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For The First Time, The Philippine National Pavilion Wins At The Venice Biennale

Honoring the principles of Bayanihan, this achievement marks the first for any Southeast Asian country

The Philippines received its first-ever award from the prestigious global platform Venice Biennale for the exhibition Structures of Mutual Support curated by Framework Collaborative (GK Enchanted Farm community and Architects Sudarshan V. Khadka Jr. and Alexander Eriksson Furunes). This is the first time a National Pavilion from Southeast Asia has gained an award in the Venice Architecture Biennale

The country’s national participation at the Venice Biennale is a collaborative undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Deputy Speaker and Congresswoman Loren Legarda

Step inside the exhibit through this gallery:

Out of 60 National Participations, the Philippines was given the Special Mention as National Participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition conferred by La Biennale di Venezia for its “exemplary community project that creates a rich archive and experience of collaborative construction practices.”

Only two countries were honored with this important award, aside from the Philippines. The Russian Pavilion curated by Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli with the exhibition Open! received the Special Mention. The Golden Lion was awarded to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Pavilion

The components of the library were delivered to Venice in early 2020 and they stayed in storage until installation began in late March 2021. The assembly was done by Italian contractors using the elements fabricated from the village. In this photo: Khadka and Furunes with their local team. | Courtesy of Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale
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The international jury was chaired by Kazuyo Sejima and composed of Sandra Barclay (Peru), Lamia Joreige (Lebanon), Lesley Lokko (Ghana-Scotland), and Luca Molinari (Italy).

During the Awards Ceremony held at the Ca’ Giustinian, the headquarters of La Biennale di Venezia on August 30, 2021, curator Furunes thanked the organization for “recognizing that bayanihan and dugnad can be real alternatives to how we can live together. The way we build is really the way we live. So this is really important to us.” 

While Khadka said, “We accept this award also on behalf of our collaborators, the GK Enchanted Farm community in Bulacan. We would like to thank our commissioner, the NCCA, DFA and Congresswoman Legarda as well as the PAVB for supporting and trusting the vision for an alternative way we can live together. Mula sa puso, para sa bayan. Salamat.”

The main proponent of the Philippine participation Congresswoman Loren Legarda said, “It is with utmost pride that we received the news, given the circumstance of the pandemic and the many hurdles we had to overcome.”

“What is important is that we can tell the world that existing practices of our nation, such as bayanihan and our strong sense of community, can be solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. It is with anticipation we wait for the exhibition to return to the Philippines, back to the GK Enchanted Farm community, where it will no longer be a piece for the exhibition but a built object, if not an evolving organism, its value to be defined by community and enjoyed by its members,” she concluded. 

Khadka (L) and Furunes (R) at the awards ceremony of the Venice Biennale. | Courtesy of Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale
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Historic Recognition

This is the first time since the country was recognized ever since it participated in 1964 at the Venice Art Biennale. After more than a 50-year hiatus, the country joined in 2015 at the Venice Art Biennale and the following year at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Through the NCCA, and its partner agencies, the country has continuously organized the Philippines’ National Participation at the Arsenale.

“The Philippines has only been participating at the Venice Architecture Biennale since 2016 . This was only our third official participation as National Pavilion in Architecture. To receive this award is humbling and encouraging that we must continue sending our talents to the Venice Biennale so they can represent our realities as a nation and contribute to meaningful changes to the world,” stated Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, the Philippine Pavilion Commissioner and Chairman of the NCCA.

The opening ceremonies were held on May 20, 2021 and was broadcast live on zoom. It was followed by a walkthrough by the curators and then a press conference afterwards. | Courtesy of Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale

Coming Back Home

The exhibition Structures of Mutual Support explores how the principles of mutual support would shape architecture by involving people directly in determining values embedded in it. Through a series of workshops based on bayanihan, the Filipino tradition of mutual support, the community and architects planned, designed and built a community library and conflict-resolution space. Much like bayanihan was used traditionally to move a house from one village to the other, the building traveled to Venice for the duration of the exhibition before returning to the village.   The exhibition will run until November 21, 2021, and the library, which was shipped to Venice before the lockdowns last year, will revert to the GK Enchanted Farm community in Angat, Bulacan where it will be built and used by the community permanently