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Architecture Biennale, Rotterdam, 2009


Open City – Designing Coexistence

In an age when migration is changing the face of many cities, when mass mobility and communication are altering our perception of distance and difference, when individualism has become a driving force of social life, the Open City is a tenuous notion. As our cities grow and diversify, the question is no longer if we want to live together, but how to live together—how to share the resources and opportunities cities offer. Some people consider living in urbanized areas and metropolises as exciting and full of promises and potentials due to the fact of their cultural, social and economic mobility, while daily life for many other city dwellers is strenuous, expensive and has adverse health effects. While some fly around the world, the urban radius of many city dwellers is small and restricted, because they have no or limited access to public transport, education, communication infrastructure and, under certain circumstances, to official political and economic processes.


The 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2009 launched the theme Open City: Designing Coexistence to generate concrete answers to these questions.

The curators of the 4th IABR have identified six situations in which geographical, spatial, typological, and socio-cultural conditions reveal different qualities and potentials of Open City. Each of these situations will be explored through research and actual projects, and presented as a subtheme of the Biennale.

1. Community has its geographical focus in the United States, the cradle of suburbia where the notion that the city is not so much a melting pot of individuals, but rather of communities, will be addressed.

2. Collective treats the transformation of the post-socialist city under the influence of emerging radical market mechanisms and shifts in social structure in Russia and elsewhere.

3. Refuge concentrates on cities like Istanbul, Beirut, Dubai, and Cairo – metropolitan places that increasingly suffer from political and religious polarization. These cities produce extreme spatial typologies that range from from elite compounds to refugee camps.

4. Squat is found in cities like Addis Ababa, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires, and explores potential synergies between the informal and the official production of urban space by means of active urban management.

5. Diaspora is situated in Indonesia to explore architecturale and urban structure and projects that are particularly fruitful for the coexistence between groups from diverse backgrounds and that may help us to understand how design and urban management can create «urban breeding grounds.

6. Rotterdam can be seen as a walk-through laboratory of the Open City; a place where the drama of the Open City has been staged in its most varying forms; and a microcosm where all the international themes presented in the Biennale are present on an urban scale and in everyday life. Using Rotterdam as a stage and testing ground, the 4th IABR will extend beyond the realm of exhibitions and conferences, with the aim to generate concrete projects and interventions with a direct impact on the city.

What is an Open City? How does a society take shape? How can architects and urban designers contribute to the development of socially sustainable cities? How do people dwell, work, think and behave in the Open City? What forces threaten it? These are a few of the questions that will face visitors to Open City: Designing Coexistence in the Netherlands Architecture Institute from 24 September 2009 to 10 January 2010, when it will form the heart of the 4th International Architecture Biennial Rotterdam (IABR). By means of the direct link between the street and the largest of the institute’s galleries, the NAI will literally open its arms to the city of Rotterdam and welcome visitors and passers-by in a public forum.

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