Mirko Zardini Steps Down at the CCA

John Hill
11. September 2019
Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini (Photo: Richmond Lam)

The Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal has announced that Mirko Zardini, director of the CCA for nearly 15 years, will step down from his post as CCA director at the end of the year, with Giovanna Borasi assuming the position.

Zardini was appointed director of the CCA in 2005 after two years there as a curator, meaning he has been at the CCA for nearly half its existence. Founded by Phyllis Lambert in 1979, the 40-year-old CCA is one of the most respected architectural institutions in the world, with a huge collection of architectural drawings, models, and other output; thought-provoking exhibitions on a diverse range of subjects related to the built environment; and an extensive digital platform via its website.

Under Zardini's direction, the CCA greatly expanded its collection through the donated archives of Kenneth Frampton, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Alvaro Siza, and others, expanded its website, and mounted numerous memorable and influential exhibitions, including 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas (2007), Actions: What You Can Do With the City (2008), Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture (2011), Archaeology of the Digital (2014), and The Other Architect (2015).

Borasi has been a curator at CCA since 2005 and chief curator since 2014. She worked with Zardini on most of the above exhibitions and is a logical choice for building on Zardini's successful tenure. CCA trustee Bruce Kuwabara said about Borasi in a statement, "The CCA will continue to grow its intellectual field, building on the critical excellence and impact that has been developed under [Zardini's] directorship ... I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with our next director ... who has been integral to the curatorial vision of the CCA..." Borasi assumes the directorship in January 2020. 

Giovanna Borasi, Phyllis Lambert, and Mirko Zardini (Photo: Richmond Lam)
Zardini participated in our 2013 Insight feature, "Making Architecture Public," which surveyed some international institutions about exhibiting architecture. His thoughtful responses to our boilerplate questions are provided below, evidence of his intellect and the work he and his team carried out at the CCA.
Why do you exhibit architecture? What do you hope to accomplish through your architectural exhibitions and other programs?

In recent years and in response to the problems posed by contemporary “crises” – from environmental to the social, from the energy to the economical – the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) has sought to contribute more actively to the debate and discourse on architecture and the built environment. This particular historical moment calls for a different idea and approach towards curating and, certainly, a different definition of the role of museums and research centers.

Given this premise, we have decided to question and re-examine the assumptions on which architects operate today and to rethink the roles and responsibilities of the design disciplines and the boundaries of their fields of study. The CCA engages curatorial practice as a way of producing and commenting on ideas on architecture and introducing new forms of dialogue between architects, landscape designers, and urban designers and planners.

How do you determine what is relevant for exhibitions and other programs?

The transformation of exhibitions into means of exploration of specific themes and emerging problems – and the consequent abandonment of solely monographic shows – has been one of the CCA’s many responses to frame and study contemporary issues. Through this thematic take, we have been able to address ideas and projects from within the specific contexts under which they were or are being produced.

Through the careful selection of topics and themes, we argue that an exhibition, or a series of exhibitions, can initiate and contribute to contemporary discussions around subjects that we think are urgent and crucial. Ideas on perception, landscape, ecology, energy, lifestyle, activism, migrations, future, progress, health, have all found their way into the CCA’s exhibitions and have created a relevant constellation of thematic explorations. Exhibitions also allow us to investigate a "grey zone" at the crossroads of contemporary culture, contemporary society and contemporary architecture, and to critically expose its contradictions.

How does your space impact how you display architecture? Are you “breaking through” the confines of your space in any way? If so, how? And why?

Within this new understanding of the role of exhibitions on architecture, the design becomes an integral part of the curatorial strategy. The display contributes to the understanding of the objects and the narrative in the galleries. Likewise, during the curatorial process, it contributes to better elaborate and define the scope of a precise point of view. The design, in fact, determines the overall character and atmosphere of the exhibition and has great impact on the visitor’s readings and impressions. For every exhibition, the CCA engages in a dialogue with an architect, a graphic designer and many related experts (light designers, for example), who contribute to convey a curatorial direction to the exhibition's content and design and define the right character of the display space.

What has been your most successful exhibition(s), in terms of attendance but also in terms of their wider impact?

The thematic exhibitions - produced since the end of 2007 - have been very successful in defining the voice of the CCA within contemporary debates. The exhibition with the largest impact has probably been Actions: What You Can Do with the City, presented at the CCA (Montreal, end of 2008) and the Graham Foundation (Chicago, end of 2009). Actions was a forerunner of debates and shows elsewhere reflecting on small-scale, bottom-up interventions that instigate positive change in the urban realm; it was also accompanied by a microsite that brought nearly 100,000 visitors into the conversation. Actions is going to be presented at the São Paulo architecture biennial parallel to a new open call launched on the microsite for initiatives on how to improve the city through individual action.

What upcoming exhibitions do you have planned? And how do they relate to the above questions and concerns, if at all?

We are currently exhibiting the first phase of a three-year project on the development and use of digital tools for design conceptualization and production entitled Archaeology of the Digital. The project will result in two more exhibitions – in spring 2014 and spring 2015, featuring a total of 25 projects produced between the late 1980s and 2000 – and a series of seminars, public programs and publications. The goal of Archaeology of the Digital is to foster research on the evolution of design thinking and production in recent years, but also on how to collect, preserve and catalogue digital material and how to display it and make it available to the public and to researchers.

Alongside the development of this archaeology, we continue to investigate the role of planning in the definition of the built environment, this time focusing our attention on how the canonical vision of the modern city was superseded in Chandigarh and Casablanca by a combination of local particularities and international economic and political forces.

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