interview: alejandro aravena creates a timber space for discussion at the venice architecture biennale

May 20, 2021

at the 2021 venice architecture biennale, chilean architect alejandro aravena has installed a structure made of timber logs that seeks to bring people together. the design responds to the conflict between chileans and the mapuche — a group of indigenous inhabitants of present-day south-central chile. ‘we wanted to recover the old tradition of parlays, of negotiation talks that the mapuche used to have with the incas, with the spanish crown, and with chileans many centuries ago — which had got kind of lost,’ aravena tells designboom. ‘we thought there was a clue in resolving the conflict, and an answer to the question ‘how will we live together’?’

since the formation of the republic of chile in 1818, the two sides have clashed over land ownership and occupation, with violence escalating in recent times. the project presented in venice forms part of a project that aravena and his team are working on with communities in the south of chile. by considering how the mapuche people and chileans can live together, the design explores an alternative path to violence by encouraging communication and dialogue. ‘we understood that those parlays had one condition: that there was a minimum symmetry of knowledge between the parties,’ aravena continues. ‘so before going into the conversations, let’s make sure that chileans know who the mapuche are, and mapuche say that they already know who chileans are.’

as mapuche is an oral culture, the structure was designed to be circular so that each individual can be heard by everyone else. ‘the circle is a kind of natural gathering, with the maximum distance where somebody speaking can be heard by the others,’ says aravena. ‘also, there is no hierarchy, everybody is equal and there are no corners.’ the original plan was to bring the mapuche and chileans together for a parlay in venice, but because of COVID restrictions this wasn’t possible. ‘it may happen during the biennale, but if that doesn’t happen, then this travels back to chile and we may begin to have these conversations back there,’ the architect shares with designboom.

the chilean architect explains that the project was conceived as a stage where the two parties can come together to resolve their differences. ‘we wanted to make sure that, at every single moment, this project was pertinent,’ says aravena. ‘it’s not for them, it’s with them. we may know something, which is about form and design, but all the depth, all the knowledge, all the tradition, all the cosmology was coming from them. our answer to how we will live together? — well, get to know each other first, and then talk. eventually, we may arrive to some agreement or treaty as it used to happen some centuries ago.’

see designboom’s ongoing coverage of the 2021 venice architecture biennale here.

image © designboom

image © designboom

project info:

name: how will we live together, chileans and mapuche? building places to get to know each other (künü), building places to parley (koyaü-we) location: arsenale, venice event: 17th international architecture exhibition dates: may 22 – november 21, 2021 architect: alejandro aravena, gonzalo arteaga, diego torres, juan cerda of ELEMENTAL