In Venice today, there is much less energy then last year’s Biennale. There was much hype around Rem Koolhaas and his ambitious, almost spectacular direction. Today, Aravena’s understated energy is seen throughout the exhibitions and programming. We got a first look inside the main exhibition at the Central Pavilion.
The projects presented are a mixture of research and practice, loosely categorized under a social agenda. The curators gathered a group of very beautiful projects, which oscillate between scrappy and high design, but most are executed well. The majority of projects are not just about framing a condition or local solution, but they also present a design response to it.
The first thing visitors see when entering the Central pavilion is a huge masonry arch by Solano Benitez. These brick are arranged using simple formworks made by “unqualified laborers” in Paraguay. Two masons on a cherry picker completed the project, which “turns scarcity into abundance,” allowing us to urbanize cities faster and cheaper.
Simon Velez’s bamboo structures have taken him years of battling logistics and code issues. His use of the highly sustainable material is documented alongside models of these buildings. Across the room is an installation by Vietnamese architect Vo Trang Nghia; he’s is bringing plants and agriculture to Ho Chi Mihn City, whose urban landscape has less greenspace than most large cities in the world.
The projects in the pavilion are all very beautiful, but it remains to be seen what will come of this collection. Some of the works seem to be more of an aesthetic project than a social one, while others are very much political. Does that make the whole show an aesthetic project? If this is an agenda-based show, are we to learn from it? Is it about appreciating the novelty of some of these projects, or is it about taking the concepts and techniques with us? Will architects listen?