UABB@ Milano: Towards the City of the Future


On May 26, 2019 on Milano Arch Week 2019, The Triennale Milano hosted the talk UABB@ Milano: Towards the City of the Future, a conversation focusing on the next Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) (hereafter referred to as “UABB SZ”) and its major topics. This event also marked the beginning of a series of conversations centered on the Biennale that will be arranged on a regular basis both in Shenzhen and globally. The conference was attended by part of the curatorial team members of both sections of the next Biennale - Meng Jianmin (video), Fabio Cavallucci and Manuela Lietti for the “Ascending City” section, Carlo Ratti (video), Daniele Belleri, Edoardo Bruno, and Adalberto Del Bo for the “Eyes of the City” section. Two special guests, invited by the “Ascending City” team also joined the conversation: renowned Italian writer Tullio Avoledo and the special projects manager of Stefano Boeri Architetti, Anastasia Kucherova.


The video of UABB@Milano, please watch in Wi-Fi

Manuela Lietti, UABB executive curator and moderator of the talk introduced the panel, pointing out that “the talk is centered around two main cores: on one hand the next edition of the UABB SZ and the contextual frame in which it developed; on the other hand the topics that will be relevant to the next edition - the relationship between future urban innovation and new technologies - which can also be considered the spirit of our times on a global basis. After an in depth introduction to the social, economical and cultural context of Shenzhen in which the Biennale developed, the Italian audience was introduced to the peculiarities of the Biennale itself. “Firstly, by having decided to be itinerant, and therefore changing location every edition,” said Lietti,“its aim has always been to develop on the territory, for the territory and through the territory just like an acupuncture system that heals, enhances, implements, and strengthens the local reality. In this manner, the Biennale has also contributed to create a sort of historical stratification, in that year after year the Biennale has become a sort of social connector in a city whose history is rather young.


Following the desires of most biennials in the world, it has always wanted to be both academic, keen on research but also conceived for the public, popular and able to reach a wider audience. Lietti emphasised, last but not least and very relevant to this year’s edition is the openness in terms of disciplines involved. The Biennale also sensed the “crisis” of the traditional format of architecture biennales, and therefore decided to open up to different languages, to the praxis of speaking about architecture through other means and not just architecture itself. The hybridization of genres is well epitomized in the upcoming edition by the overlapping of architecture, contemporary art, philosophy, sociology, cinema, literature and much more. It is no chance occurrence that the next biennale, in making hybridization its main characteristic, is entitled “Urban Interactions.”


Carlo Ratti talk about the "Eyes of the City" section

Chief curator Carlo Ratti was invited to share his insights and thoughts on the “Eyes of the City” section and on the Biennale in general through video. Ratti mentioned two things that were very exciting for them. The first thing was that they found the topic fascinating especially in relation to Shenzhen, which was one of the most interesting and exciting cities in which to explore the role of new technologies on urban space; the second was that “the topic we have selected goes back to something very close to our hearts: Jane Jacobs’ work, and the idea of eyes of the streets, in that the eyes of the streets and of the citizens can make the city safer and better.” Ratti admitted, however things were changing and today, it was no longer the eyes of the streets, but the eyes of the city, so that the city itself had acquired the ability to see. This can open up many new dimensions in architecture and interactive spaces, but also raises a huge amount of questions, and has opened up a critical debate. At the end of his talk, he mentioned the open call, closing at the end of the month of May, which embodies their way of working. Through this open call he wanted to work in a crowd source way to bring the best proposals to Shenzhen.


Meng Jianmin talk about the "Ascending City" section

Chief curator Meng Jianmin instead pointed out the semantic meaning of “Ascending City” and also highlighted the uniqueness of this year’s location, the Futian station. He firstly introduced the two words he proposed for this Biennale – superposition and future. The former is more about the superposition and collision of binary elements, and the latter refers to the impact of future science and technology on cities and buildings. Meng pointed out the semantic meaning of “Ascending City,” that ascending was an adjective, the urban ascension we talked about was a metaphor; it actually embodied the substantial and subversive development of cities.


When highlighted the uniqueness of this year’s location, the Futian Station, Meng said, this might be “the most convenient” biennale to connect the two cities we would ever witness, and also might not be a second time to take place in this venue. So he considers it very meaningful and special, and his team have very high expectations. In addition to the convenience, Futian is an already built station, but it leaves out an unused space, which has the potential to be activated and reinvented. Part of the space has a roughcast effect, which creates a stark contrast between the built public area and the un-built area. Such a space creates very interesting conditions for the installation of the Biennale. Meng believes, Futian Station at the heart of Shenzhen city, allows for very convenient transportation and a bigger audience.



Daniele Belleri introduced the “Internet of Things” in terms of its background and influence.

Executive curator Daniele Belleri introduced the “Internet of Things” in terms of its background and influence. In the last few decades, the encounters between the physical and the digital dimensions means that the digital dimension permeates the urban environment, and it is a driving force of urban and social change. This Biennale represents a great chance to reflect upon this, Shenzhen is probably the best place in the world to do such a thing. Belleri considered that some people erroneously thought of China merely as the cradle of the copy industry, but actually, China and Shenzhen had been instrumental in putting forward a great change, in which the low cost electronic industries model has been gradually replaced by big industries that do not just influence but also anticipate the global course of things, and of future trends.


Interaction puts the citizen – or hopefully will put him - in the condition of playing an active role. Will new technologies allow the city and the citizen to really develop according to a bottom-up perspective because they imply the fact that there is a participative component? When anwsered this central question, Belleri considered that in the last 4 or 5 years in the West had been more characterized by criticism and lack of hope. One of the challenges of this project is that what has been settled in the past is not sufficient anymore, and is not capable to face a more complex political and economic context. In this Biennale, Belleri wants to go back to the spirit in which the internet was born, to a feeling of sharing and belonging, which is exactly a bottom-up one. He also admits that they would not ignore the difficulties of such a thing and its risks.



 Fabio Cavallucci talk about the bottom-up strategy

© Triennale Milano - foto Gianluca Di Ioia

Chief curator Fabio Cavallucci responded to such a bottom-up strategy from two perspectives according to his own practices. One aspect of the bottom-up strategy is related to his overall approach to contemporary art and art exhibitions; the other to the way the citizens relate themselves with technologies. From his point of view, it is no more the age of historical avant-garde movements during which perhaps a small group of cubist painters would carry out an underground dialogue that would nevertheless affect the overall direction of contemporary art. Today, we are in the age of social networks, and therefore also culture has the necessity and the duty to face issues in a popular way. Even if we didn’t want to, it would happen in any case: the success of an artist is decided no more by an article in a newspaper, but according to the number of likes he or she can get on Facebook or Instagram. He doesn’t think that we should be passive, but we should deal with this aspect, in dialogue with the public.


When addressed the relationship between mankind and new technologies, Cavallucci reminded people by quoting the novel La Coscienza di Zeno by Italo Svevo that devices and angsts were created by mankind, but at the same time they shaped the way people live. After that he introduced McLuhan’s work. McLuhan wrote extensively about how the movable type system of printing changed our way of seeing, so that mankind put a stronger focus on the sense of sight. Based on this, he further proposed that nowadays it was different when books were written by hand and then transferred orally. New technologies will also end up influencing our way of changing the world, and some other factors will be involved and will change the course of things. For example, emails, sms, WhatsApp messages, WeChat messages, make the written word - rapid yet concise - has prevailed again. He was aware of the fact that for the first time in the history of humanity we faced a great risk: AI, for example, was something that would make decisions on our behalf. Therefore, man should understand how we should relate to it, how we could direct our paths and perhaps make a u-turn when necessary, and whether we still had the power to stop it when it got crazy.



Tullio Avoledo shared his vision about the role of science fiction in relation to architecture and new technologies

Tullio Avoledo, a famous Italian writer shared his vision about the role of science fiction in relation to architecture and new technologies. Avoledo took the opinion that in the history of literature no other genre had ever surpassed the genre of science fiction for its fruitful relationship with architecture. He was not surprised by this world, which had already been anticipated and even criticized in the world of science fiction. Instead, he really thought that the world of science fiction was a sort of laboratory where anything that was new to an architect had already been tested, simulated by writers that lived in epochs during which AI simply didn’t exist. Science fiction was born in America and there is a common trait to all books related to the urban dimension until the 1980s -the fear of the city. With the conceptual change, in the sci-fi works from the 1980s onward, cities started to be depicted in the shape of space ships. They are destined for intergalactic trips, taking up centuries, like those in the film “Interstellar.” It was at that time, sci-fi started to deal with something that even architects and urban planners ignore: investigating the true lymph of a city, that is the human being.


Avoledo introduced his life experience and writing projects, to highlight the importance of AI. He said that the only thing with AI is that machines cannot be programmed by themselves, and further elaborated with the book “To be a machine” and the film “2001 Space Odyssey” that supercomputer didn’t become crazy, it was badly programmed and simply did its job.



Anastasia Kucherova talk about the Stefano Boeri Architetti works and its research projects

Anastasia Kucherova presented the way the Stefano Boeri Architetti works and its research projects, as well as her vision about the future global space and sustainability. They put the human being at the center of their research, and at the center of their projects. They also consider other species as species that have the right to live and be happy. Kucherova regarded urbanism as a futuristic realm itself that should have a far-seeing vision, such as 10, 20, 30 years ahead, but because of today’s climate changes, urbanism should be thinking 100 years ahead. For example, the studio she works for in collaboration with Tongji University a few years ago, reasoned about the hypothesis that the city of Shanghai will be submerged by the ocean due to climate change in the next 100 years. The alternative that has been proposed is the idea that for a few years now has attracted scientists from all over the world, but lately this idea has also involved architects.


Kucherova proved with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite chain that the “Internet of Things” and a global network of energy collection, sharing and distribution no longer seem like such utopian ideals. The aim of this new constellation is nothing less than guaranteeing a global internet coverage not only on Earth, but also on Mars. It is a very important step towards a future where knowledge is widespread and accessible to everyone, and in which the world is united in a single network.



Edoardo Bruno firstly introduced the“five connections and one levelling”

Executive curator Edoardo Bruno share his insights about how technology can contribute to create a city’s legacy and thus create a new form of sustainability, too. He firstly introduced the“five connections and one levelling”(wutong yiping), a concept coined in Shenzhen, as a consequence of the urban explosion of the entire area around Shenzhen and the Bay thanks to the policies of Deng Xiaoping. It tries to push forward a development by connecting streets with water and electric facilities in a very pragmatic way. Bruno thought that the interaction between man and the environment was even more important in China than in the West; legacy for the Chinese means starting from scratch and connecting with the local context and then extending it as far as possible. A city like Shenzhen in the Chinese panorama presents itself as a forward-thinking city, to such an extent that technology is not an object that can change the urban experience, but technology is the legacy of the city and even its tradition.


Bruno pointed out that the Biennale has always meant to be an alternative development to real estate speculation, has always reflected on relevant contemporary urban such as regional identity, the borders between Mainland China and Hong Kong, the re-use of industrial spaces even though the industrial phase is not a remote fact of the past: now has occurred the time to speak about new technologies. This means embracing a new way of observing the city and reconciling with what has been torn away in the last decades. For Chinese authorities it is also important to reposition man at the center of the discussion, so even if the legacy of a city can’t be planned, or reinvented, it can certainly be positioned within the public debate thanks to a cultural event like UABB.



Adalberto Del Bo talked about public education

Adalberto Del Bo mainly talked about public education. He said, the idea of taking care of UABB School started from the necessity and the idea to develop research, and prolonged what they normally did at school and at university. He stated that they try through research to shape new minds and educate, so the idea of taking the topics discussed that day that are central and core issues in the place where they really are to the world by planning long term educational activities within polytechnic spheres worldwide was very significant, because it was a tool to promote the dialogue, not formally but pragmatically. They will develop this dialogue according to the so-called Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) and Tradition, Culture, Identity (TCI) fields, two complementary fields. Elements that connect to the digital world, not in an oppositional relationships, but in a unitary way, just like ICT-CTI. The core issue is that elements connect to the digital world should be dealt with not in an oppositional relationships, but in a unitary way, just like ICT-CTI. This means, now more than ever we cannot talk about humanism versus technology, but we should tend to do something unitary, that doesn’t separate but unifies. In Politecnico di Milano, Del Bo will cooperate with schools from all over the world to organize workshops, but in general terms they will invite 16 schools, 8 from China and 8 from the rest of the world. It worth mentioning that he stressed the fact that at that day the major issue was the usage of data, while data came from the bottom, data was not elaborated from the bottom.


In the Q&A section, Artist Norma Jeane shared with his research experience, emphasizing the impact of the city on Europe, and compared the urban texture of Shenzhen and the European cities. He found the two worlds were very different: Shenzhen was born almost from scratch; but in Europe there was a very stratified society, with the Downtown became a victim of the process of gentrification, and in the world’s richest city, there were hundreds of tents homeless people. He also pointed out a great openness towards transcultural research in California, where there was no need to talk about culture in relations to new technologies because they were all related. Cavallucci and Bruno responded regarding the inter-disciplinary development and the national and regional distinctions. They both addressed the significance of new technologies in solving these questions.

About UABB

Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB) is the first biennial exhibition in the world that is based exclusively on the set themes of URBANISM AND URBANIZATION. Co-organized by the two neighboring and closely interacting cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, UABB situates itself within the regional context of the rapidly urbanizing Pearl River Delta, concerns itself with globally common urban issues, extensively communicates and interacts with the wider public, is presented using expressions of contemporary visual culture, and engages in international and avant-garde dimensions as well as discourses of public interest.


Theme: Urban Interactions

Main Venue: Futian Railway Station and surrounding area

Time: December, 2019 - March, 2020 (TBD)


Sub-Venues: Sha Tau Kok Bonded Zone of Yantian District, Qiaotou Community of Bao’an District, Bao’an International Art Design Center, Software Town of Shenzhen Universiade of Longgang District, the historical Guanlan Market of Longhua District, Shangwei Art Village of Longhua District, Guangming Cloud Valley, Dapeng Fortress and Qianhai free trade zone