Venice Biennale Sneak Peek: Impostor Cities

The 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale—postponed from 2020—is posting sneak peaks of its national pavilions, a highlight of the exhibition.

Canadian cities often appear in movies, but standing in for other places.

The official Canadian representation to the Biennale, Impostor Cities, examines how Canadian cities stand in for other places in movies. It is curated by McGill professor David Theodore and Montreal-based T B A / Thomas Balaban Architect.

“You can almost say that in Canada, the measure of success of any piece of architecture is how badly movies want to make it look like the States,” says Douglas Coupland, who is interviewed as part of the two-minute video sneak peek.

“Canada’s architecture is film-famous but unlike Paris, New York, London, or Rio de Janeiro, our cities rarely play themselves in film and television. Toronto stands in for Tokyo, for example, while Vancouver and Montreal masquerade as Moscow, Paris, and New York,” write the curators.

“Impostor Cities is an international exhibition that seeks to repatriate our architecture and celebrate the legacy of over a half-century of Canada’s most renowned architectural doubles. Impostor Cities also introduces a playful yet pointed counter-proposition to the popular image of our national identity by investigating why Canada’s buildings are so good at doubling as elsewhereHow do we think about authenticity and identity in an age where artifice in media becomes indistinguishable from reality? Impostor Cities digs deep to examine how this artifice has shaped our buildings and spaces as it has our culture and politics; our understanding of the past, the design of our present and how we imagine our future environments.”


The exhibition will wrap the newly renovated Canada Pavilion in green fabric, then use green screen technology online and on-camera to transform it into iconic Canadian buildings.  Inside the pavilion, an interactive multi-screen video installation will combine supercuts of film footage and an interactive library of the real buildings, explaining how fictional worlds rely on real cities.

The project brings in a variety of collaborators from Canada’s film world.

Impostor Cities highlights the importance of architecture, Canadian architecture in particular, and the role it has quietly played in shaping the world’s cultural narratives through film,” write the curators.

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the world’s most prestigious international art and architecture exhibition. With over 85 national participants and an attendance of 275,000 visitors, the Architecture Biennale has grown into a must-see flagship event. Held every two years, it is often referred to as the “Olympics for Architecture” due to the international nature of the event and the ability to draw top competitors from around the globe.

The 17th International Architecture Exhibition will run from May 22 to November 21 2021, and is curated by architect and scholar Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT. The theme of the Biennale is How Will We Live Together?  “The world is putting new challenges in front of architecture,” says Sarkis, whose curation works with architects from around the world “to imagine together how we are going to rise to these challenges.”

To learn more about Impostor Cities and to support the project, visit the Imposter Cities website.