Ecovacs's self-cleaning mop and vacuum robot is "the Tesla of robot cleaners"

Ecovac's cleaning robot

Promotion: global robotics technology brand Ecovacs is launching a new robot cleaning device that is designed to vacuum and mop the home at once.

Deebot T20 Omni is the latest robot cleaner from the brand’s lineup of robots and is described as “the Tesla of robot cleaners”. It intelligently detects the difference between carpets and hard floors, and lifts its mop for a “seamless tradition across all floor types”.

While other robot mops have heads that rock back and forth, the T20 Omni features what Ecovacs refers to as an Ozmo Turbo 2.0 pressurised mopping system, rotating 180 times every minute to clean floors more effectively.

The device washes its mops with hot water set to 55 degrees, which Ecovac says is an industry-first to more effectively remove oil and dirt, and improve the potency of the cleaning solution for a better clean.

Ecovac's robotic cleaner on hard floor
Technology brand Ecovacs has released a new robotic cleaning device

Its “powerful and market-leading” vacuum component includes a rubber brush design with spiralling blades and 6000 pascal pressure unit suction power that captures debris and dust from carpets and hard floors while avoiding hair tangles.

Deebot users can “set-it-and-forget-it” with T20 Omni, or use Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri Shortcuts and its own Ecovacs app to operate the robot.

With the new mop-lifting technology, users can choose between different cleaning modes for vacuum-only cleaning, mop-only cleaning, vacuuming while mopping, or vacuuming first before mopping with “no manual intervention needed”.

Ecovac's robotic cleaner on hard floor
The device simultaneously vacuums and mops around the home, eliminating the need for multiple cleaning devices

Deebot T20 Omni recognises carpets, automatically transitioning from hard floor to soft carpeting by lifting the mopping plates and pausing their rotation while simultaneously increasing suction power. When the mop isn’t in use, it is lifted up so it won’t drag its wet pads across carpets.

According to Ecovacs, there are only a few robot cleaners on the market that have this latest technology and none of them lift their mops as high as Deebot, making T20 Omni an optimal robot cleaner for households with multiple surface types.

T20 Omni also uses TrueMapping 2.0 – a LiDAR-based technology seen in self-driving cars – to map the home and generate efficient cleaning paths. This technology delivers twice the range of other robots that use traditional laser-based mapping and is four times as accurate.

In addition, a 3D-imaging system called TrueDetect 3D helps the robot avoid household objects like toys, keys and wires with ten times the accuracy of traditional infrared cleaners, even in dark environments, according to the brand.

The device vacuums and mops throughout the home
The device vacuums and mops throughout the home

Ecovacs also reported that this latest model is maintenance-free for months at a time, due to its ability to wash and dry its own mop heads with warm air, empty the dust bin and replace dirty water with a clean substitute.

When not used, the robot docks into its Omni station, which has a built-in hot air dryer specifically designed for mopping pads. This ensures that the mopping pads are thoroughly dried, maintaining their quality and cleanliness for the next use and preventing bacteria growth and bad odours before they form.

The fully sealed style design of the Omni station auto-empties and stores dust and allergens for more than 60 days, providing months of maintenance-free cleaning.

To learn more about the new release and all Ecovacs robots, visit its website.

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Sothebys to move in and "review" brutalist Breuer Building in New York

Exterior of Breuer Building

International auction house Sotheby’s has announced its acquisition of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s   Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

Sotheby’s has announced its acquire the building and turn it into a flagship gallery for the brand in order to display collections of art and luxury goods to the public.

The company said that it would employ an architect to “review and maintain” the structure after it takes possession in September 2024.

Breuer Building exterior
Sotheby’s has purchased the Breuer Building on Madison Avenue

Widely jnown as the Breuer Building, 945 Madison Avenue was completed in 1966 as an additional location for New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. Currently, it is being used as a temporary home for art gallery The Frick Collection

“This is a truly unique opportunity to reimagine an iconic and globally renown architectural landmark in the ideal location, which will further distinguish us as we continue to transform and innovate for our clients,” said Sotheby’s CEO Charles F Stewart.

Breuer Building exterior
The brutalist structure has a stepped form with a concrete-panel facade

The brutalist building features a facade of concrete panels facade that steps back from the street creating a series of cantilevers. Only a few windows dot the side, extruding at angles from the concrete.

At one end, a large vertical wall shields the building from the adjacent structures.

In its plans for maintaining the structure, Sotheby’s mentioned the “striking lobby”, a space with stone flooring and ceiling completely covered with an array of gridded light fixtures.

Sotheby’s said that after it completes its move, the structure will remain open to the public, who can view the auction house’s collections before items are sold to private owners.

Interior of Breuer building
Sotheby’s will maintain a collection there that it says will be open to the public

Some have lamented the change from museum to auction house. Writing in Curbed, art critic Jerry Saltz said that “auction houses are where art loses its identity and its dignity”.

Saltz noted that the building itself with its limited windows and austere interior felt like a “temple” where art is meant to be viewed.

Marcel Breuer was born in Hungary in 1902 and moved to the United States in 1937. He constructed a number of buildings in his adopted country, some of which have seen changes in purpose over the years, including a brutalist office building in Connecticut that recently reopened as a hotel.

The photography is by Max Touhey

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An Example of FIFO (First In, First Out) Design: Egg Skelters

This object is called an egg skelter, which I’d never heard of before moving to this farm.

We have a lot of laying hens and we use the skelter every day.

Obviously, when cooking you draw eggs from the bottom. It’s a simple way to keep track of eggs by date, ensuring we’re not eating only the new eggs while forgotten eggs slowly go rotten.

It’s a simple and effective design. My only gripe is that it takes up a lot of counter space. (We don’t refrigerate our eggs, as unwashed eggs will stay good for a couple weeks.)

YouCopia, a Chicago-based company founded by serial product developer Lauren Greenwood, makes this sleek, modern version of the egg skelter. It’s easy on the eyes and has a smaller footprint than the incumbent design.

It’s called the Rolldown Egg Dispenser and it runs $20, which is about the same price as the wire ones these days. I don’t think ours will ever break, but if it does I’ll buy YouCopia’s as a replacement.

By the way, if you’re curious what this category of object is called, there’s a food-service and logistics-industry term for it: FIFO (first in, first out). You’ve probably seen those pantry organizers for canned goods or beverages, and vending machines are also technically FIFO devices.

Image: Estera on Unsplash

I wish it was possible to design a refrigerator itself with FIFO principles. More than once I’ve had leftovers go bad because I forgot about them in the back of the ‘fridge.

Ovetto waste bin by Gianluca Soldi for SoldiDesign

Matt black Ovetto bin in kitchen

Dezeen Showroom: Italian design brand SoldiDesign has released an egg-shaped waste and recycling bin that provides a playful and sculptural alternative to conventional bins.

Ovetto, named after the Italian word for egg due to its oval shape, contains three compartments to allow for the easy sorting and disposal of waste and recyclable rubbish.

Matt black Ovetto bin in kitchen
Ovetto Galà comes in red, blue and yellow as well as black and silver

Users can drop items inside through pushing on one of three circular hatches, with the sides hinging open to access and remove the waste when full. An integrated bottle crusher is hidden on the crown of the bin.

All the openings sit flush with the bin’s curved shell when closed, allowing for it to become a statuesque statement piece rather than a purely functional object that is usually hidden away.

Red Ovetto bin
Different compartments allow users to curate unique recycling systems

“Gianluca envisioned a world where elegant design objects will improve recycling habits and allow positioning of the bin in stylish interiors, without compromising on the functionality of the product,” said SoldiDesign.

Ovetto bins are available in a series of different finish collections including Galà, which is characterised by its glossy finishes and rich colours. The bins can be used in both residential and workplace settings.

Product: Ovetto
Designer: Gianluca Soldi
Brand: SoldiDesign

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Beautiful Industrial Design Student Work: The SYT Chair

This wonderful SYT chair was designed and built by Theda Vollert, as an Industrial Design student at Germany’s BURG (a/k/a the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle). Vollert fabricated the chair using steel tube, Danish cord and recycled leather.

ID students, take note: As overseen by professor Konrad Lohöfener, the presentation of this project–and those of other students in the class–is particularly excellent: Well-lit photography showing mockups, materials, process shots, the beautiful finished product, and use cases. My only gripe is that no sketches or drawings are included.

In Vollert’s words:

“We sit constantly, and thus feel that sitting on chairs is natural. However, sitting brings us into a static posture, for which our anatomy is actually not made at all.

“With SYT, the rigidity of the chair is broken up by a simple rotating mechanism of the backrest. Suddenly, a new level emerges that can be used in different ways. The movement of the object playfully supports the movement of people, since it does not dictate a specific posture, but allows different positions. It offers a variety of angles of inclination of the back: For leaning, kneeling, sitting backwards with the backrest as a shelf and balancing one’s arms on the rotation point*.

“SYT invites you to discover the possibilities of different postures and to give space to movement.”

Image: CHOREO, Roman Häbler & Lars-Ole Bastar


*German speakers: Vollert’s project description above was machine-translated from German and edited for clarity by me; it’s possible I’ve misconstrued the end of the asterisked sentence. Vollert’s original text was:

“…das rückwärtsgewandte Sitzen mit der Lehne als Ablagefläche und das Ausbalancieren des Rotationspunktes beim Sitzen auf der beweglichen Ebene.

Which I interpreted as:

“…sitting backwards with the backrest as a shelf and balancing one’s arms on the rotation point.”

If I’ve gotten it wrong, please let me know!

Vivo X Fold 2 Foldable Phone Review: Beautiful, Big, and Bewildering


  • Stylish design with a thin profile
  • In-display fingerprint sensor on both screens
  • Largest screens among foldables
  • High-performance hardware with fast-charging battery
  • Rare mute switch


  • Limited market availability
  • Downgrade in camera and USB technology
  • No dust and water resistance rating




The Vivo X Fold 2 takes the foldable game up a notch but strangely takes two steps back as well.

As foldable phones start to become a little bit more common, it will also become harder for brands to stand out from the growing crowd. There’s definitely still a lot of room for improvement, of course, but many of the features have started to become more standard these days, especially those surrounding the all-important foldable screen. The challenge is even higher when trying to put out a successor to a successful first attempt, with the stakes now higher and the competition even tighter. That’s the difficult task that Vivo had to face in coming up with a successor to its notable first foldable phone, and so we take the Vivo X Fold 2 for a good run to see if it manages to overcome the odds or if it is a victim of the brand’s own success.

Designer: Vivo


At first glance, the Vivo X Fold 2 immediately sets itself apart with its distinctive and elegant looks. Circular camera bumps seem to be the new trend, but not all styles are as pleasant to look at. Normally, one that isn’t centered would look a bit awkward and unbalanced, but Vivo manages to pull this one off thanks to a neat visual trick.

The non-screen backside of the phone is made from two materials. There’s a vertical strip on the side of the hinge that’s made of glossy glass, serving as an accent to the rest of the surface, which uses that oh-so-familiar faux leather material. Beyond giving the phone a unique visual, it also gives the illusion that the camera enclosure is sitting in the middle rather than off-center. That said, that camera design is a bit of a mixed bag. Its stepped design and textured ring make it stand out a bit less despite its height, but that small LED flash ring sticks out like a sore thumb and breaks the visual flow of the design, not to mention the necessary ZEISS branding that sits like a blue wart below the camera.

The Vivo X Fold 2 is definitely quite a looker, especially in the eye-catching red unit we were given for this review. Compared to its predecessor, it’s supposed to be thinner and lighter, though you won’t be able to easily tell even if you have both devices at hand. It’s definitely on the thin and light side compared to other foldables, but it’s certainly not the top of the pack in that aspect. What it is, however, is large, and it is possibly one of the largest in the foldable market, especially when it comes to screen size.

Like many other foldable phones outside of Samsung, Vivo uses a well-known water drop hinge to help make the crease less visible while also allowing the phone to fold shut completely. In both cases, the Vivo X Fold 2 doesn’t disappoint, but it’s not exactly a groundbreaking feat either. It would be more shocking if it actually did worse since it’s a more or less established technology at this point. Fortunately, you really don’t notice the crease that much unless you intentionally look for it, and the bright and large 8.03-inch inner display will be enough to distract you with the way it shows your content in vibrant and crisp colors, even outdoors under the sun.


Now that the once ridiculed “phablet” has become the standard smartphone size, even for Apple, it is nearly impossible to use smartphones these days with a single hand. That is especially true for foldable phones, which transform into small tablets that you really need two hands for. When folded closed, however, the phone’s doubled thickness makes it even less comfortable to use with a single hand, no matter how large your hands might be.

This is probably truer for the Vivo X Fold 2 simply because it is larger than any other foldable phone. When folded, the 6.53-inch external display makes the surface area even less unwieldy. Fortunately, the phone’s textured back gives it a better grip than others of its kind. If you’re the type to still worry, though, Vivo includes a protective back case in the same color and, amusingly, the same vegan leather material as the phone itself.

The one thing that’s a bit easy to do with one hand is to unlock the phone. Thanks to housing an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor in the middle of the screen, you don’t have to fiddle with power buttons located on just one side of the phone. This is already a rare sight on foldable phones, but even more impressive is the fact that the Vivo X Fold 2 also has a similar in-display sensor on the inner display.


The Vivo X Fold 2 is equipped with top-of-the-line hardware you’d expect from a premium flagship this time of the year. That means a beefy Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 12GB of RAM, and 256GB or 512GB of storage. What all these figures mean in practice is that it won’t be lacking in power, handling anything you throw at it with aplomb. There is, however, one caveat where the phone gets quite warm when playing graphics-intensive titles. It’s not hot enough to burn your skin, but it might make you want to pause the game a bit, especially since it would eventually affect frame rates.

The phone is equipped with a dual battery that totals 4,800mAh, quite a generous capacity as far as foldables go. Given the power and the two displays, however, you are going to see a shorter uptime compared to normal slabs with the same battery size. Vivo makes up for it with a 120W ultra-fast charging capability that’s one of the fastest in the industry, foldable or otherwise. Unfortunately, that may have come at the price of Vivo downgrading the USB-C port from version 3.2 of its predecessor to an older 2.0 technology. Not only does this mean it has a slower data transfer rate, it also loses the ability to output video through that part. The latter is probably less important to most people compared to faster charging times, but it’s still an unfortunate downgrade nonetheless.

The crowning glory of the Vivo X Fold 2 is, of course, its foldable screen, which is currently the biggest in its category. It has quite an impressive performance, especially when it comes to brightness, but its size does come with a price. It has an overall lower pixel density, and while you won’t be able to make out individual pixels, more discerning eyes might notice the step down in quality compared to other foldables. Fortunately, that doesn’t take away from the enjoyable viewing experience, whether you’re watching videos or reading documents.

Foldable phones haven’t exactly been at the height of mobile photography, mostly because of the sacrifices that have to be made in terms of design and price. Vivo, however, is quite known for its smartphone cameras, especially with its flagship X family, so you’d expect that the X Fold 2 would rise above the rest in this regard as well. Just like the rest of the phone so far, however, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. It definitely takes impressive photos and videos, but they won’t sweep you off your feet, especially when it comes to close-up shots.

The main 50MP camera might not sound like the greatest, but it gets the job done without breaking a sweat. Images have plenty of details, and colors are bright, perhaps even too vibrant for some tastes. Vivo has again partnered with ZEISS for the optics as well as some special camera modes, and those turn out to be more color accurate. The main camera delivers plenty of detail, even in low light, to the point that the dedicated Night Mode might look redundant as long as there is enough illumination from the surroundings.

Left: Regular Shot; Right: ZEISS

Regular (1x)

Night Mode


Unfortunately, the other cameras are less impressive. The 12MP ultra-wide is so-so, and it’s no better nor worse compared to other 12MP ultra-wide cameras you’d find on most smartphones these days. Things take a rather sad turn with the telephoto camera, though. Where there were once two, there is now only one, and Vivo removed the one that was actually more interesting. There is no longer a periscope telephoto camera, leaving only a 12MP shooter in its stead that is capable of doing a measly 2x optical zoom. Many “main” cameras are capable of that much, which makes this camera feel redundant. As for output, it’s decent enough to be usable, but it’s a few steps short of what fans have come to expect from Vivo.



2x (Telephoto)

As for software, the Vivo X Fold 2 comes with Origin OS based on Android 13, which is the China-exclusive flavor that Vivo ships on its phones. This means that there is no Google Play Store pre-installed, though you can definitely install it through other means and get access to your favorite apps. Alas, Origin OS is also filled to the brim with other pre-installed apps, but that, too, is the norm for phones coming from that market. The even bigger concern, however, is how the custom Android experience feels a little rough around the edges as far as support for foldable features is concerned. Given it’s just the company’s second stab at the form factor, it’s a bit understandable, and it will hopefully push out improvements quickly while the phone is still actively supported.


While the Vivo X Fold 2 is able to set itself apart from the others in terms of design, it isn’t that different when it comes to its effects on the environment. The choice of vegan or eco-leather is definitely a good one, but its positive effects are quite minimal compared to the other materials that make up the phone and its packaging. Vivo’s super-fast charging requires a proprietary charger, so it’s unavoidable to ship one in the box.

Sustainability wouldn’t be so bad if the product is made to last, but even then, this foldable might raise some concerns. There is no formal IP dust and water resistance rating, not even a formal assurance of its durability under the most common accidents. Granted, there are few foldable phones aside from Samsung and Huawei that can make such promises, but it is also an opportunity for brands like Vivo to step up their game and prove that they’re no small fry when it comes to providing their customers with peace of mind.


The Vivo X Fold 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. It has a striking design that makes it memorable and attractive, and it also has the power to support all your mobile needs, from browsing to photography to gaming. The larger screens leave plenty of room for your content, or even two of them for the inner foldable screen. There are special features you won’t find in other foldable phones, like an in-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner and a physical switch to silence notifications, ala the iPhone. We have a few complaints, of course, but nothing so glaring as to make the phone something to avoid.

That said, the biggest deal breaker for this stylish foldable is the fact that only a select number of people will be able to buy one in the first place. Never mind the roughly $1,300 price tag, the Vivo X Fold 2 isn’t even available in markets outside of China. Whether that situation will change, Vivo isn’t saying, but it will definitely need a more polished Funtouch OS experience to improve its reception in international markets.


At this point, almost all the major smartphone players except Apple have entered the foldable smartphone market. The competition will soon be just as fierce as it is in the “normal” smartphone arena. With many of them having nearly the same hinges and almost crease-free displays, manufacturers will have to find ways to differentiate their products in other ways that create better value for their customers. That doesn’t always have to be new hardware or gimmicky features. Sometimes, just having a powerful and beautiful device is enough to get people to buy. Just ask Apple!

The Vivo X Fold 2 clearly tries to reach those goalposts. Its elegant design actually makes the off-center circular camera bump work in a simple yet memorable way. In addition to its powerful hardware, the foldable phone offers unique features as well, like larger screens and in-display fingerprint sensors that even industry leaders failed to offer. Unfortunately, Vivo seems to also have cut a few corners in the process, and while they’re not deal-breakers on their own, they make the experience less than ideal altogether. As a successor, the Vivo X Fold 2 definitely rises to the challenge, but Vivo will need to step up its game to really leave a lasting mark in this growing market.

Aki Ukita and JC Torres contributed to this review.

The post Vivo X Fold 2 Foldable Phone Review: Beautiful, Big, and Bewildering first appeared on Yanko Design.

Studio Visit: Floral Artist Chloe Berlin

Found objects, dead flowers, wire and more form contemplative arrangements

Within the art of floral arranging there’s traditional Japanese Ikebana, classic fresh and blooming bouquets, and then there’s Chloe Berlin, a Brooklyn-based artist whose work stretches from mini arrangements to large-scale sculptures and floral wall installations that sometimes don’t include any live flowers at all. Her studio—which employs dried and fresh flowers, branches, found objects, wire and string—is equal parts natural and urban, chaotic and beautiful. This contradiction, as well as the variegated materials, offers a fresh approach to the category.

by Alec Banks

In the artist’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the minimal, white-walled space offers a glimpse of Berlin’s meditative practice which started about two years ago. “I began my career in branding and innovations,” she says, but one day “I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and various autoimmune diseases.” The diagnosis changed Berlin’s trajectory, pivoting her away from her career and toward wellness when traditional medicine fell short. Eventually, that path led into meditation and flowers.

by Derek Balarezo

“I started playing with flowers and I was like, ‘you know, this is something that I’m really passionate about.’ I’m not really seeing the style of work that I’m doing out there. For me, it needs to be more than just a flower arrangement—there has to be a story behind it; there has to be meaning,” Berlin says.

Courtesy of Chloe Berlin Studio

The artist’s large-scale arrangements in her commissioned and installation works have an abundance of meaning, as they overflow with juxtaposition and symbolic elements. Some of them contain unconventional florals like weeds or kumquat branches, but all burst with a certain sense of drama and volume. Wire twists and turns high above the arrangement, mimicking the organic movement of vines. Drooping flowers evoke a notion of romantic decay. Large dead branches stick out as if reaching above and through the vase. The design invites viewers to gaze at it as if it’s a painting with various hidden elements.

by Derek Balarezo

“It’s a lot about tapping into that creative flow state and that meditation style of work and pulling from those Ikebana philosophies. It was really just about studying the forms, the shapes, the ways the flowers wanted to be displayed, foraging for flowers that weren’t normally put into a vase, using a lot of weeds. With my vessels, they’re all sourced vintage because that’s super-important,” the artist tells us. Berlin’s process begins with collecting flowers, which Berlin does based on availability. “In the summer, I love to go to the Union Square farmers market, because those will all come in local. I’m going to start working with more farms this summer, and then I sometimes forage around Brooklyn. I’ll be that crazy lady with the clippers on the street.”

Courtesy of Chloe Berlin Studio

In the winter, Berlin will work with dried flowers in addition to whatever scraps she saved from previous projects (which is all of them). Many of these leftover florals end up as mini arrangements or what she calls Mini Moments. “A big thing is resourcefulness and sustainability,” she continues. Sometimes it’s this lack of florals that conveys more than fresh blooms.

by Alec Banks

A blend of wire and stems offers empty space and a thoughtful contrast between nature and the metropolitan, an exploration that runs throughout Berlin’s work. “That idea is really about understanding nature and living with nature,” she tells us. “When we’re in New York, it’s so fast-paced. It’s this concrete jungle and we’ve built this world that has so many sharp lines and clean slates and it’s very harsh. It doesn’t have those organic happenstances that form within nature. I think it’s about figuring out how, as a society, we can continue to evolve with nature and appreciate the nature that we do have.”

Courtesy of Chloe Berlin Studio

“So much of my work is about that balance and even when you look at it, it’s not always symmetrical. There are a lot of imperfections,” Berlin says. As her work bursts with natural materials, discarded city objects blend into the floral background. The unity is often contradictory—and messy—and that is precisely the point.

Courtesy of Chloe Berlin Studio

Every so often, Berlin invites others into her studio to explore this dynamic themselves. She hosts Nature Play workshops, which are more than a class on flower arrangement. The artist explains, it “is all about this idea of play, and that’s a lot of the energy that I bring toward the work that I’m making.” Spontaneous and joyous, the workshop, as well as Berlin’s floral art as a whole, seeks a way to connect with the self and the world around.

Hero image courtesy of Alec Banks

Tomás Saraceno adapts Serpentine gallery to welcome all species

Exhibition photo from Tomás Saraceno In Collaboration: Web(s) of Life at Serpentine

Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno has changed the HVAC and electrical system of the Serpentine gallery in London, in an effort to make an exhibition for all the nearby species.

Titled Web(s) of Life, the exhibition presents some of the artist’s most recent and well-known environmentally focused works, while also encompassing interventions into the building itself.

These interventions aim to make the Serpentine South building housing the exhibition more porous and responsive to its setting in Kensington Gardens, challenging anthropocentric perspectives that only consider the interests of humans and not any other beings.

Photo of the outside of the Serpentine South building with a small, birdhouse-like Tomás Saraceno Cloud Cities sculpture sitting on the facade
Tomás Saraceno has made changes to the Serpentine South building for his exhibition

Sculptures made for the enjoyment of a variety of different animals are placed on the building’s grounds, facade and roof as well as inside the building, while complex webs woven by multiple types of spiders working “in collaboration” with Saraceno feature inside the dimly lit galleries.

“You see that many architectures today are somehow not so inclusive of what is happening on the planet,” said Saraceno, who trained as an architect. “I’m very happy to think that for the first time at the Serpentine, there are many spiderweb pavilions.”

“It’s a little bit about trying to think how animal architecture could enter into the discourse and how we need to have a much more equilibrated and balanced way of building cities today on Earth,” he told Dezeen.

Photo of a large Cloud Cities sculpture by Tomás Saraceno in the grounds of Hyde Park on a sunny day
Saraceno’s Cloud Cities sculptures have compartments for different species

To make the gallery interior more comfortable for spiders and other insects, the equipment that controls the building’s temperature and humidity has been switched off and some doorways opened to allow for free movement of both air and animal life.

Given the exhibition will run throughout the British summertime, this might mean some discomfort for human visitors – but within limits. According to the Serpentine’s chief curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas, the gallery will allow the staff on its floor to decide when conditions are too hot for them to work safely or for visitors to have an enjoyable time.

At that point, the gallery will close rather than switch on the air-conditioning, encouraging visitors to enjoy the installations outside in the park and under the trees.

Photo of a visitor to the Serpentine gallery looking at a complicated spiderweb installation in the near dark
The exhibition environment is meant to be more comfortable for spiders, whose webs are on display

A further intervention by Saraceno comes in the form of a new solar array on the Serpentine’s roof, which will power all the films and lights in the exhibition.

The destructive effects of lithium mining on the environment and Indigenous communities is a key theme of the exhibition. So Saraceno and the Serpentine are avoiding the use of a lithium battery and instead embracing the intermittency of solar power by adapting the exhibition’s energy use to the level of sunshine outside.

On cloudy or partly cloudy days, films will run less frequently and lights will be dimmed. On particularly sunless days, the films may switch to audio-only, while some lights will switch off altogether.

“The irony there is that on the extreme heat days with lots of sun, we will have full power but we won’t be able to open the exhibition,” said Carey-Thomas.

As the Serpentine South building is heritage listed, both Carey-Thomas and Saraceno say the process for making any alterations was complex and drawn out, with approval for the solar panels taking two years and other plans to remove windows and doors quickly abandoned.

Close-up photo of a smaller Cloud Cities sculpture perched on the facade of the Serpentine South gallery
The exhibition experience will be different on sunny versus cloudy days

The works within the exhibition include Saraceno’s Cloud Cities sculptures, which feature compartments specifically designed for different animals such as birds, insects, dogs, hedgehogs and foxes.

The artist is also screening a film that documents one of the instalments of his Aerocene project, which involves making an entirely fossil-free aircraft powered purely by air heated by the sun with no need for batteries, helium, hydrogen or lithium.

In the film, the Aerocene team completes the world’s first piloted solar-powered flight, flying a balloon sculpture over the highly reflective salt flats in Salinas Grandes.

Still from the film Fly with Pacha, Into the Aerocene by Tomás Saraceno
A film in the exhibition documents Saraceno’s fossil-free flight project

There is also a work created specifically for children, called Cloud Imagination, which is accessed through a dog-shaped door that’s too small for most adults to enter.

Saraceno and the Serpentine describe the Web(s) of Life exhibition as having been created “in collaboration” with a host of different contributors, both human and non-human.

These include the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc in Argentina, spider diviners in Cameroon, the communities around Aerocene and Saraceno’s Arachnophilia project, and the lifeforms found in the Royal Parks surrounding the Serpentine, which will continue to evolve the works over the next three months.

Photo of a girl crawling through a howling dog-shaped doorway to Tomás Saraceno's installation created just for children
The work Cloud Imagination is created for children only

The artist and gallery also want to extend the ethos of the exhibition to the potential sale of the artworks by developing a scheme called partial common ownership or, Saraceno hopes, “partial common stewardship”, which means any buyer would “co-own” the work along with a designated species or community.

Another recent artwork to have explored ideas of intermittency in energy and design is Solar Protocol, which looks at the potential of a solar-powered internet.

The photography is by Studio Tomás Saraceno.

Tomás Saraceno In Collaboration: Web(s) of Life will take place at Serpentine South in London, UK from 1 June to 10 September 2023 and culminate with a day-long festival on Saturday, 9 September including a weather-dependent Aerocene flight. For more information about events, exhibitions and talks, visit Dezeen Events Guide.

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"The usual champagne-socialist pomposity of Venice has been drowned out by a newfound openness"

Venice Architecture Biennale review

Placing the Global South at the centre of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale created a spirit of openness and sincerity, write Ewa Effiom, Krish Nathaniel, Aoi Phillips in this review of the event.

There are enough Pritzker and Stirling prizes to recognise built work in our industry. For the 18th iteration of the Venice Architecture Biennale, architecture’s biggest festival of ideas, curator Lesley Lokko promotes the process of architecture to the same heights as its outputs. This biennale platforms radical ideas and research from Africa and the Global South to re-energise a younger generation in the belief that architecture can address some of our most pressing challenges. Despite what some would have you think, Lokko’s biennale is far from anti-architectural.

Lokko’s curatorial focus is set around the twin themes of decolonisation and decarbonisation, with the Scottish-Ghanaian architect seeking to provide “a glimpse of future practices and ways of seeing and being in the world”. Departing from the architecture exhibition as an assemblage of finished objects, this year’s biennale positions itself as an agent of change, shifting focus to the process of architecture: the why and how, rather than the what.

Far from witnessing a “discursive self-annihilation”, what’s on show is a kaleidoscopic range of futurisms that bring new vision and direction to the profession. Central to this has been the promotion of emerging Black, Brown and Global South practitioners who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with more established names like David Adjaye and Theaster Gates.

Despite what some would have you think, Lokko’s biennale is far from anti-architectural

As always, the biennale is split three ways between the Giardini, the Central Pavilion and the Arsenale. The Arsenale’s vaulted Corderie building draws on a wealth of young practitioners’ work: a series of graphite block etchings by British-Zimbabwean academic Thandi Loewensen chart the hidden history of Kenya’s first satellite programme, while Arinjoy Sen’s exquisite triptych Bengali Song, a collaboration with the all-female Kolkata-based embroidery collective SHE Kantha, imagines alternative ways of living in the climate crisis.

Alongside national pavilions, some of the Arsenale’s more haunting pieces deal with histories of dehumanisation and exploitation, with Congolese artist Sammy Baloji‘s Aequare: the Future that Never Was exploring Belgium’s bitter legacy in the Congo through film and architectural models. A brass scale model recreates the planned Belgian exposition hall for the 1935 World Fair, a building which would have triumphantly showcased the wares and raw materials from the European nation’s depraved colonisation project.

A welcome surprise from the Giardini’s national pavilions, which have ossified the geopolitics of 19th and 20th century powers, is the presence of indigenous architectural perspectives. This is especially visible in the Nordic and Brazilian pavilions. Nordic pavilion curator, architect and artist Joar Nango, took the commission as an opportunity to platform the Sámi, Europe’s last remaining Indigenous population, in a playful and animated anti-exhibition.

Children and adults climb over tree trunks and animal hides to explore Girjegumpi, a travelling Sámi architecture library. At the Brazilian pavilion, which won the Golden Lion for best national participation, curators Gabriela de Matos and Paulo Tavares centre their theme, earth, on indigenous and Afro-Brazilian relationships to land. There was no shortage of brilliance and talent.

Amongst the weight of geopolitics and land justice, contributions that spatialise their research feel particularly uplifting

This is not to say that all national pavilions “got” the brief, which isn’t new. Japan’s contribution, which feels distinctly lacklustre and uncritical, asks visitors to simply “love architecture”, while the US pavilion’s musings on the qualities of plastic is perplexing. Other undercooked efforts include Germany’s collection of recycled and archived exhibition materials, a worthy topic to cover, but something of a reuse one-liner.

Amongst the weight of geopolitics and land justice, contributions that spatialise their research feel particularly uplifting. The Belgian pavilion’s elegant mycelium structure is a cathedral of mushrooms, communicating its premise in a uniquely architectural way.

Not far away, the hanging scaffold bridge of the Austrian pavilion by architecture collective AKT and Austrian architect Hermann Czech plays on the relationship between public and private space. Attempting to engage with the Sant’Elena district beyond the biennale walls, the pavilion documents the collaborators’ dialogue with officials and catalogue of rejected proposals. In seeking to open up the pavilion to local residents, the space probes at the tension between this walled off cultural enclave and the surrounding city.

But contrary to the spirit of these works, there is often a lack of generosity afforded to the casual visitor, a lack of any displays that require anything less than the commitment of full engagement. In the grand spaces of the Centrale, pavilion works are lost at times, aided only by tiny captions on the wall written in “archi-speak”. As a consequence, some projects are likely undersold, obscuring the depth of meaning that had no doubt led to their selection.

As a biennale that departs so much from previous years by giving practitioners from the Global South centre stage, it does seem to have caught the architectural media off-guard

With complex and intersectional topics to cover, parts of Lokko’s biennale often steer clear of the visual maximalism of past years, in favour of more composed mediums, with many contributors making use of film to showcase their work. But the sheer quantity of film media is at times both overwhelming and esoteric. Expecting visitors, many of whom will be students, to watch multiple 30-minute documentaries on sometimes niche aspects of architectural practice is a tall ask.

Curatorial optimism aside, there was ample reward for engaging with certain film pieces. Longer form documentaries such as the Applied Arts Pavilion‘s Tropical Modernism film, Theaster Gates’ Black Artists Retreat and Killing Architects‘ harrowing investigation of Uyghur detention camps, which drew criticsim from the Chinese government, all play to the strengths of the medium.

But as a biennale that departs so much from previous years by giving practitioners from the Global South centre stage, it does seem to have caught the architectural media off-guard. The response from many critics and publications has been relatively muted, with some reviews wilfully disengaged from the substance of the exhibitions to merely comment on a lack of models or plans. This lack of resonance might be a symptom of a broader issue in our design press, as very few publications sent any critics of colour to cover the event.

But comments from the likes of Patrick Schumacher inadvertently raise an essential question: what is an architecture exhibition for? Schumacher’s view of an “anti-architecture biennale” fails to recognise the challenge that past curators (beginning with Alejandro Aravena in 2016) have tried to grapple with: the crises of climate, biodiversity and late-capitalism.

One of the most unique qualities of this biennale was also its most intangible – its atmosphere

These crises, which are integral to, and sadly often caused by, our industry (ahem, concrete) all require responses “beyond the building”. By not retreating behind the 20th-century crutch of form and function, Lokko has avoided the usual conceit of architecture and delivered something less ostentatious, but no less potent. By contrast, the Neom exhibition, conspicuously adjacent to the biennale seems oddly archaic, airbrushing all its environmental and human rights challenges in favour of a hero image. More expansive than before (and the richer for it), the Laboratory of the Future has drawn supposed edges to the centre, rebalancing discourse with visions from the global majority.

For its opening weekend, one of the most unique qualities of this biennale was also its most intangible – its atmosphere. The city felt transformed with a visibly global community present throughout its islands. The usual champagne-socialist pomposity felt drowned out by a celebratory buzz and a newfound openness, cheer and sincerity. For the young practitioners we spoke to, this year’s biennale also provided inspiration for how to go beyond the confines of practice and use their architectural skillset more broadly. Given that a large contingent of visitors to the biennale will be on university and school trips, this is no bad thing.

Of the 89 participants Lokko selected, half are women and half are from the African continent and its diaspora, a landmark in redressing a global imbalance in our profession. More than providing a spotlight on architectural histories, narratives and visions which have previously been obscured, Lokko has provided a window into a future where the practice of architecture is democratised.

In the central hall of the British Pavilion, a film created by its curatorial team explores the cultural histories of Black and South Asian people in Britain, from Southall to Bradford. On the screen, a James Baldwin quote holds meaning for the whole event: “There is reason, after all, that some people wish to colonise the moon, and others dance before it as an ancient friend.”

The biennale is not exempt from the recent trend of Western cultural institutions’ reckoning with both decolonisation and the climate crisis. If the Venice Architecture Biennale wants to be more UN and less Eurovision, it needs to look and feel like more of the globe. The biennale isn’t a trade show, and while not the most conventionally architectural, this is surely the most global biennale yet – reason enough for optimism.

Ewa Effiom is a London-based Belgo-Nigerian architect, writer and producer who has written for publications including Architect’s Newspaper, Architects’ Journal, ICON, Wallpaper and Frame.

Krish Nathaniel is an urban designer, writer and artist based in London. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines including The Observer, It’s Freezing in LA! and The Architectural Review.

Aoi Phillips is a co-founder of the collective Afterparti. She currently works at Roach Matthews Architects, balancing practice with writing, graphic design and teaching. She has contributed to the Architects’ Journal, the Architectural Review and for Gestalten publishing house.

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Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum steps up slope below Indian fort

Exterior of the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum by Vastushilpa Constultants with stone walls zigzagging up a sloped site

Architecture studio Vastushilpa Consultants has created a museum and memorial in India to honour the victims of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and celebrate the resilience of the local Kutch community.

Vastushilpa Consultants placed the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum on a hill below a fort, which was restored as part of the project, on the outskirts of the city of Bhuj, near the epicentre of the earthquake.

Exterior of the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum by Vastushilpa Constultants with stone walls zigzagging up a sloped site
The museum follows the contours of the hillside. Photo by Sohaib Ilyas

Vastushilpa Consultants designed the museum around a “spine” that zigzags 50 metres up the sloped site and acts as a public space for people to gather.

Placed on either side of the meandering public space are various galleries with exhibitions on the impact of the earthquake and showcasing local Kutch crafts, including textiles, mirrorwork, glass and beadwork.

Inside the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum with stone walls and funnel-shaped canopies
Funnel-shaped structures shade the public space and collect rainwater

“The steep slope of the hill meant one had to find a way to sensitively place a building that does not disturb the landscape,” said Vastushilpa Consultants.

“The hill is part of the cultural patrimony of the people, hence building a large-scale box that would contrast with the hill was considered inappropriate,” it continued.

“Rather, the contours inform an alternative approach – it dictated a form that recalls the relic of the fort wall that exists on this hill.”

Exterior of the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum by Vastushilpa Constultants with stone walls zigzagging up a sloped site lit up at night
The Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum features rooftop gardens

A polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) canopy with funnel-shaped structures shades the public space and directs rainwater to collection points for harvesting.

“This references the covered markets prevalent in hot, dry climates where there is just a simple fabric stretched across to provide shade and protection,” Vastushilpa Consultants told Dezeen.

An outdoor walkway with tall cream-coloured stone walls
Local stone lines the walls of the museum. Photo by Sohaib Ilyas

The museum walls were clad in stone quarried from a local site and the gallery roofs were topped with planted gardens, which provide additional exhibition and performance space.

According to the studio, the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum has a modular design that can be added to for future expansion.

“The modularity of the galleries and the trace of the central spine is such that any extension will always remain aligned to the genius of the place,” said the studio.

“It is then a settlement as old as Bhuj and as young as the memory of the last visit.”

Concrete ring structure on a hilltop
The concrete sun point charts the movement of the sun and moon

While the museum was located at one end of the fort, which runs along a ridge, the studio designed a hilltop platform as a reflective space at the other.

It features a circular reinforced concrete structure with shuttering made from wood battens and symbols used by Kutch farmers imprinted on the concrete surface.

The structure acts as a lunisolar calendar charting the movement of the sun and moon, and cuts around the rim mark days of cultural significance.

Concrete circular structure at the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial
The circular structure was designed to be a reflective space

The land between the museum and the sun point is intended to be a “green lung” for the city and memorial forest, with one tree planted for each of the 13,805 earthquake victims.

To make the forest self-sustaining in the arid, desert-like landscape, Vastushilpa Consultants created a network of waterways and leaky check dams that let rainwater filter into the earth.

Square stepped reservoir at the Smritivan Earthquake Memorial Museum
Visitors can gather on the steps around the dams

The dams take the shape of a stepped tank or kund, a traditionally social space with a series of square steps that provide space for people to sit around water.

“The idea was to arrest the water as it would travel down the slope and allow it to infiltrate into the earth so that downstream vegetation could be sustained,” Vastushilpa Consultants told Dezeen.

“The various effects of holding water and giving it to the land have allowed the land to transform – as trees have taken root the landscape has changed and now one can spot wild animals and hear bird calls there,” the studio added. “The sound of the landscape and its temperature all have affected the city at large.”

A hilltop with a fort wall and circular concrete structure
Vastushilpa Consultants restored a fort wall that was on the hill

Elsewhere in India, local studio Mathew & Ghosh Architects completed a stainless steel art museum in Bangalore and Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye began construction on a museum in Delhi, which is set to be the country’s largest art and culture centre.

The photography is by Vinay Panjwani unless stated.

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