Venice Preview: The Airbnb Pavilion

Matt Shaw Matt Shaw

Airbnb is one of the most provocative innovations that the internet has offered us in recent years. So much so that it is seen as a direct threat to a multi-billion dollar hotel industry. By allowing people to rent out their apartments directly to vacationers and other short-term renters, Airbnb has changed our relationship to domestic space.

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This is the impetus behind the planned Airbnb Pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture. Rather than taking place in an official, sponsored pavilion, the exhibition will be spread out across several rented apartments in the city of Venice, each with its own small exhibition. The scattered, decentralized presentation illustrates perfectly the networked, invisible nature of the Airbnb market and its private spaces.

The mission of the pavilion is “to approach the commodification of domesticity and its impact on the household,” according to the curators, architects Alessandro Bava, Octave Perrault, Luis Ortega Govela, and Fabrizio Ballabio. The team will announce the locations of the exhibitions just in time for its opening on June 4.

The Pavilion is a funny experiment, but it has at its core a critical message. Airbnb is a revolutionary technology that has allowed people to share their spaces and subvert the traditional capitalist hotel industry, but paradoxically “also remains an archetypal neo-liberal endeavour inviting all to be entrepreneurs of their own selves, financialising life at its core,” as the curators put it.

While this is almost certainly not the first decentralized exhibition or pavilion in Venice, it occupies an intriguing space — the intersection of the traditional pavilion and the Venice tradition of renting an apartment for the weekend.

It is not the act of hunting down the locations on a map and exploring the city that makes this project spectacular; it is the act of seeing a public exhibition in a domestic space that has been rented online from strangers. It should only be a matter of time before other activities, such as cultural events, are housed in this new commodified domestic sphere.