Uzbekistan’s first ever pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture spotlights the country’s mahallas — traditional neighbourhoods which are at risk of disappearing.
Titled Mahalla: Urban Rural Living, the exhibition answers the biennale’s overarching theme — “How will we live together?” — by looking back at the neighbourhoods’ ancient form of communal living. Spread across Islamic societies in Central Asia, mahallas are walled neighbourhoods that create their own autonomous community groups — a powerful contrast to the anonymity of modern megacities. Members of a mahalla are expected to look after the elderly and the poor in their area, and to intervene in cases of domestic violence.
Curated by Emanuel Christand and Christoph Gantenbein, professors of architecture and design at ETH Zurich, and founding partners of Christ & Gantenbein, the exhibition includes a model of a mahalla house, mahalla soundscapes recorded by Spanish filmmaker Carlos Casas, and photography by Dutch artist Bas Princen.
Uzbekistan still has 9,000 mahallas, each counting between 150 and 6,000 inhabitants. Yet, while some are under the threat of demolition from urban redevelopments, others are losing residents due to their lack of modern infrastructure.