A Guide through the Ukrainian Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2023 in Venice

7 september, 2023
From May 20 to November 26, 2023, the Ukrainian Pavilion presents multiple programs at the International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Though Ukraine regularly participates in the Venice Art Biennial, there has been a noticeable absence of Ukrainian projects in the architectural festival for many years. Five Ukrainian temporary collectives joined this year, presenting their manifestos at two Biennale locations. Here's a guide on the Ukrainian architectural pavilion. 

Before the Future Pavilion

Ukrainian exhibition at the Biennale Architettura 2023 is titled «Before the Future» this year. The show spreads around two locations: Arsenale and Giardini. Both parts of the project present fortified spaces, «formal quotations to unusual structures,» that have become symbols of security for Ukrainian society since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The team provides more information on the official website.

«These spaces will provide a forum for a dynamic public program bringing together more than thirty Ukrainian architects, artists, and specialists from numerous fields to work with the subtopics of the Biennale's central concept — the Laboratory of the Future,» the Ukrainian curators say. «Before the Future» aims to draw attention not only to the future but also to the past and present conditions essential for building the future safely. 

The Big Wild Field Draft. Oleksandr Burlaka, member of What Cannot Be Lost collective. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org

Installations in Arsenal and Giardini

The Ukrainian project's first structure, located in Arsenal, is a space with a low ceiling that serves as a symbolic shelter. It envelops the viewer with thick walls and a closed sky, creating a sense of security. This structure embodies what the Pavilion team calls the «new comfort,» where claustrophobic and windowless spaces become vital for survival plans and hope for the future.

Curators say, «The roof always gives a sense of safety and forms new relationships with humans and non-humans. Life under the constant threat from the sky has led to various household forms of fencing off the danger: tape on windows, the "two-walls rule," curtains, piles of books, etc.,» 

A view of the Ukrainian pavilion’s premises in Arsenal. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org
  In Spazio Esedra Giardini, one can find the second structure of the Pavilion. This installation uses earthworks and focuses on changing perceptions of the landscape that often go unnoticed in peacetime. The critical inspiration here comes from the Zmievi Valy in the Kyiv region. This system of wood and earth fortifications changed the Ukrainian landscape in the XI-XII centuries, especially in areas where Scythian earthen mounds had appeared before our era. At the beginning of the recent Russian invasion, these fortifications resumed their ancient military function that helped to stop the Russian army in the spring of 2022.

«The ongoing war brings us back to a closer relationship with the land, which hides, protects, gives shelter, feeds, and stops enemy armies. Under the open sky, next to the Library Pavilion, earthen ramparts will become a place for all visitors to the Biennale,» explain the curators of the Ukrainian project. 

A view of the space of the Ukrainian pavilion in Giardini. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org

Curatorial Statement

Ukrainian Pavilion’s curatorial team at the Biennale Architettura 2023:

Iryna Miroshnykova, an architect and urban development researcher who is currently working on her doctoral dissertation exploring the socio-economic and planning features of Ukrainian monofunctional cities. She is a partner at the independent architectural bureau FORMA and a co-founder of the interdisciplinary institution Pavilion of Culture, where she curates the architectural research department.

Oleksii Petrov, an architect, founder of the architectural office FORMA. Just like Miroshnykova, Petrov is a co-founder of Pavilion of Culture, where he curates architectural research.

Borys Filonenko, an independent curator, art critic, and editor-in-chief of Ist Publishing (Kharkiv). He was a co-curator of the Ukrainian National Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2023 in Venice, the Second National Biennale of Young Art (Kharkiv, 2019), exhibitions «Aeneas Passes On. Artists of the Present Face to Face with the Past» (Kharkiv, 2019) and «Shadows of forgotten ancestors» (Kyiv, Lviv, 2016). In 2015-2018, he worked as a curator of the Kharkiv Come In gallery, and in 2017-2021, he worked as a teacher and curator at the Department of Humanities of the Kharkiv School of Architecture. 

Curator of the Ukrainian architectural pavilion in Venice. From left to right: Iryna Miroshnikova, Oleksiy Petrov, Borys Filonenko. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org
 The team focuses on telling stories about future visions and connecting with other communities. The curators strive to form intensive processes that will unfold into new stories.

«After more than 400 days of living at war, we see that stories cannot be told without a certain defense line. Wherever storytelling takes place, there is something and someone that allows that voice to be heard relatively safely. Fortifications can be of natural, non-human, human, or hybrid origin. They can be well-planned or haphazard…This year the Ukrainian Pavilion becomes such a protective structure itself,» the team explains. Curators emphasize that for Ukrainian architects, the future coexists with the constant destruction of past and present spaces.

According to the curators, the future-oriented imagination was a relic and somewhat dangerous way of thinking of previous centuries. This linear view worked as a constant dissatisfaction with the present, fueling the desire for change. At least, that was the case until 2022. Today, Ukrainian resistance offers new and diverse concepts of the future, and the daily actions of all participants delineate its forms.

«This kind of future is based on cooperation between self-organization, personal contribution, and state-building... Such a future takes care of what is already here... This future is open to today's sincere collaboration and worth fighting for. Establishing connections here precedes any further constructions,» the statement concludes. 

Stepan Lisowski, "dodomu”, 2023. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org/courtesy of the artist.

Collectives and their Manifestos

The central part of the «Before the Future» program started in mid-2023 and will continue until November 26th. It involves five temporary collectives, each presenting their manifestos.


The presentation of the deconstructed manifesto by the first group took place from August 8th to 21st in the Giardini. The collective included Nikita Bielokopytov, Daria Borovyk, Dmytro Gurin, Anton Oliynyk, Oleksii Pakhomov, and Mariia Pakhomova.

The group focused on parallel processes of construction and understanding of ruins, as well as the questions that accompany them, such as:

— Is there a future for cities that no longer exist? 

— Is it possible to rebuild cities without having to create new buildings? 

— Is it enough to bring peace to a city for people to return? 

— Will they return after three, five, ten (or even more) years of war? 

— Will the changes in Ukraine affect global migration patterns?

«We are at a point where each question only gives rise to new ones. But if questions are all we have now, can they become our building material?.. Our project invites the visitors of the Biennale to answer questions or ask their questions and to engage in a common reflection on the restoration of Ukraine, gradually materializing its future,» the participants explain.

Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org

What cannot be lost

The second manifesto, «What cannot be lost,» will run from August 21st to September 17th. It will be presented by Oleksandr Burlaka, Kateryna Semenyuk, Oksana Dovgopolova, Sasha Kurmaz, Ivan Grabko, The Center for Spatial Technologies (CST) and Prykarpattian Theater.

In this project, architects, artists, sociologists, and researchers are collaboratively building an intangible archive from fragments of the past. The team is already working on a spatial model to collect memories of people whose lives were interrupted by an airstrike on the Mariupol Drama Theater.

«We hold in our hands the fragments of the destroyed world we love. We are drawing an image of a new Ukraine, a new Europe. Certain places in this world are still inaccessible, and others would simply be immoral to restore. We are forming an imaginary memory architecture, outlining an emptiness that cannot be filled. Our first commemorative gesture is a conversation about that which we cannot lose if we are to continue to be ourselves,» the group explains. 

Theater of Hopes and Expectations model. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org
 The upcoming Manifestos:

The Beauty of Care

This group, called a 'care collective'​, includes Anna Dobrova, Olena Orap, Anna Pashinska, Tanya Pashinska, Dasha Podoltseva, Oleksandra Sakharuk, and Yulia Golyuk. During the exhibition, they rallied around care as an architectural practice's fundamental but often overlooked element.

In «The Beauty of Care,» the group starts from the vulnerability created by Russia's unwarranted invasion of Ukraine. The collective works on the idea of care as an integral part of architecture, primarily aimed at providing protection. The participants theorize about a new coordinate system with new agents of change that could respond to the threat of Russian aggression.

They ask questions such as:

— How does the war change the role of architects? 

— What methods and motives do we have for care in architecture? 

— How can care in architecture become our new normal? 

— How can we find beauty in spaces of care? 

Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org

March On

In the «March On» project, they focus on the symbol of movement into the future: the march. For example, the participants mention the miners' demonstrations of the 1990s, the Orange Revolution of 2004, the Maidan protests of 2013-2014, the urban initiative «March for Kyiv» in 2021, and many other collective actions of various scales. Such actions, the group believes, create a continuum in moments of discontinuity.

«After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, alternative collective spatial practices emerged. The challenges of the destruction and contingencies that come with unjustified war and simultaneous processes of immediate recovery have become preconditions for developing a new architectural discourse. This discourse grows as a part of an emergent global commons — but only as long as the march continues,» as their manifesto states. 
Works of the Commercialpublicart group. Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org


The «30%» manifesto raises questions about the future of Ukrainian nature after the war. The collective includes Daria Borovyk, Nina Dyrenko, Daryna Pyrogova and Vadym Sidash.

According to them, approximately one-third of Ukraine's territories are no longer suitable for habitation or human use. Ironically, this land can be «returned to nature» as demanded by the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. If it weren't for the war, this goal would have seemed unattainable. But what will these 30% look like, the participants ask.

«What will happen to our soil after the war? That in which food was grown. Much of it has been polluted after the explosions and can no longer be used for agriculture. 

What will happen to our forests? Those that burned in the fighting or were mined. Now people are forbidden to go there because of the danger. Wild animals, however, still come there, unwittingly demining what is left of the forests. 

What will happen to our rivers and seas? The Russians have destroyed large industrial facilities and sewage treatment plants that protected rivers and groundwater from pollution. Water from the occupied regions flows into the Azov and Black Seas, and then into the Mediterranean and on to the world ocean.,» the group writes. 

Photo: ukrainianpavilion.org
 You can follow the Ukrainian Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2023 in Venice via their website the Instagram and the Facebook pages.

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