Dominique Perrault on the Seoul Biennale 2021: "Where Do We Want to Live?"

Dominique Perrault on the Seoul Biennale 2021: "Where Do We Want to Live?"

Exploring the evolution of the world’s cities and metropolises, the third edition of the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism (SBAU 2021) entitled "CROSSROADS Building the Resilient City" will be led by French architect and urban planner Dominique Perrault.

ArchDaily had the chance to speak to Perrault to find out what will be different in this particular biennale. 

Fabian Dejtiar (FD): What lays behind the inspiration for this year's theme “CROSSROADS”?

Dominique Perrault (DP): The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism first and foremost belongs to cities. It gives us the opportunity to question what kind of city we wish to establish in the future. This third edition, entitled “CROSSROADS Building the Resilient City” will be, as its name suggests, at the crossroad of possibilities. “Where do we want to live?” is the question raised by the SBAU2021. It will try to analyze the present time as a way to anticipate future developments and draw a forward-looking vision for the city of tomorrow.

The crossroad figure reflects the complexity of contemporary architectural production which can no longer perceive itself, on its own, as the city matrix. The contemporary city is a space in which evolves several superimpositions and interactions. It is not a completed set but a network of places developed through both permanent and multiple urban plans.

Building the city has become, and will be more and more, a hybrid art aiming to make the city livable and comfortable for all. I also chose the crossroad figure, which forms a sort of wind rose, because it is a symbol of dynamism, inspiration which allows us to think of the city as a collective invention, nourished by the junction of skills and ideas. This wind rose is made of five thematic figures, five synergies representing as many analytic paths as possible to contribute to the building of the resilient city.  Each of these “crossroads” tackles one of the disciplinary fields that shape the city: the architecture, the urbanism, the landscape…By unveiling experiences, projects, or productions, we will examine how cities and their designers are able to offer new perspectives for a more sustainable planet.

The Biennale will finally be a crossroads, a place of convergence. Anchored in the city of Seoul, I wish it could go beyond the duration of both its programs and proposed projects, in order to leave an inspiring legacy for the development of all cities.

Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021
Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021

FD: What is your understanding of “Resilient City”?

DP: I wanted to engrave Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism with the topic of resilient cities. In the heart of this urban entity, now the third most populous megalopolis in the world, with more than 25 million inhabitants, this subject seemed particularly relevant to me.

Aroused from the field of psychology, the term resilience has been applied to cities through notions of ecology. It refers to the ability to regain one’s stability, to adapt to a disruption in order to limit its impact. Resilience, therefore, includes the idea of a positive reaction as a result of an initial shock. The idea of resilience is aligned with the idea of durability.

Humankind has built cities, and these protective built-up areas constitute the artificial landscapes in which our societies have evolved. However, in the contemporary world, subject to several hazards and constraints (environmental, demographic…), cities can no longer grow indefinitely. We have to start building less but in a greater form, transform, share, and mutualize to limit the urban spread and improve everyone’s comfort. Encouraging density and diversity is part of resilience. It allows to reduce city-dwellers’ dependency on automobile, to preserve green areas, to generate significant energy savings, but also to strengthen the territorial identity of places, by promoting social interactions. 

The resilient city is therefore able of reinventing and transforming itself by placing people at the core of its priorities, improving their quality of life. Buildings must have several lives, and meet needs that we haven't even imagined yet. It also implies an architectural vision not far from urbanism and landscape issues. I think, and I hope, that the future buildings will no longer be isolated or autonomous units but will be in relation to their social, economic, and environmental surrounding.

My work on the relation from the top to the bottom of the city was developed through several projects and prospective studies, linked to this concern around resilience. We can in fact feed the architectural productions which belong to the “above” from below, provide services and support, just like a tree is nourished by its roots. In this approach, there is an engaged position, even a political one, which consists of limiting the city's development, opposing a “predatory” city vision which consumes more and more territories. The resilient city must develop another idea of proximity: as a result of this global health crisis, it now appears to us as an absolute necessity. My vision of the resilient city would somehow be a manifesto of these new proximities.

SBAU2021 Exhibition Concept. Image Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021
SBAU2021 Exhibition Concept. Image Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021

FD: The SBAU 2021 will be a global architectural event produced after the pandemic altered and questioned the foundations of our modern, technological civilization. What will be different in this biennale?  

DP: The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021 (SBAU 2021) will be the first international architectural event taking place in the aftermath of this health crisis. The latter will undeniably have an influence on both our future lifestyles and on the management of cities.

This event has undoubtedly induced a change in the way we look at the city, at the notion of proximity and its advantages. Moreover, it has generated a global awareness of the environment, pollution … How can architects, urban planners, and researchers of all kinds think, respond, or anticipate these potentially recurring episodes? This crisis must serve as a triggering signal to encourage us to find sustainable solutions for a better future.

We need a useful Biennale, an inspiring one that expresses a strong commitment from both cities and their designers. This episode is positively forcing us to change our ways of doing things, to think of the city as a collective invention. We must work and put together our skills, architects, town planners, developers, builders, politicians… We have to create links, reinvest the space differently, create more hybridity, networks, and convert without destroying.

The theme SAFE/RISK was therefore proposed within the Biennale to reflect on these questions of security and risk, both parameters that are intrinsically and historically part of the city's function. More than a year after the emergence of this pandemic, we will be able to reflect on its impact, and throughout the duration of the Biennale a series of events, meetings and conferences will be organized to share experiences, potential lessons to be learned and perspectives. As an International platform, the Biennale will be a multidisciplinary forum for exchanges. We also hope that it could serve as a trigger for movement, modifying our relationship to architecture and urbanism beyond the event in itself.

SBAU2021 Plan. Image Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021
SBAU2021 Plan. Image Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021

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Cite: Fabian Dejtiar. "Dominique Perrault on the Seoul Biennale 2021: "Where Do We Want to Live?"" 11 Jul 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/942938/dominique-perrault-on-the-seoul-biennale-2021-where-do-we-want-to-live> ISSN 0719-8884
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Courtesy of Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021

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