What is the future of our cities and what role will architects and urban designers play in it? The 2007 International Architectural Biennale of Rotterdam (IABR), which runs from May 24 to September 2, seeks to answer these questions through a series of exhibitions that explore the theme of “Power: Producing the Contemporary City.”

This year’s IABR, the third such event, is being curated by the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, a renowned post-doctoral program for architects and city planners. Vedran Mimica, who heads the Berlage curatorial team, explains that his group wants the IABR to serve “the new generation of architects.” To this end, two of the main exhibitions are made for and by emerging architects and planners. One, Visionary Power, is a “worldwide appeal to young architects to take responsibility for the future of the city,” Mimica says, and invites 15 international young firms to contribute design proposals for cities as diverse as Sao Paulo, Ceuta, and Johannesburg. The second, International Master Class, gives architecture students the chance to design prototypical buildings for Rotterdam South, an area separated from the main city of Rotterdam by the Nieuwe Maas river. Like the outskirts of many European cities, Rotterdam South is currently blighted. But Mimica describes the neighborhood as “similar to the south bank of London in its potential for rebirth.”

The IABR is not the only biennale to focus on cities—the 2006 Venice Architectural Biennale explored a similar theme—and considering how countries such as China and India are embracing urbanism on an unprecedented scale, it is unlikely to be the last. Mimica says that Rotterdam will differentiate itself from Venice through the content of its exhibitions. “Venice was concerned with the statistics and data of the megacity,” he says. “At the IABR we would like to go beyond exposing the phenomena to talk about designing and developing the cities.” As Rotterdam was practically rebuilt from scratch following World War II, it provides an excellent backdrop for the discussion.

This year’s biennale is being held at Rotterdam’s Kunsthal, designed by local firm Office of Metropolitan Architects, and at the Jo Coenen-designed Netherlands Architecture Institute. These buildings are also sites of exhibitions for a larger, citywide festival called “Rotterdam 2007: City of Architecture,” of which the IABR is just one small part. This yearlong event, sponsored by the city and international corporations, includes a competition open to build follies in a dockyards district, an exhibition on Le Corbusier; panel discussions bicycle tours of Rotterdam’s architecture.

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