Practice and Cross-Disciplinary: Exploring Academic Curatorship in the “Eyes of the City” Section | UABB Talks



2019 UABB “Eyes of the City” Section

For this edition of UABB, universities, for the first time, were profoundly involved into the works of the curatorial team. As an innovative approach, “academic curatorship” provides a new opportunity for conducting academic research in a modern urban context. South China - Torino Lab is a cooperation platform established by South China University of Technology (SCUT) and Politecnico di Torino (PoliTo) in 2015. As part of the curatorial team of the “Eyes of the City” section, the Lab supported the curatorial work of Chief Curator Carlo Ratti, exploring the interaction between practice and academics, and that between curating and research from various perspectives, such as the exhibition itself, venue design, and academic seminars.


Now let’s join the members of the South China - Torino Lab in looking back at the challenges faced and explorations made by them during the UABB curation. How to promote the idea of “Made in Shenzhen”? How to create a dialogue between the exhibition and the city through the high-speed railway station planning? How to interpret the concept of “Eyes of the City” throughout the exhibition? How to comprehend the impact of digital technology on our life today?... This cross-disciplinary academic team has brought us many visionary thoughts and imaginations.  


A: South China - Torino Lab

Q: As a curatorial team based in universities, what have you focused on? What is the role of Academic Curators in this exhibition?

A: Academic Curator represents a different way in how curatorship can be intended, foregrounding the role of a research-based approach in developing exhibitions. This let the opportunity to transfer from academic disciplines to practice the role of technology in contemporary cities: this has been developed especially in vividly making a demonstration how digital mapping opens up a new way to not only interact but intend urban space complexities. 

Academic institutions have the social responsibility to transfer knowledge back to society: in this sense our approach was to let a wider audience to interact with the most significant and innovative practices investigating how space and data are becoming more and more cooperative identities.    


External details of the third design iphotesis for the Futian Station Sunken Plaza (Source: Carlo Ratti Associati)

Q: As the concept of Open Curatorship has attracted a large number of participants from different fields and disciplines, which works have impressed you the most?

A: We proudly supported the decision to define our selection through an international global open call: we got more than 280 applicants from four continents, representing countries from China to the USA, from Russia to Germany, from Colombia to South Korea. This not only let us to identify the most relevant emerging topics, often raised up from young and independent research teams, but also to better organize them under transversal common grounds, spanning from urban to regional reflections, involving nature as well as digital computation: this suggested to reflect toward reality complexities by an ecological and holistic approach, and intending technology as a tool and not a purpose


The process of “Open Curatorship” was presented on the exhibition wall

In this regards the works of Professor Philip Yuan exploring robotic timber construction, Professor Zhang Li displaying the heterogeneity of public space utilization, MVRDV in dreaming new forms of drone mobility, and the Japanese team Research for the Architectural Domain (RAD) identifying digital version of contemporary psychogeographies, perfectly exemplified the different scales and different entry points we searched as representatives of academic institutions.

Urban Skin DENG Huishu, ZHANG Li,  Marta MANCINI

Nomadic Wood (Looking) Philip F. Yuan

Inductive Evolution of Modernology: Multiple Eyes Constructed by  Citizens as Researchers Research for the  Architectural Domain (RAD)

City and the Sky Above MVRDV, Airbus

Q: What’s the toughest challenge to the team during the curatorship, both internal and external?

A: The main challenge was to find a proper ground to engage with a larger public, where quality in research can become the way to open a large discussion on the relationship between technology and urban society. Under this perspective we made some important decision in developing the project: all the exhibits needed to be original pieces exactly created for UABB 2019 and they had to be designed in order to stimulate physical interaction. In this way “Eyes of the City” was not a collection of projects, but a research in display. 

In order to fulfill this task in a coherent way, production has become a central and challenging node. For this reason, we promoted a “produced in Shenzhen” concept for the whole exhibition, demystifying exhibits as shipped items and made them part of a local creative productive chain. 

The on-site installation of 2019 UABB “Eyes of the City” section

Q: As the exhibition was held in Futian Railway Station, a transportation hub in Shenzhen, what was your impression of the Station before UABB? What do you think is the biggest change brought about by UABB to the venue?

A: Futian High Speed Railway Station appeared at a first glance an engineered space imagined to rapidly resolve the functional necessities for Shenzhen CBD, but still not able to define spaces for being lived and performed by daily users. We believed that for the very first-time exhibition space became part of a giant game of interactions, capable with its spatial feature to enrich the imaginary of commuting. 

For this reason, our curatorial team presented for Futian Station, beside the temporary project for the indoor spaces, several versions of a masterplan for the whole surrounding area: new pedestrian connections made the station more suitable for hosting public spaces, re-assembling interrupted spatial continuities occurred after its construction. The masterplan represented the way through which Academic Curators establishes a critical dialogue with the city, rather than a professional action, transferring researches on contemporary cities into feasible developing scenarios through the assembling of invisible urban potentialities.

Render of the new Facade of the station

Connected Plaza - A Masterplan for the Square of Futian Station for 2019 UABB (Source: Prospekt)

Q: Under the macro theme of Urban Interactions, how could the exhibition design help improve the public’s understanding and engagement?

A: We strongly believed that “Eyes of the City” had to move visitors in directly engaging with it and, avoiding the preeminence of visual interaction, suggest them to critically take a position reflecting on the displayed topics. For this reason, most of the installations wanted to solicit human body invited to perform individual actions, involving all senses as well as physical movements, and to get a sort of reaction from the objects themselves. This was, in terms of design, exactly what we raised in our curatorial statement, investigating how cities are establishing new forms of interactions with the social bodies

2019 UABB “Eyes of the City” Section

Q: During the curation, how could the concept of “Eyes of the City” be presented by each section?

A: “Eyes of the City” defined specific sections to give a sense of how reality represents a complex system all bounded under the influence of technology advancements. In this sense, different urban scales, nature, mobility, expert and social communities suggested how today is more than necessary soliciting a wider social responsibility. The message addressed to the audience was that the solely quantitatively spatial narrative built along the last century is not anymore able to explain the interchanges between resources, and a more holistic approach towards reality need to be prioritized among public agendas. 

2019 UABB “Eyes of the City” Section

Q: Under the shadow of COVID-19 pandemic, countries and cities are trending toward “social distancing”, which has impacted people’s life (and our exhibition) to varied degrees. What’s your take on the digital technology’s impacts on people’s life at the current stage?

A: Contrarily to some expectations, where data could have been essential in fight COVID-19, global community is still not able to have a common understanding about this pandemic. This means that important researches on data management haven’t been already transferred to large portion of society and responsible institutions. On the contrary physical space is deploying its capability to protect the human race and re-start from a new beginning, opening new important researches in better understanding how we live our built environment. So far technology is just giving the possibility to transform isolation into a more acceptable separation, but in the next future it could have to become a crucial tool in anticipating crisis instead of normalizing their effects.


The curatorial team conducting online symposium during the COVID-19 pandemic

Q: As UABB has held its eighth session with a span of 15 years so far, what effects does such an urbanism/architecture exhibition have on cities? How do you see the future of UABB?

A: Cultural events par excellence, biennials are generally observed and debated as a global phenomenon, both as tools of marketing strategies adopted by cities that strive to emerge in the neo-liberal system of the knowledge economy, and as a privileged locus to gather and disseminate knowledge on specific disciplinary fields.

Observing the evolution of today's biennials, it is possible to grasp a tendency to cross and to intertwine two apparently different but, as a matter of fact, complementary spaces: the discursive “space of ideas” and the “space of the real”. Crossing this continuous interpenetration, the exhibitionary event acts as a conceptual, spatial and operative “threshold”: in the case of UABB Shenzhen, the exhibition often arises as a "catalyst", a temporary event capable of triggering long-range reflections and transformations on the city of Shenzhen.


Futian Railway Station - the exhibition site of “Eyes of the City” section, 2019 UABB “Urban Interactions” 

Q: How was the UABB team of South China-Torino Lab established? What did everyone do to ensure a successful curation?

A: When we decided to participate together with Carlo RattiAssociati in curating this Biennale, we trusted very much the importance of having academic institutions, and especially technical school like the South China University of Technology and Politecnico di Torino, directly involved in the debate about the relationship of architecture, cities and technologies in both the fields of Architecture and Engineering. Since 2015 we worked in this direction: exploring the public role and duties that such institutions have to play confronting contemporary urban challenges, and we saw UABB as the perfect ground to arise an international discussion. Then both the institutions got the possibility to invite their global academic network to engage within UABB activities contributing thanks to their expertise.


The Champion Team of Solar Decathlon 2018 (Source: South China - Torino Lab)

Q: Please make a brief introduction to South China-Torino Lab. What’s the purpose of its establishment? What kind of research work has the South China-Turin laboratory done before?

A: The South China–Torino Lab is a joint project between the South China University of Technology and Politecnico di Torino, opened in 2015. In the last decade, investments provided to the applied research in China increased year by year, revealing a growing bond between Research and Private Companies, and between Research and Public Institutions. In line with this trend, the Lab intended to be a multidisciplinary platform between Italy and South China where Research, Education and Consulting can combine their skills and resources.


Urban Design Day (Source: South China - Torino Lab)

We have conducted continuous discussions on the development of cities and buildings in China and Italy in the past few years. Initiatives as the "URBAN DESIGN DAY" and the PHD WINTER SCHOOL were very important to kick off our Lab. We study classic cases of urban design in Guangzhou together and discuss their application in cities in southern China.


Masterplan for TIT Guangzhou (Source: South China - Torino Lab) 

We are also in the field of new energy buildings (international Solar Decathlon competition, 1st prize), the possibility of urban heritage (historical cities, industrial heritage, civil heritage revival), as well as the combination of urban development and practical enterprises.

In 2017 the winning proposal for the industrial redevelopment of Pearl River Piano factory in Guangzhou was an example on the potentialities in transferring and exchanges design experiences between Italy and China, utilizing industrial regeneration as a tool to put move forward and put in touch enterprises from both countries to study new forms of mutual cooperation. In addition, has been recently inaugurated a Co-run master program in Urban Design in cooperation between the two universities: it represents a significant step forward in Chinese architectural education system, giving future designers important tools to better investigate the city under a systemic perspective.


Rendering of the future transformation of the factory from the Events Square (Source: South China - Torino Lab) 


Academic Curatorial Team of “Eyes of the City” Section, 2019 UABB

Academic Curators of “Eyes of the City” Section


Michele Bonino (Politecnico di Torino)

Sun Yimin (South China University of Technology)


Academic Curatorial Team Members of “Eyes of the City” Section

(Politecnico di Torino and South-China University of Technology)


Edoardo Bruno, XuHaoHao, Valeria Federighi, Monica Naso, Camilla Forina, JiachenLin, Lu Xian, Alessandro Servalli, Matteo Migliaccio


Politecnico di Torino participates to South-China Torino Lab


thanks to the activities of China Room




THEME | Urban Interactions

MAIN VENUE | Futian Railway Station & Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and Urban Planning

SUB-VENUE | Sha Tau Kok Bonded Zone of Yantian District, Bao'an International Art Exhibition Center, Qiaotou Community of Bao’ao District, Ban Xue Gang Hi-Tech Zone of Longgang District, Guanlan Ancient Market of Longgang District, Guangming Cloud Valley, Dapeng Fortress of Dapeng New District, Xichong of Dapeng New District, and Qianhai Cooperation Zone