Dimensions of Citizenship: US Pavilion, 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui & Mimi Zeiger with Iker Gil

1. US Pavilion 2018 Participants.jpg

In a time when the expansion of the United States–Mexico border wall looms over more nuanced discourses on national citizenship, Dimensions of Citizenship tasks architects and designers with an urgent request: to envision what it means to be a citizen today.

Questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are central to the curatorial mission, which defines citizenship as a tangle of rights, responsibilities, and attachments linked to the built environment. The exhibition asks: How might architecture respond to, shape, and express rhizomatic and paradoxical conditions of citizenship, even as transnational flows of capital, digital technologies, and geopolitical transformations expand conventional notions of citizenship?

The US Pavilion explores citizenship across seven spatial scales: Citizen, Civitas, Region, Nation, Globe, Network, and Cosmos. These scales, telescoping from body to city to heavens, broadly position citizenship as a critical global topic.

Commissioned installations by architects, landscape architects, artists, and theorists investigate spaces of citizenship marked by histories of inequality and the violence imposed on people, nonhuman actors, and ecologies. These works aim to manifest the democratic ideals of inclusion against the grain of broader systems: new forms of sharing economy platforms, the legacies of the Underground Railroad, tenuous cross-national alliances at the border region, or the seemingly Sisyphean task of buttressing coastline topologies against rising tides.

The works on view do not solve the complex relationships of governance, affinity, and circumstance that bind us—citizen to stranger, self to other. Instead, they use architecture’s disciplinary agency to render visible paradoxes and formulations of belonging. Only when spatial understandings of citizenship—legal, cultural, and ecological—are in sight might we struggle free from antiquated definitions, forms, or bureaucracies and activate potent spaces for design.