In front of the Triennale Design Museum, a 1930s early modernist building in Milan’s Parco Sempione is an unlikely neighbor – a squat tower with triangular openings piercing its skin. It was designed by Francis Kéré, the architect from Burkina Faso who won the Pritzker Prize in 2022, and while the 23rd International Exhibition of the Triennale Milano prepares for its opening (until December 15, 2022), its final coat of paint has been applied. With a small entrance, it’s obviously architecture, but what is its function?
“I want to force people to get on their knees to enter, you know? You enter this building and you feel locked in. What I’m saying is you feel trapped in this situation, you think there is no solution, but if you start lifting your head you will see that there are openings that will show you the sky. […] It will constantly connect you to the sky,” says Kéré.
Francis Keré, The present of the future2022 at the Milan Triennale. Photography: Gianluca Di Loia
The Triennial is titled “Unknown Unknowns” and features a vast body of art, design, film and research aimed at exploring or understanding the knowledge we will need in the future. All of this is overseen by the architect Stefano Boeri, who has been the institution’s president since 2018, who does not curatorially take charge of the Triennial but creates the conditions and conversations for ideas to flourish. The theme ‘Unknown Unknowns’ itself emerged from one of these talks, a panel discussion that brought together interdisciplinary experts to explore what new insights had emerged from the 22nd Triennial entitled ‘Broken Nature’.
What became clear in the conversation was how much was not known, Boeri tells Wallpaper*: “What we don’t know is so, so, so huge. We only know five percent of the universe, then this oceanographer started saying, “Well, we only know five percent of the oceans,” then a neurologist said, “Well, we know less than five percent of the synapses.” … At that moment, the idea of what we don’t know, we don’t know started to be present and we started imagining an exhibition.’
Yuri Suzuki, The Sound of the Earth: Chapter 32022 at the Milan Triennale. Photography © DSL Studio
Two of the participants in the conversation were then appointed senior curators: Ersilia Vaudo Scarpetta, astrophysicist and Chief Diversity Officer at the European Space Agency; and Francis Kéré, who designed not only the outer tower but also two sculptures inside the building and coordinated six African nations for participation in the International Participation area – 18 national pavilions stand alongside numerous other curated exhibitions and installations to form that, what Boeri calls “a constellation of exhibitions”.
Central to the main exhibition is Unknown Unknowns, a multi-layered exploration of art, design and architecture that proposes not only tools to understand the unknown, but also methods of mapping and cataloging to allow information to flow between knowledge silos.
Bosco Sodi, perfect body2022, site-specific installation for the 23rd International Exhibition of the Triennale Milano. Photography: John Rohrer, courtesy of Studio Bosco Sodi
There are playful and poetic resonances between the works on display. Upon entering a giant geodesic sphere by Yuri Suzuki, The Sound of the Earth: Chapter 3 (2022), feeds crowdsourced sounds through an algorithm to create an evolving soundscape.
Visually, it transitions into eleven handmade clay balls from Bosco Sodi’s studio in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. perfect body (2022) celebrates earthen material and qualities of the handmade, introducing the visitor to ideas of building with nature that would later be taken up not only in other pieces but also in the exhibition architecture of Space Caviar, 3D printed from biodegradable materials of the region.
European Space Agency stellar motion for the next 400 million yearsGaia2020. © ESA/Gaia/DPAC Acknowledgments: A. Brown, S. Jordan, T. Roegiers, X. Luria, E. Masana, T. Prusti, and A. Moitinho
A Walter Tschinkel cast of the subterranean rooms of an insect nest speaks to an image in a nearby book, dated 1678 Mundus Subterraneus, which shows a schematic diptych of the entrails of man and earth side by side. This mapping of the body and planet, in turn, speaks to nearby early 20th century navigational charts of the Marshall Islands. Then the visitor’s eye lifts and notices a projection hanging from the ceiling Gaia (2020), a European Space Agency digital map of 2 billion stars.
This weaving of idea and aesthetics between scales, disciplines and periods is an exciting way of articulating the open idea of what is not yet known, and is perhaps due in part to Scarpetta’s background and her curious path through ideas, her scientific approach as well the Triennale curatorial team she worked with.
Francis Keré, yesterday is tomorrow2022. Photography © DSL Studio
Both ideas came up in conversation with Kéré, who is wary of 3D printing offering a techno-construction answer: “Now everyone is talking about printing a house. What if we start printing houses for people to live in? But how would they have income? The construction sector mobilizes a lot of resources, but also craftsmanship, and when you start printing houses, who can afford it? For whom is that?’
Kéré prefers to focus on collaboration and existing skills rather than methods for future solutions. “If you want to create something, if you want to build a world of tomorrow, you have to examine what was yesterday. We call it yesterday is tomorrow.’
Burkina Faso’s contribution to the Triennale Milano, Tiébélé Lehmhaus, 2022. Photography: Jaime Herraiz for Kéré Architecture
For Burkina Faso’s contribution to the international section of the Triennial, Kéré offers a plain wall. A Burkina Faso woman and her daughter paint it, uninterested in the onlooking crowd of art, simply continuing a creative act that has been central to the country’s architecture for generations. Using natural pigments, they inscribe the wall with symbols and patterns, each with a specific meaning – happiness, protection, solidity, memory of the ancestors – which are painted together as an act of embedded knowledge.
The girl learns from her mother, who in turn learned it from her mother-in-law, an 86-year-old who practices but has not been able to travel to Milan. It is not only an act of decoration, but also of maintenance, because the surfaces have to be recoated every few years. Kéré sees the function of collaborative collaboration in this: She trains the very people who will live in a place with the necessary knowledge to improve and repair it.
Ron Muck, man in a boat2002 Photography: Thomas Salva / Lumento
In the Anthropocene, however, maintenance is not enough. Europe is overheating and Kéré says: “In Burkina Faso it rains indiscriminately”. That unknown unknown The impact of our culture on nature is explored in another major exhibition, Fondation Cartier’s “Mondo Reale”, where the first thing we encounter is an artwork by Ron Mueck depicting a naked and unperturbed figure with arms crossed, posing on stranded on a boat. From Alex Cerveny’s mesmerizing painting that incorporates culture, nature, fear and existentialism to Sho Shibuya’s daily work on the front page of The New York Times in apparent desperation to cover daily despair with a new artistic meaning, there is fear within this exhibition.
‘Mondo Reale’ by Fondation Cartier at Triennale Milano, 2022. Photography: Andrea Rossetti
This is best illustrated in Artavazd Peleshyan’s film The nature (2020), a relentless elaboration of the power of the earth, manifesting itself through landslides, storms, volcanoes and lightning to an incessant soundtrack. Facing the screen, two rows of immaculately upholstered modernist chairs invite us to sit back and passively observe the violence. It’s hard to last forever; The violent tremors are greater than the comfort of the chairs, perhaps intentionally to force visitors to flee and initiate new types of conversations needed to face together unfamiliar strangers.
Outside, the tower connects the earth to the stars. Kéré says it’s big enough for a few people to enter at once, and as such it’s not a space of solitude but a space of shared exploration: “I want us to have the courage to escape the situation. Related to unknown unknown‘There is heaven between us and our little, little problems, and it’s unlimited – and there are many solutions that we don’t know yet that could help solve our problems.’ §