Non-Extractive Architecture

Non-Extractive Architecture is a live research platform focused on rethinking the balance between the built and natural environments, the role of technology and politics in future material economies, and the responsibility of the architect as an agent of transformation.

The project sets out to examine — and redefine — the public’s expectations of the architect and architects’ expectations of themselves. What if architecture were understood first and foremost as a form of husbandry of the built and natural environments? What if we redesigned our economies to favour integration, circularity durability and social resilience through the towns and cities we build? What if the material supply chains behind environments we inhabit were visible and participatory rather than invisible and often exploitative? Non-Extractive Architecture engages individuals within and outside the field of architecture to create an open platform through which the current role of architecture can be debated, and new paths can be defined to leverage its potential as a positive force in shaping the future of the landscape.

Today, the building and construction industries are responsible for nearly 40% of the total carbon emissions produced by humanity. The hunger for non-renewable resources such as sand, water, stone and steel needed to urbanise the world at speed is irreversibly depleting entire regions, fundamentally transforming their nature into habitats incapable of supporting human and animal life. Non-Extractive Architecture is an attempt to question some of the basic assumptions underlying contemporary architectural production from a material and social perspective, rethinking the construction industry from first principles in the belief that better alternatives exist.

Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion. Curated by Space Caviar at V-A-C Zattere. Photo: Marco Cappelletti

The cover of Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion Vol.1 features a photograph by Armin Linke of the Barcelona Pavilion. This image is framed here by many questions rendering the externalities visible. Where did that stone actually come from? What is the history of its extraction? What will be there now that it is no longer there? What were the consequences of it ending up in this architectural masterpiece? Who were the bodies that moved this stone and how was their labor compensated? Non-Extractive Architecture looks to the often unseen consequences of our built environment from its design, construction, decommission. Non-extractive architecture questions the assumption that building must inevitably cause some kind of irreversible damage or depletion somewhere - preferably somewhere else - and the best we can do as architects is limit the damage done. Our goal as architects is not to limit carbon emissions - it is to come up with an idea of architecture that is not intrinsically dependent on some form of exploitation.

Research Lab

Non-Extractive Architecture Research Residency - Photo: Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi and Eugenio Schirone

Non-extractive architecture was articulated through several parallel initiatives that simultaneously activated V–A–C's Palazzo delle Zattere on multiple levels, transforming it into a research lab in which Space Caviar worked together with 11 international and multidisciplinary resident researchers who were recruited through open calls. These parallel strands of research, residences, public programs, publishing and broadcasting intertwined and overlapped throughout the year, alternating levels of intensity, and all became a part of an exhibition that took form and evolved over the course of the year.

Moving away from the model of the "star-chitect" or single figure head. We wanted to produce a collective body of research, which is focused on collecting and documenting case studies and the network of people around the world who are already working on these ideas. The palazzo became our open-door studio, in which the public could enter and witness the research process firsthand.


The exhibition is made by three main tools : the library, publishing and broadcasting stations designed by XYZ Cargo, N55/ ion Sørvin and Till Wolfer. The library contains a growing collection of essential texts on Non-Extractive Architecture – that were used by the residents during their research residency. The library incorporates a reading room and bookshelves that form a mobile library vehicle. The publishing station was used to print and prepare documents of research produced by the residents. This research printed on sheets of paper (made from an invasive species of algae) were then hung on the walls of V-A-C Zattere as the research developed. Guest experts as part of a weekly talk series contributed to the ongoing research of Non-Extractive Architecture. Research residents used the broadcasting station to conduct interviews with experts and take part in lectures. This public programme will go on to foster new interdisciplinary networks, record the results, and make them widely available. The vehicles were intentionally made as bikes to show that the tools are intended to travel beyond the palazzo as this research initiative grows.

The XYZ Cargo mobile library by N55/Ion Sørvin and Till Wolfer is used by research residents as they build an archive of case studies. Photo by Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi and Eugenio Schirone
The exhibition was updated weekly as the research grew at V–A–C's Venetian headquarters. Photo by Marco Cappelletti
The XYZ Cargo broadcasting station by N55/Ion Sørvin and Till Wolfer hosts conversations with guest experts. Photo by Marco Cappelletti
The XYZ Cargo mobile library by N55/Ion Sørvin and Till Wolfer. Photo by Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi and Eugenio Schirone

Alongside the residency research initiative, guest specialists shared new material research and conducted physical workshops within the laboratory constructed in the entrance of Palazzo delle Zattere. The workshop space was available to all residents and guests as an important testing ground for Non-Extractive materials and modeling. Physical tests moved from the laboratory into the exhibition in parallel conversation. Anything we needed for the exhibition (exhibition surfaces, material tests, etc) we built on site using found and local materials.

Non-Extractive Architecture Workshop, V-A-C Zattere Photo: Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi and Eugenio Schirone
Material samples from designers and industry leaders - many of which were developed in the on site laboratory through monthly workshops. Photo: Marco Cappelletti with Filippo Rossi and Eugenio Schirone

In 1949, UNESCO produced a traveling, portable exhibition to propagate the values and ideals enshrined in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which had been released just a year prior. It comprised an album featuring 110 annotated images printed on simple sheets of paper that illustrated seminal moments within the history of “human rights” — at the time, a novel and abstract notion — as well as instructions for their installation. Today, we’re faced with a similar problem: how to construct a vocabulary around the urgent, but unfamiliar, demands of a non-extractive architecture? Interiors Agency developed the Exhibition Schema as part of their contribution to Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion Vol.1 Inspired by historical mobile exhibitions, the exhibition will display its packing system as part of its design. The embedded logic of the exhibition is that of knowledge sharing and accessibility. In the future the exhibition is intended to be downloadable, flatpack and easily sent to partnering institutions and sites. It is an exhibition that produces more exhibitions.

UNESCO's traveling Human Rights Exhibition, 1949
Exhibition Schema, Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion Vol.1 - Interiors Agency

The Exhibition Format Editor developed by F451 (Domitille Debret and Quentin Creuzet) automates the translation of the research conducted in Palazzo delle Zattere into exhibition form, constructing in the process a vocabulary around the concept of non-extractive architecture. The content developed by the research team was organised and rendered visually by this software, and then printed and hung on the walls of V-A-C Zattere throughout the course of the project.

The results of this research, material samples, the records of the debates and conversations, and the contributions of an international network of designers, theorists, materials scientists, philosophers, planners and researchers are documented on the walls of Palazzo delle Zattere. Some of the questions the team will be asking include — How can we reduce architecture’s dependency on non-renewable resources? How can the environmental damage caused by material extraction be made evident and reduced? How can we compel the market to factor in the true long-term costs of construction, deconstruction, and material production into the construction industry’s budgeting practices? How can communities become more involved in every stage of the production of architecture, rather than just its final consumption? What kind of architecture will emerge once its primary purpose is community-building rather than the accumulation of capital? Do we really need so much concrete?

An online archive will collect the expanding and ongoing research produced as part of Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion. As the research fills the walls of Palazzo delle Zattere with content, an online archive of this work will grow in parallel. This archive will be made public so that you too can contribute to this growing archive of references, case studies, materials and landscapes towards defining non-extractive architecture. The exhibition is intended to be downloadable, printed and widely accessible.

Exhibition Format Editor - F451 (Domitille Debret and Quentin Creuzet) :
Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion. Curated by Space Caviar at V-A-C Zattere. Photo: Marco Cappelletti


Non-Extractive Architecture
21/03/2021 - 31/01/2022
V-A-C Zattere, Venice, Italy

Curators: Space Caviar: Joseph Grima, Sofia Pia Belenky, Camilo Oliveira

Residency Cycle 1: Connor Cook, Rhiarna Dhaliwal, Elisa Giuliano, Luke Jones, Artem Nikitin
Residency Cycle 2: Brenda Freitas, Katya Bryskina, Lodovica Guarnieri, Pablo Prado Serrano, Zarith Pineda

Exhibition Schema: Interiors Agency
Exhibition Format Editor: F451: Quentin Creuzet, Domitille Debret
Exhibition Display System: Lukas Wegwerth
XYZ CARGO mobile stations: N55: Ion Sørvin, Till Wolfer

Technical Partners: 3D WASP, Favini
Workshop Supervisor: Davide Tagliabue
Production Manager: Polina Filimonova
Building Manager: Daniele Visotto
Production: Antonio Moscagiuri, We Exhibit
Graphic Design: Experimental Jetset, Lyosha Kritsouk
Photography and Video: Marco Cappelletti, Kinonauts
Communications: Helen Weaver, Anna Viani, Casadorofungher Communicazione
Digital Communication: Daria Stankiewicz, Vladislav Zaytsev
Visitor Services: Verona 83
Legal: BCL Partners