Milan, February the 28th 2019
Stefano Boeri, President of The Foundation of La Triennale di Milano, presents the XXII International Exhibition “Broken Nature. Design Takes on Human Survival” with the following speech during the opening official ceremony in front of the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, the Secretary General Company Bureau International des Expositions Vicente Gonzales Los Certales, the Minister of the Cultural Heritage and Activities Alberto Bonisoli, the Governor of Lombardy Attilio Fontana, the Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala, Ministers, Ambassadors, Authorities, Curators of the International Pavillions:
Over the past decades, and indeed ever since 1923, the Triennale di Milano International Exhibitions have involved designers, architects, artists, and scientists from all over the world, asking them to come up with solutions and ideas to solve the great issues facing the modern age. This was true in 1947 with the Triennale devoted to the Reconstruction, in 1951 when the theme was standardisation and mass production, in 1988 with considerations about the Future of Cities, and in 1992 – twenty-seven years ago, the year of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – when the world came to Milan for six months and took the courageous and pioneering decision to talk about the challenge of the environment.
Today we are opening the XXII Triennale di Milano International Exhibition. Thanks to the drive and curiosity of Paola Antonelli and her team of researchers, to the insights of Stefano Mancuso, to the designers from 70 countries around the world, and to the presence of 22 national pavilions, we are posing questions about an issue of the utmost importance for the future of humanity: the urgent need to re-establish a balance between our species and other living species, between the world of man and that of animals and plants, between Nature and cities.
Cities are naturally the primary manifestation of the life of our species on the surface of this planet.
Thanks to the research and studies carried out by the United Nations, we know that urban environments will be home to about 60% of the world’s population in 2030 and that the expansion of urban conglomerations over the coming decades will continue unabated, especially in Asia and Africa.
In purely geographical terms, cities do not cover more than 3% of the surface of the Earth, but their role is enormous in terms of their environmental impact. Cities consume 75% of the natural resources of the planet and are responsible for more than 70% of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. And, as we well know, this is the main cause of global warming, with the consequent melting of glaciers and the disastrous effects that floods, typhoons, and extreme weather conditions have on the cities themselves.
The constant expansion of urban areas since the mid-nineteenth century. coupled with industrialisation and the consumption of fossil fuels, has been the main cause of the rapid acceleration that is disrupting the climate of our planet.
What is less known is the role that the forests, woods, oceans, and seas of our planet play in restoring the balance and protecting life on Earth. Forests and oceans alone absorb both heat and about 60% of the CO2 present in the Earth’s atmosphere. And yet it is these forests that are reduced in size and placed at risk every year by the expansion of our cities. It is these oceans that every year become a dumping ground for our plastics and our polluting, non-biodegradable waste.
It is these forests and oceans that are the greatest means we have to help stop, or at least slow down, the gradual warming of our planet and the harmful consequences it has – from natural disasters to the gradual desertification of parts of the planet and the unstoppable migratory flows of people that it will cause, through to the real risk of extinction of our species.
At a moment in our history when the extremely long evolutionary processes of Planet Earth suddenly seem to coincide and interact with the extraordinarily rapid pace of human life and with our daily choices, La Triennale is now calling upon the international design community to come up with practical, effective, pragmatic solutions that can help slow down climate change.
The invitation of the XXII Triennale di Milano is to reflect on how what has been taken from the natural world over the past centuries, and particularly in recent decades, can be restored to it. It should therefore not be seen simply as a means to compensate for what has been done in the relationship between Man and Nature. It is also an invitation to take a different approach to Nature and see it not as a sphere of life in conflict with, and different from, what the human species has progressively colonised and compromised, but rather as an integral part of our life and of the future of humanity, as Pope Francis so forcefully noted in his Laudato Si encyclical.
This is why the message that this 22nd international Triennale addresses to all of us is twofold in nature.
Firstly, as mentioned in November 2018 in the joint declaration of the 16 European heads of state and government, which has been signed and promoted by you, President Mattarella, the ideas and projects we see in these rooms remind us that the search for a new relationship between man and nature and the fight against climate change now require a new approach – a global, geopolitical approach.
What is needed is a geopolitical order that involves states, national and regional governments, urban and metropolitan municipalities, large companies of the digital revolution and multinational energy companies, and private stakeholders and financial centres right across the world, to take up the extraordinary challenge for the survival of the human species. A challenge that helps us overcome the differences and idiosyncrasies that are still a feature of the international politics of governments, helping to show that every self-referential decision and every souverainist inspiration weakens and slows down the global campaign to reduce and reverse climate change.
Building bridges of knowledge and experimentation, sharing regenerative actions and policies, pooling experiences and projects, breaking down walls and borders, both national and disciplinary: this is the only way forward if we are to take up this decisive challenge for the future of humanity.
Secondly, the installations and projects on display in this Exhibition are a precise and timely invitation to us all: an invitation to rethink our lifestyles, our habits, and our daily decisions.
Changing the lifestyle of billions of human beings can never be the result of independent, authoritarian national policies imposed from on high. This is why, at a moment in history when the instinct for closure and isolation prevails in international geopolitics, cultural institutions throughout the world need to play a crucial role in networking and spreading a holistic and transdisciplinary environmental culture beyond national borders and protectionist barriers. They must convey the powerful and pragmatic message of a great project of regeneration of our lifestyles to every inhabitant on the planet.
The fact is that we can no longer fail to adopt any of the solutions that, in a more or less direct manner, have positive effects in counteracting the imbalance between Man and Nature. We need a different diet in order to reduce the need for intensive farming, constant daily use of renewable energy in our homes, reduced consumption of fossil fuels for our daily mobility, the habit of reusing and recycling materials and products that would otherwise become waste. And we need a greater degree of coexistence – in our homes as well as in urban areas – with plants and trees in order to promote urban forest projects in the cities around the world, but first and foremost we need schools across the world with courses and workshops on climate change that allow the younger generations – who are the real protagonists of a challenge that has to be won, and the potential victims if it is lost – to share the latest design, scientific and creative know-how that can change the situation.
These are often local, sometimes individual choices, but they pave the way towards new forms of community, cooperation, and creative collaboration – an energy that is not just cultural but also the driver of powerful economic and productive development. One that is also able to lift out of poverty those on the planet who are most subject to the disastrous consequences of climate change.
The most powerful message of this XXII Triennale is therefore a positive one, and it is only right that it should come from an institution that asks the world of design to imagine a better future for the world.
As well as pointing out the enormous risks we are facing as a living species, the XXII Triennale also shows us how the environmental challenge brings with it an awareness that the world we need to build can be better, fairer, and more beautiful, and it can help us live on this planet by regenerating the life and the spaces that all living communities inhabit in every part of Planet Earth.
Thank you for bearing with me.