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06.25.2008
Editorial: Into the Open
U.S. pavilion at 11th Venice Biennale documents what happens when architects think well beyond the confines of four walls

The urge to take architecture beyond buildings is aspirational, timely, and increasingly unavoidable. Sure, thinking outside the traditional four walls makes sense as a business model in today’s flagging bricks-and-mortar economy. And then there’s the need to rethink our constant depletion of ever scarcer materials in the service of buildings with their own shrinking life spans. If architects are no longer building for the ages, what does it mean to build for a season, or not at all?

And so it seemed to make perfect sense when it was announced that the theme of the 11th Architecture Biennale in Venice, due to open on September 14, was Out There: Beyond Building. Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Museum and a longtime champion of the new next thing, is planning a multi-media blitz where architecture, he said, “is a way of representing, shaping, and perhaps even offering critical alternatives to the human-made environment.” The early word is that Betsky’s notion could translate into a variety of showstoppers at the biennale, from interactive movie walls to on-site espresso made from water piped in from the Grand Canal.

Yet there are other “critical alternatives” for architects that focus more on the street-level situations that alter everyday life. To explore the ways that architects are working well beyond the construction of four walls, AN has joined with a group of architects, academics, and designers to create an exhibition for the U.S. pavilion at the biennale. Called Into the Open: Positioning Practice, the exhibition’s aim is to document an emerging but widespread effort, a kind of social regionalism, that ranges from exploring what it means to live literally on the border to the socializing implications of something so simple as a kitchen garden or mapping the correlation between drug use and housing.

Some of the work to be included in the show will be as familiar as the community-based projects of Rural Studio and the border-crossing provocations of Teddy Cruz. Others are environmentally savvy offshoots of past design-build movements or research-heavy urban laboratories that translate data into calls for action. Still others reflect an artist’s awareness of the subtle atmospheric shifts that can lead to major realignments in urban environments, as in the work of the Brooklyn-based Center for Urban Pedagogy or the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

Some 15 groups from across the nation will be part of Into the Open. Together they paint a heartening portrait of a new generation of architects eager to seize an active role in shaping the world—not merely with bricks and mortar but with open minds as well.

Julie V. Iovine