same as it ever was

Pavilion of Croatia – Same as it Ever Was at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

The Croatian Pavilion is an ode to the ambiances of coexistence of the wild and the domesticated, natural and fabricated, inanimate and living. It originates from the Lonja Wetlands, where the dynamic environment evolved from centuries of symbioses between the landscape in constant flux and the communities that adapted their lives to it. This sample becomes a backdrop for the discursive programme of the Croatian Pavilion, an ongoing laboratory documented in real time, focused on exploring futures in practice and education. Our “Laboratory of the Future” begins with a deep understanding of the interconnectedness among actors of all origins.

Lonja Wetlands is one of Europe’s largest wetlands, situated in central Croatia around the rivers Sava and Lonja. With its biodiversity and traditions, Lonja Wetlands presents an environment of fragile equilibrium that undergoes radical changes over the course of a year. Centuries of dynamic cohabitation of the wilderness, the domesticated life and the human created a distinct cultural heritage reflecting an everchanging landscape. Various transient beings move, migrate and travel through Lonja Wetlands. Here, the synchronicities of time depend on the viewpoint of the actors. They are measured in seasons of grazing, annual intercontinental migrations of birds, daily migrations of people, seconds of visitor’s reactions, decades of movement of the meandering rivers and centuries of plants growing. We look beyond the superficial traces of these systems, in the opposite direction of inevitable crises, speculating on possible harmonious futures. 

These wetlands are taken as a lesson showing us different possible future paths, alternatives, and models of cohabitation. The realities of constant and ongoing crises and disasters urge us to build new types of resilience. By studying autonomous communities in peripheral regions, we are given direct insight into those who are used to living with nature, and not against it, with better chances at surviving in such futures. This path does not glorify an arcadian past yet shows an example of coexistence with changing cultures and behaviours.

The Croatian Pavilion in the Arsenale includes a spatial installation belonging to the bestiarium of observatories in the Lonja Wetlands. The installation includes physical and virtual segments directly tied to the narrative of the existent visitor’s infrastructure in Lonja Wetlands, treated as a device for understanding the connections between nature and culture. This built infrastructure operates on a subliminal level and elementary recognition perceptible through collective memories, sampling and paraphrasing the familiar. 

The network of the Croatian Pavilion welcomes talks and workshops that will take place on-site and off-site during the Biennale, with focus on acute issues through interaction between professionals, teachers, and students from various fields. This way, they will test the topics and future actions in the education of architects, designers and related disciplines – recognizing the multidisciplinary and transversal origin of skills engaged in caring for the future environment. Responding to Lesley Lokko’s framing of the topic, we invite and display excerpts of a continuous interdisciplinary process aimed at fundamentally changing the approaches to spatial agency, realizing it through situated education, focused on alternative futures for those that remain. A shift in understanding the relationships between actors within ecosystems relies on a transformation facilitated by education.

This discursive format of the Croatian Pavilion disperses the highlights and topics of the “Same as it Ever Was” project towards educational and local environments, extending its reach and aiming for meaningful reciprocity. The workshops will take place in Venice, Ljubljana, Split, Motovun, Milan and Lonja Wetlands during the whole period of the Biennale Architettura. The discursive program kicks off during the pre-opening of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, with an opening discussion between Harriet Harriss (Pratt Institute), James Auger (Crap Futures, ENS Paris Saclay), and Martin Avila (Konstfack), moderated by Ivica Mitrović (SpeculativeEdu, UMAS). The result of the program, alongside texts that will explore the topics further, will be published in a book to be promoted at the end of the Biennale, as a retroactive account of the discussions, workshops, case studies and reflections.