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The Dutch Pavilion presents Plumbing the System at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale

The pavilion, commissioned by the Nieuwe Instituut, will transform into a testing ground that explores alternative systems for future-oriented, regenerative economies–while attempting to enact change on a micro scale, on the pavilion itself. (20 May - 26 November 2023)

17 May 2023

Nieuwe Instituut, the Netherlands’ national museum and institute for architecture, design and digital culture will continue its role as commissioner of the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale with an installation titled Plumbing the System, curated by Jan Jongert of Superuse, asking the question: Can a cultural event such as this Biennale become more than simply a venue for presentation and debate, given the urgencies we face in sustaining our societies and planet? Can it instead become a testing ground for the enactment of real change?

Responding to the Biennale’s theme of ‘Laboratory of the Future’, this year’s Dutch Pavilion will serve as a platform for exploring the potential of future-oriented, regenerative economies and circular design, but with a twist. The aim is to demonstrate how alternative systems can contribute to a more sustainable future on a macro scale, while Jongert’s attempt to implement a real change on a micro scale–that is, on the iconic Gerrit Rietveld-designed pavilion itself–will lend insight into both the opportunities and hurdles in doing so.

"These times inspire architects and planners to build with a positive impact on their surroundings. To achieve this, they re-evaluate and redirect scarce resources such as water to contribute to the ecosystem. This regenerative practise necessitates a radical change in the economic paradigm that governs the flow of resources today. "

Jan Jongert, founding partner, Superuse Studios

credit: Cristiano Corte

The Waterworks of Money

On the one hand, the pavilion will present The Waterworks of Money, a series of drawings by cartographer Carlijn Kingma that intricately translates our complex money system into a spatial environment using water as a metaphor. By mapping the flows of money through society, Kingma illustrates the workings of our financial system and its deeply embedded mechanisms that can both hinder and enable change. Kingma has collaborated with leading thinkers in economics to develop and illustrate tangible alternatives or ‘road maps’ that can lead to a more socially and ecologically regenerative economy.

Credit: Cristiano Corte

Rainwater retention system

Meanwhile, continuing with the metaphor of water, Jongert will attempt to implement an actual systemic change by addressing Venice’s severe water shortages and installing a low-tech rainwater retention system to supply the needs of the Pavilion and its surrounding gardens. Visitors will be able to witness the process and the technical, bureaucratic and other challenges of undertaking this seemingly simple task–thus providing a tangible road map for realising change (or revealing what stymies it) while prompting the question of whether cultural events can move beyond discussing, debating and proposing changes towards becoming testing grounds for enacting them.

"We all know we are living in a time of great challenges that demands changes to how we do things. It’s also a time when there’s no shortage of ideas and propositions for doing so. We hope this pavilion can help us move past simply discussing, debating and proposing ideas towards actually trying some of them out. It’s about shifting from words to actions, to help set the wheels of change in motion or, at the very least, to demonstrably show what needs to change in order for change to happen."

Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director, Nieuwe Instituut

Parallel programme: The Biennale as Metabolism

In July 2022, Nieuwe Instituut and the Creative Industries Fund NL launched an open call for the Dutch pavilion’s parallel programme. The call asked architects and landscape architects, urban planners and spatial researchers to respond with proposals that expose the invisible flows of material, waste and labour hidden behind the exhibitions at the Biennale. Mapping and visualising this metabolism could be a first step towards a Biennale that makes a positive, sustainable contribution to Venice’s ecosystem.

Since the previous Biennale in 2021, the Nieuwe Instituut has been working closely with the commissioners of pavilions from other countries with the aim of ensuring that the presence of the pavilions no longer harms the fragile ecosystem of the city, and that the Biennale exhibitions even have a positive effect on Venice as a liveable city.


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About Nieuwe Instituut 

Nieuwe Instituut is the Netherlands’ national museum and institute for architecture, design and digital culture. Based in Rotterdam, a global centre for design innovation, the institute’s mission is to embrace the power and potential of new thinking, exploring the past, present and future ideas in order to imagine, test and enact a better tomorrow. Encouraging visitors of all ages to question, rethink and contribute, the institute’s exhibitions, public programmes, research and wide-reaching national and international initiatives provide a testing ground for collaboration with leading designers, thinkers and diverse audiences, critically addressing the urgent questions of our times.

In addition to housing the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, the institute manages the 1933 Sonneveld House, a leading example of Dutch Functionalist architecture, as part of its campus in Rotterdam’s Museumpark.

In 2022, the Nieuwe Instituut became the world’s first Zoöp, a groundbreaking model through which all areas of the museum’s operations and programming are informed by its impact and benefit to other forms of life. The institute also serves as a commissioner of the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and in 2023, will act as the Artistic Director of the London Design Biennale. In 2022 Het Nieuwe Instituut curated the official Dutch entry to the Triennale di Milano, winning the exhibition’s Golden Bee Award.