Workmen carry a frame panel for a Puutalo house in northern Colombia, where some 1,500 houses were constructed from 1955 to 1957. These Puutalo homes can still be found throughout the Simón Bolívar neighborhood of Barranquilla today. pic.twitter.com/oIjM1yjU2c— NEW STANDARDS (@VeniceArchFIN) December 20, 2019
Posts tagged with "Venice Architecture Biennale":
The little-known history of Finnish prefabricated timber housing will be on display in the Finnish Pavilion at next year's Venice Biennale. Archinfo Finland, the organization charged with populating the country's exhibition, announced last month that New Standards, curated by Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell, and Kristo Vesikansa, will explore the Puutalo housing model as part of the 2020 event's theme: How will we live together? Based on a design conceived during the 1940 internal refugee crisis in Finland when 11 percent of people were displaced from their homes, the showcase will highlight the Puutalo consortium, made up of the country’s timber manufacturers, which rejected temporary refugee camps in favor of thoughtful, livable housing designed by major mid-century Finnish architects. The Finnish design proved popular enough to be brought to over 50 countries through 1956, totaling 300,000 homes internationally, many of which are still in use today. The American-Finnish curators, a trio of post-doctoral researchers, lecturers, and architects from Aalto University (located near Helsinki), have linked the pavilion's theme with the biennale's overall focus on confronting the issues of economic and social inequity presented in an unprecedentedly multicultural and interconnected world. With New Standards, they aim to show that the Puutalo housing model is more relevant than ever as many parts of the world look to the Nordic tradition of strong social welfare as global refugee populations continue to increase. “Factory-built timber housing is an area of huge interest for architects looking to solve the question of how we can build quickly and economically, without sacrificing quality or causing further damage to the environment,” said Hanna Harris, director of Archinfo Finland and commissioner of the Finnish Pavilion in a statement. “Hashim Sarkis has asked the participants in the Biennale Architettura 2020 to consider how we will live together," she said. "Finland’s experience of Puutalo housing is of a low-impact, long-lasting, sustainable and well-loved solution. It offers the world an example of mass-produced family housing that is an alternative to grand projects, demonstrating how individual identity can be celebrated in the context of standardization, as well as a validation that design can improve people’s lives.”
Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are slated to co-curate the U.S. Pavilion for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale next year. The U.S. Department of State announced this weekend that the duo intends to recontextualize the 1930-era U.S. Pavilion building in a new work entitled AMERICAN FRAMING. Ninety years ago, architects William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich served as the chosen organizers of the U.S. Pavilion for the 1930 edition of the international festival. Together they designed the now-famous neo-Palladian building that has long-housed the American exhibition, with its signature entry rotunda and two wings holding four galleries. In response to artistic director Hashim Sarkis’ main theme for the 2020 showcase, How will we live together?, Andersen and Preissner aim to build out a similarly bold inner pavilion that represents the ubiquitous wood-framed domestic architecture across modern America. Their vision for AMERICAN FRAMING will explore the “conditions and consequences” of wood-framed construction in the United States’ building economy.
Both curators have extensive backgrounds in practice as well as teaching and curating. Andersen is the founder of the Denver-based studio Independent Architecture and a clinical associate professor at UIC. He previously served as guest curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver and at the Biennial of the Americas. Preissner is currently teaching at Columbia University’s GSAPP this fall but regularly works as an associate professor at UIC as well. In Chicago, Preissner dually operates his eponymous Chicago firm, Paul Preissner Architects. Andersen and Preissner have collaborated together before, most recently on an installation at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennale entitled Five Rooms, comprised of freestanding, glazed-tile walls. The Venice Architecture Biennale will run from May 23, 2020, through November 29, 2020.View this post on Instagram
The German Federal Ministry of Interior, Building and Community has announced the curatorial team for the German Pavilion for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2020, which will take place May 23 through November 29. Following the recommendation of a jury chaired by Peter Cachola Schmal, director of the German Museum of Architecture, the ministry has selected team “2038” to move forward with their concept of how we'll live in the next decade. The concept is described as a “review from the future,” in which society looks back from the year 2038, “because everything ended up okay,” according to the curators. In this speculative view of the future, architects helped build success by answering “the great questions of our time” and standing up for the “common good” by focusing on systemic solutions. The concept is expected to be presented in detail in early 2020. The team consists of curators Arno Brandlhuber, Olaf Grawert, Nikolaus Hirsch, and Christopher Roth, and was chosen due to the project’s “representation of future-oriented solutions for relevant social, ecological and economic problems,” according to Anne Katrin Bohle, Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Interior. But with the announcement of the German Pavilion, it leaves us on this side of the world wondering, when will the United States reveal their selection? A source familiar with the bureau at the U.S. Department of State that manages the biennale selection alongside the National Endowment for the Arts told AN that the lack of information on such matters could possibly be related to the backlog in issuing grants as a result of the last government shutdown. While the United States government has gradually increased the amount of financial support given to presenters up to $325,000 (including $125,000 to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice), it is stated in U.S. Dept. of State application documents that “Past experiences have shown that the overall cost of mounting an exhibition of this scale is considerably higher than actual U.S. Government funding that can be provided through this grant.” Organizers could expect the need to raise up to another $700,000 to complete a successful bid. With the Venice Architecture Biennale only seven months away, given the amount of time and effort such fundraising requires, the indecision on announcing the selection is hardly fair to the organizers, and mounting a pavilion on such short notice could prove to be an impossible task.
According to Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, a Dutch author and architectural historian, constructing Auschwitz was “the greatest crime ever committed by architects.” Known for his work in what he coined as “architectural forensics,” van Pelt famously testified in the landmark libel case filed in Britain’s High Court of Justice in 2000, David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt. The evidence he gathered by studying the efficacy in the design of both the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau helped prove that the infamous concentration camp was intentionally designed by German architects to systematically kill over one million Jews during World War II. In tandem, it denounced the British Holocaust denier who filed the complaint and secured the widely-held belief that the horrific human massacre had actually happened. That trial inspired van Pelt to tell the story in his 2002 book, The Case for Auschwitz, which became the basis of a special exhibition commissioned for the 15th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016. That seminal show, The Evidence Room, is now on view for the first time in the U.S. at the Hirshhorn National Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washingon, D.C. The exhibition depicts van Pelt’s body of proof in the sculptural form of 65 wall-mounted plaster casts that replicate the blueprints, bills, survivor’s drawings, photographs, and artifacts he acquired on the construction and operation of Auschwitz from 1941 to 1943. The ghostly, all-white installation also utilizes materials such as steel and wood and features three, full-scale building elements, dubbed “monuments,” that were part of the original killing rooms at Auschwitz. There’s a gas chamber door, which notably hinges outward and proves that architects revised the entryways of the on-site morgues to become gas chambers. There’s also a wall hatch and ladder, which guards climbed to throw the cyanide gas down into the chambers. Lastly, on view is a floor-to-ceiling gas column through which the deadly pesticide Zyklon B was routed down into the two underground chambers. Though Nazis blew up the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other concentration camps in an effort to destroy evidence of the Holocaust at the end of WWII, van Pelt’s archival documents from the trial argue the truth of these atrocities point-blank: that the architecture was predetermined for mass killing. The Evidence Room is an immersive experience originally designed three years ago by van Pelt and his colleagues at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, including Donald McKay, Anne Bordeleau, and Sascha Hastings. This iteration of the installation was organized by the Hirshhorn’s assistant curator Betsy Johnson, in collaboration with The Evidence Room Foundation, a new nonprofit that will maintain and fund the exhibition. The version of the show at the Hirshhorn will run through September 8.
How will we live together? That’s the seemingly simple, yet poignant, question posed by Hashim Sarkis, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning and curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, and also the title of the show set to start next May. Though it’s nearly a year away, Sarkis announced that it’s time for architects to think about their role in creating a new, collective "spatial contract"—one that is inclusive and addresses two of the most pressing needs in both advanced and emerging economies today: social housing and urban connectivity. “We need a new spatial contract,” Sarkis said in a statement. “In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together: together as human beings who, despite our increasing individuality, yearn to connect with one another and with other species across digital and real space; together as new households looking for more diverse and dignified spaces for inhabitation…and together as a planet facing crisis that require global action for us to continue living at all.” In order to build societies where we can successfully live together, according to Sarkis, architects need to engage with and enlist the expertise of those outside the design profession, such as artists, politicians, builders, social scientists, and journalists. Everyday citizens are also key to designing spaces that are truly for all people. National participants of the 2020 Biennale will be asked to introduce creative solutions made in tandem with these other stakeholders. Architects will act as both a “cordial convener and custodian of the spatial contract” in the execution of these projects, as well as in the real world. Paolo Baratta, president of the Venice Architecture Biennale, said this way of thinking and of curating the summer design event has been slowly building over the last few years. “The Biennale Architettura 2018 has brought our attention on free space,” he said, “an essential element of our living that has been omitted in so many recent developments. With Hashim Sarkis we will try to expand our horizon to all these issues raised by our living together. Living together means first and foremost awareness of [the] potential crisis and old and new problems that do not get appropriate solutions, nor often appropriate attention, in the spontaneous development of our economies and societies and that require enhanced attention and an extensive and courageous planning capacity.” The purpose of the biennale is to help unify contributing countries around the new spatial contract charged by Sarkis. Since 2020 is considered by some to be a milestone year, it’s imperative, said Sarkis, that architects look to the collective imagination of leaders across every profession to prepare for the occasion. Starting May 23rd, 2020, the National Participants of the biennale will showcase their own work in the individual Pavilions located at the Giardini and the Arsenale. A series of Collateral Events, presented by international institutions, will also be held in Venice alongside the exhibition through November 29, 2020. Interestingly enough, no information on what the U.S. will be contributing in 2020 has been released as of yet. While the design team for the American Pavilion has, in the past, been chosen in May of the year before the Biennale, the State Department waited until September 2017 to release their choice for the 16th Biennale.
In the post-truth age, the effective and public display of meticulously researched data is a welcome change. The Americas Society's Walls of Air exhibition is an instructive and concise mapping of the trends of urbanism, environmentalism, and economic relations, amongst many other subjects. Four Brazilian and Mexican architects curated the exhibition: Sol Camacho, Laura González Fierro, Marcello Maia Rosa, and Gabriel Kozlowski. The Americas Society’s gallery is located on the ground floor of McKim, Mead & White’s Neo-Federal 680 Park Avenue on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The gallery, in contrast to the grandeur of the turn-of-the-century mansion, is relatively stark and divided into three rectilinear spaces. The show's curatorial medium du jour are large format, ten-foot-by-ten-foot UV prints on aluminum composite material, mounted on aluminum frames. The panels are supplemented with video interviews with project researchers. The exhibition was originally displayed in 2018 at the Brazilian Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale and began as a research project to examine and discuss the visible and non-visible walls or barriers that make up contemporary Brazil. It is immediately apparent from viewing the cartographic drawings the exhaustive level of research undertaken to produce them. The curators partnered with a multidisciplinary team with particular expertise on the subject matter for each panel. In total, over 200 professionals, ranging from the fields of social sciences to the visual arts, aided in the project's collaborative research. This data, in some circumstances Excel sheets with over a million entries, was then visualized with a broad toolbox of software including GIS, Rhino, and Illustrator. Visually, the Brazil displayed throughout the exhibition is not bounded by national frontiers, but placed amid a fluid web of global and regional forces. Deforestation, a trend reshaping the Amazon basin, is presented as a continental issue stretching from the Andes to the river deltas on the coast of the Atlantic. Land stripped bare to the west effectively reduces the level of humidity and rainfall in other places, such as northeastern Brazil—in effect, the policies of one locality catastrophically spin outwards across the ecosystem and impact the surrounding region. A particularly well-documented aspect in Walls of Air is the mapping of commodity flows, immigrant migration, and the geography of the country's real estate market. Lines of increasing width are color-coded to specify the material harvested—bearing a fair resemblance to Charles Minard's map of Napoleon's Russian Campaign—and drive from the Brazilian hinterland to the primary trade ports in the country's southeast. The destination of each type of commodity, its monetary value, and the nation's imports are neatly placed on the side margins of the print. When juxtaposed with the concentration of real estate value in the country's southeast and the destination of immigrant groups within the primary economic centers, one can tease out the prevailing socioeconomic contours of Brazil and the geographic inequalities therein. Walls of Air concludes with an analysis of the Brazilian city in history and the present day. Beginning with Portuguese colonization in the 16th century, the curators mark every single city founded within the country since and the maritime routes that fed them. The subject is expanded upon further with the analysis of post-war urban planning, maps of manmade modifications to metropolitan topography, and data focused on acts of insurrection.
Walls of Air: The Brazilian Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale Americas Society 680 Park Avenue New York, New York Through August 3, 2019
On the blacked-out front door of Ludlow 38, the Goethe Institute’s downtown outpost, is a plaque. In simple, sans serif, white letters it says: "THIS GALLERY CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGERY. PARENT/ADULT DISCRETION IS ADVISED." Open the door and even before you cross the threshold you’ll hear moaning. Or at least I did. I suppose timing matters—not every moment of what turns out to be Shu Lea Cheang’s 2001 video I.K.U. - I robosex has moaning. Inside, with the windows blacked out and the overhead lamps turned off, purple LED strips hidden behind walls provide the only light in the gallery, and it’s hard to make things out clearly. It hardly feels like an art exhibition but there is still a gallery attendant at the front desk, which reminds you that you do have to behave. This is Cruising Pavilion, New York, the second of three iterations of the architectural exploration of gay sex and cruising originally presented to coincide with the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and created and curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos, Rasmus Myrup, Octave Perrault, and Charles Teyssou, and produced along with the Ludlow 38 curator, Franziska Sophie Wildförster. The third, and perhaps final, Cruising Pavilion will go up in Stockholm this fall. A friend and I often remark that there are no real gay bars on the east side below Delancey—or even below Houston, really—where we actually live and spend most of our time. The area is not and has never really been known as an epicenter of gay culture, the way the Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and, as unbelievable as it may be now, Times Square have been. As far as I know, there are no regularly operating backrooms, like those you can still find in the East Village, though I’m sure there are some private spaces where people have their share of fun. Even still, those rooms-behind-the-curtain have diminished—along with the theaters, the bathhouses, and certainly the piers—all things well before my time, my time being mostly post-Grindr and long after the first rounds of the mass sanitation of New York City. The powerwashing of our streets with money and moralism continues, as if there were anything less pornographic than New York’s extravagantly boring displays of wealth. There are few things more obscene and less stimulating than the recently opened Hudson Yards. Financial hedonism rarely breeds originality, and if cash is what gets you off, it’s probably because you’re bad in bed. At the opening, the exhibition did remind me a bit of moving about backrooms—bodies bouncing like so many pinballs, everything homogenizing into a swarm—but here I was less drunk and more clothed, and, of course, there was the fear, my fear, of damaging the art (some were less cautious—outside the show someone told me a bit of plexiglass had fallen victim to an errant elbow). Inside, I saw friends, former lovers, and former one night stands. Somebody told me there were poppers in the fog machine. I’m not sure if that’s true, nor if that’s safe, but either way the impression that there could’ve been some speaks to a sense of sensuality, danger, and seediness rarely seen in architecture exhibition. Like museums and galleries, sex and chemicals promise a trip to somewhere else. Perhaps the fog should remind us of the steam of the Continental Baths, long gone, which the curators cite in their release. The Cruising Pavilion highlights the historical entanglements of what the curators call "conflictual architectures." It mines the ineluctably intertwined histories of policing, neoliberalization, right-wing moralism, homonormalization, gentrification, the AIDS crisis, and so on, to map the real past and the gaps of the present, acting as a cartography of possibilities for the queer (mis)use of space. The exhibition is a blueprint towards performances of sexual dissidence, exposing the erotic potentials lurking in hidden dark corners, or maybe even out in the open, should you only try to catch someone—or be caught—in the act. A radical reframing of the notion of "architecture," Cruising Pavilion and the artists and architects it features interrogate sex and sexuality as a way of re- and dis-figuring buildings and cities the world over. Cruising, beyond being a sexual practice, is a spatial one—a phenomenological perversion that uses vision and touch to establish a set of relationships not just between individuals, but between individuals and the spaces they move through. Queer space is produced by its users as much if not more so than by its owners and architects. Sexuality is not just decoration, though it is that too, but, as Cruising Pavilion proposes, sex is a constitutive act of architecture. Museums and galleries make themselves by making rules. They regulate where bodies go, how close and how far from objects you can get, what you can and can’t touch (in general, you can’t touch much of anything). At the Cruising Pavilion it still probably isn’t advisable to touch (it is, after all, an art show) and I doubt getting it on is officially condoned. But for those compelled by the at-once exhibitionist and elusive acts of public sex or furtive hookups, isn’t breaking the rules part of the fun? But the fog and the psychedelic lush of lights evoke another space: The club. Of course, the club, too, can be sanitized and the curators point out the “de-sexualization of disco and house music and their mutations into the official anthem of ‘happy globalization.’” The neoliberal city, like Epcot, sounds better with a soundtrack. The point of the club was and is being together, increasingly important in the AirPod era. It’s hard not to think of the recent closing of the Dreamhouse, itself a veritable ad hoc architectural carnival, home to artist studios and to Spectrum, the favorite after-hours haunt of New York City’s artists, designers, DJs—weirdos and queerdos who came together to dance and talk and screw well past sunrise. One could presumably go to the gallery on drugs, but you’d still have to watch how you acted, lest you be kicked out. Perhaps the biggest queering of space is the simultaneous sensory overload and denial, the ocular S&M that plays out, at once enticing you and denying you. You can’t touch and you can’t see, but boy do you want to. This exhibition’s a tease, which is to say, it—like all art—is about desire and discipline. Cruising Pavilion Ludlow 38 New York, New York Through April 7
While the U.K. parliament was voting down their prime minister’s Brexit deal with the E.U., London’s architecture world crowded into the Art Deco Jarvis Hall of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Ignoring the overheated political debacle taking place a mile away, they went there instead to celebrate the homecoming of Níall McLaughlin’s 2018 Venice Biennale model. The event was sold out and the institution’s Facebook page showed individuals begging for tickets as if for a music or sports event. But people did not just come to see this installation that will be on display from January 10 to 28—they came to hear Níall speak to them of architecture, culture, nature, and light. He is a storyteller: the poetics of his language seeping into his architecture and vice versa, infusing each other within a reciprocal process. The "Presences" installation now on display in RIBA’s Florence Hall in a large and beautifully crafted circular table that can rotate. It is devised as a gigantic horizontal sundial and the models of McLaughlin’s buildings sit atop a reflective blue expanse imprinted with constellations of stars. Surrounding this are inscriptions of the yearly rhythms as a calendar of activities that are performed in cyclical repetition within these buildings like a medieval Book of Hours. The sun is simulated from a structure above to which lights are attached and as the visitors crank the massive wooden mechanism, the models that sit on top of what could be read as either an inverted celestial expanse or a dark blue sea, are flooded with the undulating light of a rising and setting sun. The models are all made of blond wood as skeletal abstractions of their different functions and locations: The Garden Theatre in Oxford’s Worcester College and a Song School in Cambridge’s Trinity Hall, a teaching chapel in Ripon College in Cuddesdon, a new castle hall for Bishop Auckland with its watchtower inspired by a wooden bulwark, the Rugby Veterans’ Hall in Limerick, and finally a fish-and-chip shop on the Deal Pier. These designs crisscross the British Isles, representing their cultures in beautiful diversity. What they have in common is that they are all spaces of community and congregation. McLaughlin has treated each with the same sensitivity, learning from the complexities of the individual sites, their people, histories, and geographical idiosyncrasies, not shirking from this challenge but instead drawing inspiration from them. This is site-specific architecture at its best. The problem with exhibitions is that they only last for a short time and then are gone. At the Venice Biennale this model stood in the Arsenale as a temporary spectacle of learning and inspiration. Now back in London we can see it for ourselves for the next few weeks, but what then? Where will this elegiac creature telling through architecture stories about the cycles of civilization and identity finally be allowed to call home?
The board of the Venice Biennale and President Paolo Baratta have chosen Hashim Sarkis as the curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. Sarkis, the dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning since 2015 and the principal of Hashim Sarkis Studios, is no stranger to the Biennale’s workings. In 2016 he served as a member of the festival’s international jury and contributed to the United States’ pavilion in 2014 and Albania’s pavilion in 2010. “The world is putting new challenges in front of architecture,” said Sarkis. “I look forward to working with participating architects from around the world to imagine together how we are going to rise to these challenges. Thank you President Baratta and La Biennale di Venezia team for providing architecture this important platform. I am both honored and humbled.” “We have appointed the Curator of the next Biennale Architettura 2020,” added Baratta, “within the timeframe needed for organizing the Exhibition and in respect of the norms which govern La Biennale. With Hashim Sarkis, La Biennale has provided itself with a Curator who is particularly aware of the topics and criticalities which the various contrasting realities of today's society pose for our living space”. The final dates of the 17th Biennale were also set: the festival will run from May 23, 2020, through November 29, 2020, with pre-opening events on May 21 and 22. The 2018 Biennale, co-curated by Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell and themed Freespace, saw a slew of exciting developments. The Holy See presented ten chapels, a chunk of Robin Hood Gardens made a cameo, and an impromptu protest broke out over the role of women in architecture.
The seven installations that comprised the United States's entry to the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale will make their stateside debut on February 15 in Chicago. Dimensions of Citizenship: Architecture and Belonging from the Body to the Cosmos, a series of works exploring how architecture and design respond to citizenship, will be on view for the first time outside of the Biennale at Wrightwood 659, Pritzker Prize–winner Tadao Ando’s new concrete and light-filled adaptation of a 1920s Lincoln Park apartment building. Created by transdisciplinary teams of designers, artists, and architects, the installations focus on the architectural implications of citizenship. Themes include migration, landscape, borderlands, the right to public space, the interpretation of civic monuments, and the meaning of home. The work explores these concepts through seven spatial scales: Citizen, Civitas, Region, Nation, Globe, Network, and Cosmos. The sixteenth Venice Architecture Biennale, titled FREESPACE, included seventy-one international participants and ran in Venice from May 26 to November 25. The exhibition was commissioned by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the University of Chicago (UChicago) on behalf of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Chicago makes a strong showing among Dimensions of Citizenship’s collaborators, including curators Ann Lui, principal of Future Firm and assistant professor in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects at SAIC, and Niall Atkinson, associate professor at UChicago, with co-curator Iker Gil, director of MAS Studio, also of SAIC. Mimi Zeiger, independent critic, editor, curator, and educator rounds out the curatorial team. The seven individual teams are SCAPE; Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman; Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan, Robert Gerard Pietrusko with Columbia Center for Spatial Research; Keller Easterling with MANY; and Design Earth. There is a Chicago presence among the teams as well, in Studio Gang, and Amanda Williams + Andres L. Hernandes in collaboration with artist Shani Crowe. On display From February 15 through April 27, 2019, Dimensions of Citizenship is the second public exhibition at Wrightwood 659, a new space devoted to exhibitions of architecture and socially engaged art made possible by Alphawood Foundation Chicago. The exhibition follows Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture, closing December 15.
The 16th Venice Architecture Biennale closed its doors on Sunday, November 25, ending a successful year for the prestigious design exhibition. According to a statement from the biennale's organizers, over 275,000 people visited the show and half of those visitors were under the age of 26. The event's curators for 2018, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, said in a statement that the show left them "with a deep sense of optimism for the future, in the knowledge that within these satellites of cultural energy which each participant represented, there are outstanding architects promoting and producing architecture." This year's theme was FREESPACE, which, according to Farrell and McNamara, was meant to "celebrate the shared culture of architecture, demonstrating how inventive, comforting, exhilarating, modest, heroic architecture can be; how architecture serves the needs of human beings with dignity and respect be it the need for shelter, for water, for protection from flooding; how materials can be transformed into beautiful uplifting spaces; how architecture can bring people together and serve communities; how architecture can transform waste leftover spaces into public space." Seventy-one architects were invited to this year's show, and 63 nations participated, 6 of which (Antigua & Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Holy See) did so for the first time. The show takes place every other year in the historic Giardini Pavilions and Arsenale in Venice, Italy.
The most cogent critique of Freespace, the current Venice Architecture Biennale, is that it fails to recognize the degree to which contemporary urban space is a result of digital technology and computation. The curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, are practicing architects who wanted their Biennale to return to the basic principles of spatial design and what they consider “the generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda.” There is nothing wrong with this sentiment, but it meant they chose to focus on individual projects and not their means of production. The pair focused on craft; social, political, and technological “demand”; and featured figures and groups like Amateur Architecture Studio (Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu), Cino Zucchi, the Dutch architecture historian collective Crimson, Dorte Mandrup, Sigurd Lewerentz, and the British group Assemble. The results add up to a thoughtful and unique perspective on today’s architecture, but there is little doubt that it bypasses the “digital.” This direction infuriated those who believe that only a focus on digital production is an authentic summary of today’s architecture. For these critics, the results are old-fashioned and no longer offer a relevant analysis or typology, but a “purely phenomenological formal, material, or tectonic understanding of architecture,” in the words of Alessandro Bava. This digital versus demand formulation of architecture is not just a generational divide but represents a profound difference between an architecture grounded in an expression of the digital and one that primarily seeks to respond to site, program, function, and reception. In The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence, Mario Carpo describes the importance of the first digital turn of “mass customization” as one of the most important architecture inventions of all time because it “changed—or at least subverted, upended, and disrupted—almost every aspect of the world.” He sees an unintended benefit of mass customization, the possibility to change the notion of detail and form that has remained constant since Leon Battista Alberti toward the possibility of an “infinite number of variations” for the designing architect. He believes that modern classicism “continues to stifle technological innovation in building,” (even the golden age of modernism was a “retardataire phenomenon”) and this new technology offers a way forward to a new relationship, or, as Christopher Alexander would say, a new “pattern” of parts to the whole. In the 1990s, as Carpo wrote, the “first turn” saw “the best architects adopting and embracing digital change sooner than any other trade” and established the basis for the second wave, in which the avant-garde uses “Big Data and computation to engage somehow the messy discreteness of nature.” But this first wave, as we know, created a new architectural style of “smooth and curving spliny lines and surfaces” that, despite the potential possibility of first-wave, open-source collaboration and a return to medieval-style authorship, led to something else totally predictable. A new style, parametricism, took over and continues to this day, “with ever-increasing degrees of technical mastery and prowess. Ideas and forms that twenty years ago were championed by a handful of digital forms engender architectural masterpieces at a gigantic, almost planetary scale.” This planetary architecture, perhaps because of the high cost of design and construction of the complex forms it can produce, has become, counterintuitively to the claims of many theorists, a truly corporate style of design for the 1 percent and corporations. It should then come as no surprise that many of today’s younger architects are looking for a different kind of architecture and that many of the brightest are returning to the postmodernism of the 1980s. In this way, the current generation are like the designers of the first Venice Architecture Biennale’s Strada Novissima, who nearly 40 years ago looked for an alternate model to the modernism that they believed was destroying the historic layered fabric of our urban settlements. Though this style is still fraught with the problems (primary authorship, individuality, and history as a precedent) that brought it to an end in the 1990s, its reemergence is an authentic and important shot across the bow to technologists like Carpo, who are apoplectic at its return. It is an important attempt to find a way out for the profession, which all too often focuses on neoliberal, avant-garde experiments to the exclusion of real-world problems that daily become more urgent for everyone.