On 1 December 2020, the 167th General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) formally recognised the 23rd edition of the International Exhibition of Triennale Milano, taking place between 20 May and 20 November 2022 under the theme “Unknown Unknowns”. To mark this important step, Stefano Boeri, President of Triennale Milano, reflects on the past, present and future of the International Exhibition of Triennale Milano.


Triennale can refer to both the institution and the International Exhibition. What role does the International Exhibition play and how does it interact with the institution and its activities?

Stefano Boeri: All the activities of Triennale Milano have a strong international vocation but the International Exhibition is the project that most of all aims at bringing together the international design and architecture community — designers, architects, artists, institutions, universities, schools, organisations, companies, and other partners from all over the world – as well as communities from other disciplines and a wider audience. The International Exhibition is a space for open, plural debates and exchanges of views, where different experiences, cultures and perspectives can converge.

"Design can offer new insights into the key issues of our age"

Established in 1923 as the Biennale di Monza, the International Exhibition began to take place every three years from 1933 and is held in Milan's Palazzo dell’Arte designed by Giovanni Muzio. The International Exhibition of Triennale Milano is one of the most important events devoted to design and architecture. But Triennale Milano is not just its International Exhibitions: Triennale is a public institution with a program of exhibitions, a design museum, a theatre, a series of events, such as talks, lectures, educational activities... It is also a building, one of the most representative rationalist examples of architecture, and, of course, it is a series of International Exhibitions. All the souls of Triennale work together.

The International Exhibition of Triennale Milano is one of four types of Expo organised under the auspices of the BIE alongside World Expos, Specialised Expos and Horticultural Expos. Despite the differences in scale, reach and theme, do you see some common ground between Triennale and other Expos?

Stefano Boeri: There are certainly some elements that connect the International Exhibition of Triennale Milano with the other Expos: the desire to speak to the world and tell it through, for example, the contributions of the international participations, the attention to the themes and urgencies of the contemporary world, the ability to combine tradition and innovation, the will to involve a wide audience, not only the insiders, as demonstrated by the great public success of the XXII International Exhibition in 2019, themed “Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival”, and curated by Paola Antonelli.

The XXII International Exhibition closed in September 2019, only a few months before the emergence of Covid-19. In what ways did this event anticipate some of the challenges we are now facing?

Stefano Boeri: “Broken Nature” was centered on the unbalance in our relationship with nature. With the most recent International Exhibition, we told the story of how we compromised, destroyed, deforested the natural environment. But the present time and the coronavirus epidemic have confronted us with the fact that nature is not separate from us, nature is within us, because the virus has grown within the human species.

When we see the sudden, unprecedented explosion of a virus that emerged from an apparently incongruous contact between a living human and a living animal, it is almost impossible not to wonder about the abrupt awakening of a nature that is no longer just contaminated, but is itself capable of contaminating our human world. A natural world in which other living species appear to show how far removed they are from us, possibly because the explosion of humans and of urbanisation across the whole planet has forced them to coexist with us and lock step with our lives. The great misunderstanding of our environmental culture lies in the oppositional or distinctive relationship between the human sphere and the sphere of living naturalness. It is time to change perspective.

"The present time and the coronavirus epidemic have confronted us with the fact that nature is not separate from us, nature is within us"

In addition to the health crisis, the world is facing numerous other threats. How do you see new approaches to design and architecture offering answers to these multiple challenges?

Stefano Boeri: This pandemic leaves us with the feeling of a species fragility. This current fragility can become a tool for growth. Design can offer new insights into the key issues of our age, interpreting its mutations and challenges. It represents an important tool to restore, respect and recreate a balance between humans and nature. This means trust in our capacity for self-criticism and in the remedial potential of design culture. To be even more effective it is increasingly necessary for design and architecture to talk to other disciplines, in particular the environmental sciences and those fundamental branches of scientific knowledge that have given man a more powerful vision of natural phenomena.

The XXIII International Exhibition is themed “Unknown Unknowns.” How was this theme devised, and how can it be interpreted by countries that participate?

Stefano Boeri: “Unknown Unknowns” is a tribute to the “unknown part” of the micro and macro universe, to the unknown side that frightens us, but which can instead become the fertile ground for an encounter between arts and sciences. And a real invitation to redesign what is to come on a new basis. We must decentralise ourselves, learn to take the gaze of the other – that of every living species – as a resource to act in the world. If we succeed in this decentralisation, we will be able to transform the fragility I talked about before into strength. The strength of a new intelligence of species. And this can only be done with an “interference” between art and science.

"We must decentralise ourselves, learn to take the gaze of the other as a resource to act in the world"

For more information on the XXIII International Exhibition of Triennale Milano, visit the official website.

Les points de vue exprimés dans cette rubrique sont ceux de contributeurs externes à l'Organisation et ne reflètent pas nécessairement l'avis et la position du BIE. Consultez cette page pour savoir comment contribuer au blog