‘architecture is not just something off in the distance, it is the cradle of our lives and the more it is valued, the more that architecture is supported by society, not just by architects themselves, but by every citizen.’
The future of Venice is uncertain; this is a result of the physical vulnerability of the city, coupled with the social vulnerability of the divide between inhabitants and tourists. Over the past number of decades, the population of Venice’s historic centre has diminished drastically. At the time of the first Architecture Biennale held in 1980, the population of the city was 120,000. Since this event the figure has halved to roughly 55,000. This drastic change in population is due to the consequences of mass tourism, ever-increasing property prices, and an ageing community. Venice is a dying city and it is estimated that by the year 2055 there will be no Venetians left. In an interview with Umberto Angelin, an elderly man living in Venice, he states that ‘we are the last Venetians. After us, there will be no more.’ In Venice, with its aging and fleeing population, it is feared that the memories and experience of the place are dissolving. The uniqueness of the city, its diversity, and the virtues that Venice possesses are soon to be forgotten.
If Venice accepts the reality of the world in which it is presented, then it is one step closer to an inevitable death. Unlike other western cities growing in size, Venice is diminishing. Who benefits from a dead city? What type of future does a Venice without Venetians have? Is it destined to become merely an open-air museum? The true nature of the city can be observed after the tourists have departed on their boats, planes and trains, when the streets are returned to the remaining few. The place becomes deserted, a city of ‘spectres’. There is an uncertainty to Venice after nightfall.
Mass tourism transforms the world into a commodity. Places become objects to consume and are deprived of their quality as places. Cities, as objects of consumption, float in the world like an object in a universal exhibition. The Venice Biennale is itself as a contributing factor to the Venice-as-commodity phenomenon. For six months of each year, the city is occupied by some variation of the exhibition, alternatively celebrating the disciplines of art or architecture at an international scale. The ambiguous nature of imposed themes allows architects to impart their own individual agenda, with very little regard for the fundamental issues at play within the city itself. The question of whether each biennale is a success, or not, remains internalised within each of the disciplines and apart from the wider context of Venice.
But the urban life of the Venetian community has not been lost yet. There are still pockets of the city where everyday rountines can be found, especially in Castello and Cannaregio. The inhabitants are the lifeblood that flow through the streets, squares and canal sides. They carry with them the soul of the city, containing a living tapestry of memories, stories, desires, languages, and institutions. If architects are to play a role in the future of the city of Venice, whatever that future may be, one must consider the city and its urban fabric, and the memories and experiences of its people, if both are to survive.
Yvonne Farrell states that, ‘citizens should demand architecture as a civic right’. The remaining citizens of Venice should demand the fundamental civic right of architecture – an architecture that will not only benefit the city economically but will also sustain the social life of the city. The Venice Biennale is the biggest celebration of architecture internationally, yet Venice itself is upstaged by the event. If architects are to be an effective force in the fate of the city, perhaps the Biennale is the right space for this shift. By adopting a more bottom-up approach to the exhibition, working directly with local inhabitants, and focusing on a social approach that tries to keep the city ‘alive’, some hope may be found in the civic heritage of the place. Architects alone will not save Venice, but they can play an important role in its future.
 Farrell, Yvonne. ‘Venice Architecture Biennale 2018: Freespace / Arsenale’. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSuP3JioKiA
 Agamden, Giorgio. Nudities. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.
 DeMartino, Angelica, et al. Venice: An Aging City. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 2008.
 Farrell, Yvonne. ‘Venice Architecture Biennale 2018: Freespace / Arsenale’. 2018.