits in the National Pavilions, and those staged by participants in the Central Pavilion and in the intensely atmospheric, 450m-long Arsenale. There are 61 national participants in competition with increased representation from Africa, Latin America and Asia. This edition also includes out-of-competition participants such as Stations and Co-Habitats featuring architectural research by universities as well as a project devoted to children’s play at Forte Marghera entitled “How will we play together?”.

Rolex’s support of the Biennale Architettura extends to its view of the importance of nurturing the architects of tomorrow. Since 2002, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative has paired great masters with protégés for a period of one-on-one mentoring in several artistic disciplines including architecture. Eminent architects who have served as mentors include Sir David Chipperfield, Kazuyo Sejima, Álvaro Siza and Peter Zumthor who encourage young architects to nurture their contributions to a more sustainable world.

The most recent Mentor and Protégé pairing in architecture involved Sir David Adjaye and Mariam Kamara, whose plan for a new cultural centre in Niger’s capital, Niamey, is based on her detailed public consultations and the use of local materials and building methods to ensure minimal environmental impact.

“In a desert city they worried about green spaces and places they could go for peace; and if it’s green, it is probably cooler too,” she explains. “They also wanted a place that would reflect local traditions.” Kamara’s design approach reflects the growing confidence of African architects to champion traditional architectural forms and materials rather than use standard modernist designs. “Working through this project with David has allowed me to trust my design instinct more,” she says. “This has allowed me to confirm my voice and not apologize for it.”

In a desert city they worried about green spaces and places they could go for peace; and if it’s green, it is probably cooler too.Mariam Kamara

The Niger project is featured in the Rolex Pavilion. Alongside the renderings, models and film of Kamara’s project, the pavilion also exhibits material related to Onsitestudio’s refurbishment of the Rolex Italy headquarters in Milan. The building’s architecture reflects its 19th-century heritage, but today, transformed into a contemporary structure, embodies the highest standards of precision and performance, and produces working conditions of the highest quality. Both light and space are key elements that the project brings to this pre-modern building, according to the architects.

Rolex’s commitment to excellent architecture and sustainability is evident in several of its buildings, designed by some of the world’s greatest architects. They include the highly original design of the Rolex Learning Center by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA commissioned by the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland; the Rolex building, Dallas, by Kengo Kuma; and the Rolex building, Tokyo, created by Fumihiko Maki.

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