Architecture – At the first Uzbekistan Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale, visitors can explore an abstract 1:1 replica of a Mahalla, an endangered housing centred on communal or family ties in central Asia and the Arab world. Titled Mahallas: Urban Rural Living, the exhibition shows a human-based, ancient and contemporary alternative way of living together, “at a time when the ecosystem of the anonymous megacity is literally reaching its limits,” say curators Emanuel Christ and Christoph Gantenbein of Christ & Gantenbein to Archipanic.
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There are currently over 9,000 mahallas in Uzbekistan, each with 150 to 6,000 inhabitants. Due to serious economic pressure, changing habits, and their lack of modern infrastructure, mahallas are slowly being replaced by new forms of housing, even though they remain popular among people seeking an urban-rural lifestyle.
Can the social organization of these neighborhoods and their various architectural formations as low-rise/high-density structures offer urban society a sustainable and ecological model?
“Mahalla is a social, cultural and urban phenomenon.” explains curator Emanuel Christ. “It is not necessarily an answer to the question ‘How we will together?” asked by the Biennale curator Hashim Sarkis, but it could be a very rich and interesting hint and indication to where a global contemporary society could find a vision, information, inspiration.”
Taking over the whole space of the Quarta Tesa at the Arsenale, the abstract mahalla house consists in a network of yellow steel tubes with sounds from the mahallas transmitted through ambisonic technology recorded by Carlos Casas; and extracts of mahalla houses as fragments of spaces represented by photographs by Bas Princen.
Bas Princen’s images show the invisible spatiality of the houses and interfere suggestively as they depict details of some mahalla domestic spaces or streetscapes like slightly surreal appearances in this journey led by sound experience. An app allows visitors to experience the house structure in augmented reality, suggested by soundscapes.
The starting point for the project is the research and documentation of this cultural heritage led by professors of architecture and design at ETH Zurich Emanuel Christ and Christoph Gantenbein, together with Adjunct Curator and Head of Research Victoria Easton. The ETH Zurich team closely collaborated with local advisors and students.
Photos by – Courtesy of the Uzbekistan Pavilion.