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Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023

Rising sea levels envisioned through eyes of a mermaid at Denmark's Venice Architecture Biennale pavilion

A model that imagines a mermaid's view of the rising sea levels features in Coastal Imaginaries exhibition at the Danish Pavilion, which is the first in a series of exclusive Venice Architecture Biennale online pavilion openings.

Curated by Copenhagen Architecture Festival director Josephine Michau, the pavilion aims to illuminate the threat of rising sea levels on coastal cities and the need to rethink architecture in these locations.

Danish Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
The Danish Pavilion focuses on the issue of rising sea levels

Coastal Imaginaries responds to this year's theme for the Venice Architecture Biennale named Laboratory of the Future, which was selected by curator Lesley Lokko.

Michau said her focus on coastal cities and rising sea levels was chosen as it is important to the future of Denmark, but as it is also relevant to Venice – a city at risk of being lost to the sea.

"Denmark has approximately 8,000 kilometres of coastline, and the coasts are a large part of our identity," Michau told Dezeen.

"As we were exhibiting in Venice it was crucial for us that we would focus on something that we knew was also relevant in that context," she added.

Sea level change in Copenhagen
The exhibition focuses on how Copenhagen will be affected

Michau hopes the exhibition can also serve as a reminder of the "planet's climatic state" and how the world must begin to prioritise designing in line with natural processes.

"The coastal regions, with their rapid and volatile changes, serve as fitting representations of the planet's climatic state," she said.

"It is widely acknowledged that the current predicament is largely attributable to the hegemony of Western narratives that glorifies a progress through imperialism, colonialism and extractivism."

"If we are to create a better future, we need new ways of envisioning our relationship with the planet," added Michau.

"Coastal Imaginaries offers a glimpse into a different way of connecting with nature and practising architecture than the dominating extracting and destructive practice."

Danish Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale
It suggests nature-based solutions to sea level rise

Inside the Danish Pavilion marries a mix of research-based exhibits with large-scale models, described by Michau as "a kind of toolbox".

Together, these simultaneously pose questions about the suitability of coastal cities while putting forward nature-based architectural solutions that could protect them from rising sea levels, selected in collaboration with Danish research group Mitigating Sea Level Rise.

Mermaid Bay
Mermaid Bay envisions Copenhagen's future coastline

Among the exhibits that Michau expects to be a highlight with visitors is an installation named Mermaid Bay, which has been created by exhibition designer Christian Friedländer.

It imagines the future coastline of Copenhagen from the perspective of the iconic Little Mermaid statue that perches on a rock overlooking the city's coast.

Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
The installation was created by Christian Friedländer

"The audience experiences the Copenhagen coastline from the perspective of the mermaid who has left her habitat rock to reunite with her natural element – the ocean," the curator said.

"It addresses the vulnerability of today's coastal landscapes and the stark reality of climate change. The sense of surrendering to nature and incorporating it into human life rather than working against it has been a significant inspiration for the work."

Coastal Imaginaries at Venice
The curators named the exhibition Coastal Imaginaries

With sustainability playing a key role in the curation of this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, the Danish Pavilion has been designed to minimise resource consumption.

According to Michau, the displays make use of a lot of waste materials from previous exhibitions and have been manufactured locally to reduce transportation wherever possible. They are also designed for disassembly and are scheduled to be re-exhibited in 2024 and 2025.

The photography and video are by Rasmus Hjortshøj, courtesy of the Danish Architecture Centre.

Dezeen is live reporting from the Venice Architecture Biennale, which takes place from 20 May to 26 November 2023. See Dezeen Events Guide for all the latest information you need to know to attend the event, as well as a list of other architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
Danish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023