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Reusing discarded materials from other exhibits, Germany takes action at Venice Biennale

The Venice Architecture Biennale — the world's largest and most famous architecture festival — opened last month and runs through 26 November 2023. When its many doors shutter, most of the exhibition materials will go from high-concept design to heaps of trash. Very little is reused. This year's German contribution is choosing to tackle that issue.

For its exhibit, Wegen Umbau geöffnet/Open for Maintenance, the curating team collected leftover material from last year's Art Biennale. The German pavilion is now a repository for items donated by 37 national pavilions: large white pipes from the Austrian pavilion, a metal door from Italy, timber from Chile, and much more.

But saving items from being junked was just the first step. Wegen Umbau geöffnet is hosting monthslong workshops whereby local organizations will partner with architecture students and trades apprentices on maintenance projects throughout Venice. Participants will repair roofs, design furniture for communal spaces, upgrade sanitary facilities and build ramps for better access to buildings. As much as possible, they'll use materials from the repository.

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Rather than presenting a static exhibition, Germany's curatorial team — which includes architects from Summacumfemmer and Büro Juliane Greb as well as editors of architecture magazine ARCH+ — was influenced by the communal ethos of squatters in 1980s Berlin, who maintained and adapted the abandoned buildings they occupied. A central notion of Open for Maintenance is that architecture is inextricably linked to social and ecological issues. Through highly practical interventions like its material repository and maintenance projects in the city of Venice, the collective is putting that theory into practice.

Waste is a mammoth environmental concern, and corporations have a significant role in reducing and reusing. An obvious place to start: the next time your brand participates in a trade show, could you lead the way, collaborating with other exhibitors to repurpose materials for socially-minded projects? There are worse places to take inspiration from than the Biennale ;-)