Review: Venice Biennale (Architecture)
The 16th International Architecture Exhibition, the Venice Biennale, is now open. With 62 countries represented, the Biennale is a demonstration of “how the world might be perceived differently from diverse parts of our planet,” as described by the event curators.
This year’s theme, Freespace, is about the potential of architecture to be perceived beyond face value. With a somewhat romantic undertone, the curatorial statement emphasises the physical building. This is in clear contrast to the 15th Biennale in 2016, curated by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, which foregrounded social and political issues.
There are 62 national pavilions mostly in or around the Giardini, Venice’s parkland. The pavilions, with curators selected from each respective country, provide great insight into the current state of the architecture profession.
Repair, Australia’s Pavilion, curated by Baracco+Wright Architects in collaboration with artist Linda Tegg, constructs an immersive sensory experience for visitors. Repair aims to reclaim endangered grasslands that existed pre-European settlement.
More than 10,000 plants, including 65 different Victorian grassland species, fill a black cube designed by Denton Corker Marshall architects.
Only 1% of these grasslands remain in Victoria. The Australian curators explained that the reclamation of grasslands is “a sort of reverse order of urban sprawl”.
The plants are arranged in sporadic densities throughout the space. I yearned for the room to be filled even more as the smells, which are ever present, brought a familiarity to a foreign place. Artificial lights above illuminate and protect the interior landscape. Every so often the lights dim and two perpendicular walls project videos of 15 Australian architecture projects that address the environmental issues posed by the curators.
At face value, the pavilion can be seen purely as a comment on the environment, but more important is the process the curators took to construct the exhibition. The 10,000 Australian plants were “lovingly nurtured from seedlings to maturity in Sanremo, Italy”.
Like Australian gum trees that have made their home in California, these Victorian grasslands in Venice represent a successful model of migration and adaptation, just as the ritual of this Biennale represents at best, moments of productive displacement and cross-pollination.
Still, the grasslands pavilion left open the question of what would happen to these exiles after the Biennale. Would they be returned home, and at what cost? In our era of mass migration and high carbon footprint transport and agriculture, I wondered what fate would be most fitting.
This year’s Golden Lion Winner, the top award at the Biennale, was awarded to Switzerland for House Tour. In perfect Swiss style, the exhibition creates domestic spaces at multiple scales using materials and fittings commonly used in new-build housing or rented apartments. Curated by Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg and Ani Vihervaara, the exhibition aims to question the acceptance of banality.
The British Pavilion, Island, constructs a scaffold around an existing building, providing access to the upper roof structure where the 1909 building pokes out at the centre of the terrace, a literal island. Inside, the pavilion remains empty, void of an exhibition. As the British curators, Adam Caruso, Peter St John and Marcus Taylor, describe
The state of the building suggests many themes; including abandonment, reconstruction, sanctuary, Brexit, isolation, colonialism and climate change. It is intended as a platform, in this case also literally, for a new and optimistic beginning.
At the entry to the Arsenale, the centrepiece of the Biennale located in a 13th century Venetian shipyard, curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have hung what feels like hundreds of strands of rope. Here begins the showcase of 71 architects from around the world, each responding to the event’s theme.
The space is filled with a beautiful, yet erratic, set of architectural models, full-scale constructions and interactive media. The Central Pavilion, the Biennale’s other major venue, has a similar sprinkling of work.
The 71 participants have each built an object of delight, transforming the 200m hall into a street scene with a series of micro buildings along its sides.
Australian architect John Wardle’s popular installation, Somewhere Other, is an optical machine, or as the placard describes, “a portal, an elaborate window, a calibrated device, a long lens between Venice and Australia”. Australia is also represented by Tasmanian architects Room 11.
Somewhere Other is a beautifully made native timber object generating a range of experiences for its users. It is poetic in both description and construction, a striking demonstration of Wardle’s work and a strong representation of a continent about as far from Venice as you can get.
Other highlights include the a model of the Fuji kindergarten designed by Japanese firm Tezuka Architects. Projected drone footage shows children running free around the school’s circular roof.
Ricccardo Blummer and team’s Automatiche E Altri Esercizi (Italy), is “a walkable machine that continually builds minimal surfaces, composed of water and soap which only the reflection of light makes visible”.
Other projects to note were PROP/GLOBAL’s (Portugal) interactive media projected onto a curtain of fine grain tassels that form an enclosure; Valero Olgiati’s (Switzerland) intervention of 33 white slender cylindrical columns producing what he describes as “an intensified spatial experience”; and Kazuya Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s (Japan) acrylic, almost invisible, layered circular space.
Despite the beauty and poetry of many of the works aligning the Arsenale, one cannot deny their indulgence. In 2016, curator Alejandro Aravena asked if exhibitions would widen their scope beyond cultural and artistic dimensions to social, political, economic and environmental ideas. It’s not clear to me that many of the exhibitors at the current Biennale have done this.
The Venice Biennale is on until November 25 2018.
Until I went to southern Africa last year, I couldn’t imagine an African savanna without its awe-inspiring migrations. But Africa’s plains are increasingly empty of wildlife. My subsequent investigation showed that fences are marching across the savannas instead.
An audit of 24 large mammal species, which used to migrate regularly, showed that many migrations are already extinct. Fences stopped animals in their tracks, often within sight of the food and water that would sustain them. These fences had severed historically massive migrations. Millions of wild animals – wildebeest, zebra, hartebeest, springbok and many others – have likely died of thirst or hunger since the 1950s.
It’s a huge problem, yet it has received little attention. In Kenya, fences form clusters and virtual battle lines, threatening the collapse of the entire Greater-Mara ecosystem. A recent global study of 57 species of moving mammals shows that the future of the planet’s most spectacular natural events is on the cusp.
A land divided
Botswana is one of the last great places on earth for free-ranging wildlife. Here, fences erected to protect European beef producers from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) slice the country into 17 “islands”.
Fencing is expensive – especially fencing strong enough to keep out migrating animals – and it favours only a small proportion of cattle owners, locking local livestock farmers out of the export industry. To make matters worse, this comes as wildlife-based tourism is overtaking livestock as a proportion of GDP in countries like Botswana.
With colonial-era subsidies of the fencing system gone, what’s left is a lose-lose system that hinders local farmers, tourism and sustainability. Many savanna landscapes are now conflict zones between local people and wildlife.
Against this bleak backdrop, a rare good news story has emerged, driven by myth-busting science and patient advocacy. It turns out that wildlife does not play a significant role in the transmission foot-and-mouth disease, apart from the African buffalo; ironically it is more likely to be spread by cattle. Many areas, like the Kalahari, have no cattle or buffalo – so the fences in those areas serve no disease control purpose.
Careful scientific sleuthing is showing that migrations restart when these fences are removed. The longest animal migration ever recorded, of zebras across Botswana, resumed a few years ago after just a portion of fence was removed.
Process over place
Perhaps the most important breakthrough has been a relatively new scientific approach called One Health. One Health is a problem-solving strategy that tackles issues at the interface of wildlife, domestic animal and human health. A monumental effort by veterinarians and other scientists, working with communities and animal health organisations, has teased out a solution. Instead of looking at livestock’s geographic origin, it looks at the meat production process itself – from farm to fork – through a food safety lens.
This approach was initially developed for astronauts in the 1960s to avoid illness from contaminated food. It is now used throughout the food industry, from growing vegetables, to canning fruit and processing meat. For beef, it means that even in foot-and-mouth zones, a combination of vaccination, veterinary surveillance, and standardised meat preparation ensures disease-free, wildlife-friendly beef.
But it is one thing to have the solution, and quite another to convince policy makers to implement it. The focus of the One Health team soon turned to policy and advocacy. After years of research and dialogue between sectors that rarely sat at the same table, in 2012 the Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued The Phakalane Declaration on Adoption of Non-Geographic Approaches for Management of Foot and Mouth Disease.
Put simply, these new “non-geographic approaches” are not reliant on fencing.
Policy into practice
This consensus statement from southern African animal health experts was a shot heard ‘round the world. A genuine policy breakthrough finally came in 2015, in Paris, where the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) rewrote the Terrestrial Animal Health Code to allow for international trade of fresh meat from countries or zones with foot-and-mouth disease.
Since then, Ngamiland, home to world-renowned wildlife and the recently World Heritage-listed Okavango Delta, committed late last year to reassessing its fences with wildlife-friendly beef and wildlife concerns in mind.
Botswana is also at the centre of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area which spans parts of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is home to the world’s largest remaining population of elephants. The Animal and Human Health for the Environment And Development (AHEAD) program, based at Cornell University, have been working with local partners to resolve FMD-related conflicts in the largest peace park in Africa. Meanwhile, non-fence solutions were at the forefront of a recent multi-country summit in late 2016.
The new meat processing-focused approach seems like common sense but, after generations of conflict, it is bold and brave. Botswana, leading the charge, is now on the cusp of redeeming itself in the eyes of conservationists after 70 years of fence-related wildlife deaths.
Now, not only can this new way forward allow wildlife to rebound, but a regional economy benefiting from both wildlife and livestock can do the same – if policy-makers can indeed move – beyond fences.
The hot, dry Australian desert may not come to mind as an ideal location for waterbirds to breed, but some species wait years for the opportunity to do just that.
New research has shed light on one of Australia’s most enigmatic birds, the banded stilt. This pigeon-sized shorebird has long been a source of intrigue due to its bizarre and extreme breeding behaviour. They fly hundreds or thousands of kilometres from coastal wetlands to lay eggs that are 50-80% of their body mass in normally dry inland desert salt lakes, such as Lake Eyre, on the rare occasions they are inundated by flooding rain.
Such behaviour has been a mystery for decades; described for the first time in 1930, just 30 breeding events had been documented for the entire species in the following 80 years.
To investigate this behaviour, and to assess the stilts’ conservation status, we began a study in 2011, during which I was based in outback South Australia, ready to jump into a small plane after every large desert rainfall. We also satellite-tagged nearly 60 banded stilts, using miniature solar powered devices around half the size of a matchbox.
This focused survey effort – which required overcoming the logistical challenges of very remote sites, knee-deep mud, heat and flies – has revealed major new insights into how banded stilts breed and the incredible distances they travel: we recorded one bird that flew 2,200km in just two nights.
The research revealed that, on average, banded stilts respond within eight days to unpredictable distant flooding of outback salt lakes. They leave their more predictable coastal habitat to travel 1,000-2,000km in overnight flights to arrive at the newly flooded lakes and take advantage of freshly hatched brine shrimp.
Brine shrimp eggs lie dormant in the lakes’ dry salt crust for years or decades between floods, but upon wetting they hatch in their billions, creating a “brine shrimp soup” – a rich but short-lived banquet for the nesting stilts.
During the six-year study, we detected this nomadic movement and nesting behaviour seven times more often than it had been recorded in the previous 80 years. Although the banded stilts were previously thought to require large once-in-a-decade rains to initiate inland breeding, we found that small numbers of banded stilts respond to almost any salt lake inundation, arriving, mating and laying eggs equivalent of 50-80% of their body weight, despite high chances of the salt lake water drying before the eggs could hatch or chicks fledge.
Many times the eggs were abandoned as salt lake water dried. On other occasions some chicks survived long enough to learn to fly – although late-hatching chicks ran out of food or water and starved.
Once we found out that stilts needed much less rain to breed than previously thought, we used satellite imagery to reconstruct the past 30 years of flooding for ten salt lakes in South and Western Australia.
These models showed that conditions have been suitable for breeding more than twice as often as breeding events have actually been recorded. It seems that stilts’ nesting behaviour is so remote and hard to predict that scientists have been missing half the times it has happened.
Threats to banded stilt survival
Salt lakes in northwestern Australia are vital for banded stilts’ breeding. Our satellite tracking showed that birds from across the continent can reach these lakes after rain. Satellite images also suggested these lakes fill with water much more frequently than southern breeding sites.
These lakes are also largely free of native silver gulls (the common seagulls seen around our cities), which are predators of stilt chicks.
But other southern Australian breeding lakes are dramatically affected by gull predation. In one instance, a colony of 9,500 pairs (around 30,000 eggs) had less than 5% of its chicks survive, despite abundant water and brine shrimp on offer. Observations made near the colony suggested that a chick was being eaten by gulls every two minutes. Nearly 900 chicks and 350 eggs were eaten in the 30 hours we watched the colony.
Unfortunately, even the lakes that are relatively gull-free are now under threat from human development, despite being in one of the most remote parts of the world. Lakes Disappointment, Mackay, Dora, Auld and others surrounding them in the Little Sandy and Great Sandy Deserts are the subject of plans for potash mining.
The most advanced plans relate to Lake Disappointment, where Reward Minerals plans to construct a series of drainage trenches and 4,000 hectares of evaporation ponds on the lake bed to harvest potash for use in fertilisers.
This action will create permanent brine pools in some parts of the lake, and prevent other areas from receiving any water. As surface water drains into evaporation ponds, it’s likely the first rains after a long dry spell will no longer prompt mass brine shrimp hatching. Without this brine shrimp “soup”, banded stilts cannot breed at the site.
Meanwhile, the coastal habitat that supports banded stilt for the rest of the year is also changing. Sites that are home to thousands of birds, such as parts of the Dry Creek Saltfields and Bird Lake in South Australia, have been drained in the past two years.
If both the stilts’ inland breeding and coastal refuges are under threat, how can they survive?
Lessons for managing mobile species
This research offers insight into the conservation of highly mobile species, which may travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres in a year. Banded stilts are listed as vulnerable in South Australia, but have no conservation rating in the four other states in which they are found.
Individual banded stilts appear to operate over vast spatial scales, crossing between state jurisdictions in single overnight flights. Their episodic breeding events are hard to find and even more difficult to manage. Between breeding events, long-lived adults depend on refuges around the country which are being impacted by human activity, including potentially longer, harsher dry periods from climate change into the future.
These birds epitomise adaptation to unpredictable changes in their environment, but habitat loss and a warming climate may threaten them as much as any other species.
The authors would like to acknowledge L. Pedler, M. Christie, B. Parkhurst, R. West, C. Minton, I. Stewart, M. Weston, D. Paton, B. Buttemer and the South Australian Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources, and Western Australian Department for Parks and Wildlife._
The Paris climate summit has come too late for Ioane Teitiota from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, who made history when his case for asylum in New Zealand was rejected in September.
His claim for protection was based on the effects of climate change. Kiribati president Anote Tong has argued that his citizens should be able to migrate with “dignity”, and a survey released at the Paris summit suggests that people in more than 70% of households in Kiribati and Tuvalu, and 35% of those in Nauru, would consider migrating because of climate stresses.
Hundreds of millions of people across the globe are exposed to environmental risk and this number is likely to grow. UK government research has developed alternative scenarios to identify populations living in cities on floodplains who are potentially exposed to environmental risk. In Southeast Asia numbers were projected to rise from seven million in 2000 to between 30 million and 49 million by 2060. In Africa, a similar exercise projected a rise from two million in 2000 to between 26 million and 36 million by 2060.
To go, or not to go
But being at risk does not necessarily mean these people will migrate to escape it. Even if they were to move, these findings say nothing about the distance people would travel. Most migration is internal within states or, when international, to the next safe place – typically a neighbouring country.
Perhaps more seriously, many people who are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change lack the physical, financial or social resources to move. The result is potentially hundreds of millions of people effectively trapped in places where they are exposed to significant environmental hazard.
It’s a mistake to imagine that climate change is simply a trigger mechanism that causes people to migrate. Trapped populations, including the elderly or children, are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and less able to migrate. They are more prone to humanitarian emergencies or future displacement. Relocation away from risk could help, but should respect the rights and dignity of migrants. Facilitated migration could also help avoid future displacement and emergencies, but this requires significant political will and international cooperation.
Political responses have lagged behind the problem. Research suggests that decision-makers’ views are mostly shaped by past responses to refugee issues – meaning climate change is seen as something that could shape the future migration rather than something that is happening now and will only intensify in the future.
Displaced people need to be protected. Since 2008, one person per second – or more than 26 million a year – have been displaced, mainly by extreme weather events. Some 97% of this has happened in developing countries in Asia and Africa. In October, the Nansen Initiative led by the Swiss and Norwegian governments, was endorsed by 114 nations, who have agreed to enhance the humanitarian help available to people who cross borders as a result of climate-related disasters.
An effective migration and mobility agenda means recognising that migration is a key way for people to protect themselves and their families from climate change. The benefit of such an approach is that provisions for mobility can offset the future risk of forced displacement. This requires safe channels that can enable both permanent and temporary migration while protecting migrants’ rights. It requires access to services for these migrants and their family members, while also enabling them to send money and resources back to their family members.
We must think of migration as not always being a crisis and migrants not necessarily as victims, but recognise instead that migration can be a potentially positive and powerful force that helps people to make choices to sustain their livelihoods. Doing this means seeing migration not as part of the problem, but as an important part of the solution to the effects of climate change.
How will climate change affect life in the oceans? In research to be published in Nature Climate Change* we, among several other authors, show that the answer is likely good and bad.
Our study models how species might move in response to different future climate scenarios. The good news is that overall, thanks to species migrations, most places will end up with greater numbers of species. According to our models, climate change is unlikely to directly cause extinction through warming waters for most species, except for those that can’t move or have very narrow thermal tolerances.
The bad news is that there are a few very special places that will lose species – particularly the spectacular ocean ecosystems of what’s known as the Coral Triangle, the epicentre of global marine biodiversity.
First, the good news
As ocean temperatures increase, marine life will likely move towards the poles – animals and plants will expand their ranges. We can already see this happening. In Australia, tropical species of fish are turning up in northern New South Wales.
We wanted to know how this would affect the overall numbers of animals and plants in the oceans – marine biodiversity – and the distinctive communities they comprise. While many things affect where marine life lives – habitat, competition, salinity – most species are affected fundamentally by temperature.
Using temperature to find out where species might move allowed us to look at an unprecedented number of species – nearly 13,000. These included animals and plants as diverse as fish, corals, jellies, snails, clams, crabs, shrimps and seaweeds.
We looked at two different climate scenarios, business as usual (known as RCP8.5) leading to warming of around 2.5ºC by 2100, and a scenario with medium mitigation (RCP4.5) leading to warming of around 1ºC over the same period.
Our model shows how fast different temperature zones will move and to where, using a measure known as “climate velocity”. This is a good way of predicting where species could move because it traces pathways connected by climate.
We should emphasise that our study shows where species could move. Our projections don’t necessarily mean that they will move, nor that they will successfully establish themselves at the locations where they arrive. That depends on a variety of factors, including their specific habitat requirements and how species interact with each other. But studies of invasive species suggest that species that can move will tend to do so.
Overall we found that biodiversity of the oceans will likely increase at local scales. As a result, we anticipate that marine ecosystems will become more similar. For instance, today on the east Australian coast, the types of species found along the central Queensland coast are quite different from those found in central New South Wales. As sea temperatures warm, we expect those boundaries to gradually break down, leading to what we call a “smearing” of biodiversity.
Bad news for the tropics
There are several theories as to why there are so many species in the tropics, and especially the Coral Triangle. Irrespective, we know that this area supports over 500 species of reef-forming corals, together with a massive diversity of fish, including whale sharks, and six of the seven extant species of sea turtles; it is also visited by many species of whales and dolphins. This concentration of marine biodiversity contributes significantly to livelihoods of the region’s 120 million or so human inhabitants.
Species living in tropical seas already live close to their thermal optimum. As temperatures increase, they will exceed the upper thermal limits of some species. When this happens, some species will adapt, for instance by seeking out micro-refuges, such as small patches of cool water caused by upwelling, or they might resort to living in deeper waters, if the water is clear enough.
But in the long term, most species will need to move. The reason we expect marine biodiversity to decrease in the tropics with warming is that there is no place warmer to act as a source of new species to replace those species moving out.
More than 5,000 of the 13,000 species we looked at in our study are found in the coral triangle. According to our projections, approximately 500 to 1,000 of these species will leave the region thanks to warming waters under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively.
What can we do?
Our modelling shows that the loss of marine life is strongly related to how much we mitigate climate change.
Even if we take only intermediate levels of action (under scenario RCP4.5), we can minimise the damage. But we can’t eliminate it entirely: under the emission-stabilisation RCP4.5 scenario we anticipate that the Coral Triangle will lose roughly half as many species as under the business-as-usual RCP8.5 scenario.
We can also look at how we manage the world’s oceans. Some regions, such as the northeast Atlantic and eastern Mediterranean, have seen greater impacts from people than others, and some of these overlap with regions likely to be affected by climate change.
Where there is overlap, we can look at alleviating the damage caused by people, such as pollution of coastal waters, or minimising the pressure on key species, for example by reducing fishing pressure on them.
In other areas, such as the poles, there is low human impact, but we project substantial changes in biodiversity. From a conservation perspective, we want representative sections of these areas to remain free from additional human pressure, for instance by using regulation to control future development.
And because climate change doesn’t respect national boundaries, all of these efforts will require international cooperation.
Only in that way will we ensure the seas remain rich and healthy in the future.
We acknowledge the contributions of all co-authors: Jorge Garcia Molinos, Benjamin S. Halpern, David S. Schoeman, Christopher J. Brown, Wolfgang Kiessling, Pippa J. Moore, John M. Pandolfi, Elvira S. Poloczanska, Anthony J. Richardson and Michael T. Burrows
*Update August 25: the paper on which this article is based has not yet been published. The article will be updated when the link is available.
David Schoeman is Associate professor, Biostatistics at University of the Sunshine Coast and Jorge García Molinos is Research Associate Climate Change Ecology at Scottish Association for Marine Science