The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) was founded in 2001 on the conviction that architecture and especially urban planning are of great social importance. Since 2004, when George Brugmans became its director, the IABR therefore mainly focuses on the future of the city where, in a couple of decades, nearly 80 percent of the world’s population will produce more than 90 percent of our wealth—and this will have to be done sustainably.
In its multiyear policy plan 2017-2020: Towards a Resilient City, the IABR expressly places the future of the city in the context of climate change and increasing social inequality. In any way it can, the IABR wants to contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and the achievement of the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. That means well-designed, socially inclusive, resilient cities are of key importance. We can only solve the climate problems if we solve them in the cities first. And to achieve this, good design is crucial.
The IABR is a knowledge institute as well as a cultural platform and its main objective is to generate real world change, using the power of imagination and design as its main instrument.
How does the IABR do this? By bringing together key disciplines and sectors to carry out result-oriented research by design into the city of tomorrow, both in the Netherlands and abroad. By adding value to policy making and decision making and by influencing the social agenda. By bringing the results – knowledge, plans and projects – extensively into the limelight in an international setting once every two years. And, last but not least, by actively contributing to the realization of these results and actually ‘making city’.
The two most important tools the IABR uses to achieve its objectives are the IABR–Ateliers and the Biennale itself.
Ongoing research in IABR–Ateliers
An IABR–Atelier is a long-term research by design project that is always established in collaboration with governments and other stakeholders to work towards concrete, applicable solutions to existing problems. An Atelier uniquely enables involved governments to carry out actual research by design, to bring in extra quality, to explore new ideas and unexpected options, to test and to try, to learn and to exchange knowledge in a free and international setting and concretely take their challenges to the next level.
To achieve this, the IABR has developed a sustainable and open methodology. Every edition, it looks for a new position and a new perspective, but it always builds on what was learned and developed in previous editions. Knowledge and results add up in a continuous research trajectory to ensure that each Atelier can stand on the shoulders of a previous Atelier.
In recent years the IABR produced successful Ateliers in the Netherlands (on Texel, in Brabant and Groningen, Utrecht and Rotterdam, and together with the central government, businesses and environmental organizations in the North Sea) and abroad (in São Paulo, Istanbul, Brussels and Albania).
Bridging the gap between research and action
Cities have to explore the road to a sustainable future together. Even if they can rarely take over each other’s solutions one-on-one, it is imperative that they know how to learn from each other and exchange experiences as resourcefully as they can.
The Biennale is one place where this can happen, and where research and researchers, design and designers, administrators and policymakers, doers and thinkers, performers and customers, builders and citizens, the Dutch and foreigners, and professionals and their audiences meet.
The first two editions, Mobility (2003) and The Flood (2005) have put the IABR on the map internationally, profiling it as a manifestation focusing on the future of our cities. The editions Power (2007), Open City (2009) and Making City (2012) have explored ongoing rapid urbanization and its consequences, while staking out a position for urban design and making a case for how it can tangibly contribute.
The 6th and 7th editions have taken this agenda one step further. The need to design our future habitat in terms of a sustainable balance between demographic, ecological and economic concerns, between people, planet and profit, have given direction to IABR–2014–URBAN BY NATURE and IABR–2016–THE NEXT ECONOMY.
Now, rather than a goal in itself, the Biennale is a means: an international podium for the transfer of knowledge among designers, among cities, among governments, and among professionals and the general public to bridge the gap between research and action, between imagination and realization.
Instruments the IABR uses to that end include exhibitions, conferences, films, books, lectures, debates, workshops, and master classes that together comprise the Biennale program.
Using the free cultural space this way – coupling research by design to public presentations in a work process that is always insisting on concrete application – makes the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam unique in the world.