Posts tagged with "Venice Architecture Biennale":
From the beginning of this project we laid out a process that enabled the architects to meet with a number of diverse community groups. These organizations included members of business improvement districts that Menking erroneously claims were excluded from the process: the Southwest Detroit Business Association, the Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit Future City, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and others too numerous to list here. From these community meetings, the architects developed programs that recognized neighborhood aspirations and then they began to work on architectural designs. (Emphases added.)Through nothing else than the magic of word substitution, we see meetings with philanthrocapitalist development groups becoming “community meetings” and “community meetings” offering revelations of “neighborhood aspirations.” Once again, the curators perform an annihilation by co-option: otherwise unrepresented “neighborhood aspirations” are here conjured up through some of the very entities that these neighborhoods are currently opposing. What is at stake in these word substitutions? We think that the stakes are high enough to qualify these substitutions as at least as “egregious” as Menking’s replacement of “concrete” with “serious.” Through rhetoric, magical thinking, and an arrogation of the right to profess upon communities to which they have no accountability, the curators place themselves and their project in the position of giving voice to a supposedly voiceless citizenry, a citizenry otherwise unable to contend with the socio-political situation in which they find themselves. Consider, then, these lofty words from the curators’ “Response”:
By putting architectural ideas and forms on the table for Detroit, The Architectural Imagination gives the city’s residents access to a high level of architectural design and language. This access empowers citizens to engage in discussions about the city’s future direction before that direction is decided by existing power structures.In staging an exhibition of speculative architectural projects as a gift of “a high level of architectural design and language” to Detroit’s residents, we hear the echo of civilizing missions whose colonial authority is cast as educative and morally uplifting; in the claim that the exhibition of these projects “empowers citizens,” we see the imagination of an abject citizenry with no capacity to empower themselves; in the notion that “the city’s future direction” has not yet been decided by “existing power structures,” we see a disengagement from a city whose ongoing reality is, to a great degree, the attempted imposition of precisely that direction by precisely those structures; and in the claim that the speculative architectural projects in The Architectural Imagination “address inequality, sustainability, insecurity, segregation, and much, much more,” we hear an attempt to co-opt the work of organizations that are actually working with and for the communities dealing with those issues. In a final exercise of word substitution, let us substitute the imaginary “community activists” invoked by the curators of The Architectural Imagination with actual community activists currently resisting mass water shutoffs, mass foreclosures, mass evictions, racial injustice, police violence, food insecurity, education privatization, and other threats facing Detroit’s residents: We the People of Detroit, Detroit’s People Platform, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, Black Lives Matter Detroit, Detroit Eviction Defense, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, People’s Water Board, and many other groups—none of which the curators of The Architectural Imagination apparently saw fit to engage. When seen in the context of the work of these groups, we cannot understand the engagements with “inequality, sustainability, insecurity, segregation,” and the other issues the curators claim for The Architectural Imagination as at all serious. Moreover, we also believe that “architecture”—whatever that contested word is taken to mean—can find much more inspiration, agency, and relevance by learning from and working with communities and activists engaged in issues around inequality, sustainability, insecurity, and segregation than by claiming those engagements by little else than fiat. In the introduction to The Architectural Imagination published in the project’s catalogue, Cynthia Davidson approvingly quotes the following words of the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai: “The imagination today is a staging ground for action, and not only for escape.” If Davidson had turned the page in the book in which Appadurai wrote these words, she would have read Appadurai’s subsequent qualification of his claim: “It is important to stress here that I am speaking of the imagination now as a property of collectives, and not merely as a faculty of the gifted individual (its tacit sense since the flowering of European Romanticism).” With its celebration of the work of “visionary American architectural practices” and its tacit disregard for actually-existing communities, The Architectural Imagination advances just the model of imagination that Appadurai is writing against. We think, then, that The Architectural Imagination fails to meet its own standard for imagination. Seriously.
There is often a barrier to entry when it comes to talking about Detroit. No matter how empathetically one approaches the subject, there is the distinct possibility of being accused of insensitivity. Detroit has been through, and continues to go through, some of the most difficult urban issues in the country. And, naturally, many Detroiters are downright tired of outsiders coming in and proposing “solutions” to the city’s ills. So when it was announced that the United States Pavilion for the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale would focus on the city, it was not surprising that some would take issue.
The United States Pavilion is explicitly about Detroit. The pavilion is organized by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and curated by Mónica Ponce de León, former dean at Michigan and current dean at Princeton University, and Cynthia Davidson, editor of the journal Log. Titled the Architectural Imagination, the two curators charged 12 design firms to speculate on four sites throughout Detroit—the former Packard Automotive Plant, the U.S. Post Office on Fort Street, and city-owned sites in Mexicantown and the Dequindre Cut. The firms range from lesser-known talent to well-known names like Stan Allen and Greg Lynn. All firms were given free rein to imagine what program and form should go on their sites. They met with city and community representatives to discuss their projects and gain a better understanding of the sites. Overall, the exhibition is fairly typical of what one might expect to see in a show about architecture, with large models and drawings filling the pavilion. (See our review of the pavilion and de León and Davidson's response.)
Before the exhibition opened, well before any of the designs were revealed, criticism was leveled against the show. Most notably this critique came from a group called Detroit Resists. Remaining anonymous, Detroit Resists released a statement linking architecture, and the institutions that generally support building, to some of the systemic issues that plague Detroit: mass water shutoffs, evictions, gentrification, and spatial racism. The group accused the organizers, and indirectly the participating firms, of political indifference.
And Detroit Resists was far from alone in its skepticism, if not in its fervor. The conversation of Detroit and its relationship to contemporary design and architecture is a popular one. The U.S. Pavilion is not the first, and will not be the last, to speculate on Detroit. The general criticism of any design proposals produced for the city is that the egoism of the designers and their lack of connection to the city mean that they could not possibly contribute to the betterment of the people of Detroit.
One could not have a conversation about the possible designs without also having a conversation about whether it was even appropriate to talk about architecture and Detroit together. Just weeks before the Biennale opening, New York’s New Museum hosted a weeklong workshop titled Ideas City in Detroit. The workshop brought together Detroiters, other Americans, and international designers and architects to discuss and think about the city. Similarly, the U.S. Pavilion participants engaged the community in conversations throughout the design process. A great deal of the conversation in that week, and in the concluding public forum, revolved around the role of outsiders in the reimagining of Detroit. Ideas City made very few proposals for the city, though. Instead, it reserved most of its actions to discussion and listening. By most accounts—from Detroiters and others—the event was productive.
Yet the skepticism of the U.S. Pavilion is not what is at issue. Rather, it is the preemptive cynicism and dismissive posture that came with that skepticism. To say that architecture, from within or from without Detroit, is inherently a negative for the city, is to negate any possibility of it being anything else. Having a serious conversation about architectural ideas means admitting that Detroit is not a war-torn wasteland, because it isn’t, and engaging with architects means accepting Detroiters as urbanites as much as any other city dwellers.
Now that the pavilion is open, we are able to look at the projects and judge whether they are doing the harm of which they have been accused. Proposals range from complex abstractions of information gathered from the community to complex postindustrial tech complexes. Others take on community gathering spaces, and yet others reimagine infrastructural amenities, such as urban farm space and material reclamation. Now is the time to carefully read the projects and decide whether they live down to the allegations of cultural insensitivity that were laid against them.
Detroit, like all cities, is inseparably linked with architecture, old and new. No matter how badly, or well, things are going, architecture is part of the city-making conversation. It will never heal the ills of any city. It is not a solution or a means to specific ends. Yet to dismiss the possibility of architecture is to close the conversation on the built environment. And though it is naive to think that architecture won’t be used for nefarious purposes, it is cynical to think that it has to be used as such. Where exactly it fits into improving the postindustrial city, or the racially segregated city, is still unclear. But there are people working on it.
The U.S. Pavilion, The Architectural Imagination, will be open from May 28 through November 27 at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. More information on Detroit Resists can be found at detroitresists.org
Cynthia Davidson and Mónica Ponce de León respond to AN’s review of U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
In his review of The Architectural Imagination, the exhibition we curated for the U.S. Pavilion at the 15th International Architecture Biennale, William Menking raises important questions about architecture that the entire profession needs to address. Alas, he also makes blatant errors that grossly misrepresent the work that we and the 12 U.S. architecture teams developed to expand the discussion of architecture in Detroit.
The Architectural Imagination was conceived in late 2014, more than six months before Alejandro Aravena was named director of the biennale. That the exhibition begins a dialogue with Aravena’s theme is fortuitous. Menking suggests that the work in the U.S. Pavilion does not address Aravena’s concerns about “inequality, sustainability, insecurity, and segregation,” and then cherry-picks phrases from our press releases and exhibition catalogue to frame his argument. His egregious word substitution in one phrase must be corrected here.
Menking writes: “They [the curators] assert that the projects are entirely speculative and ‘offer no serious solutions for a city beset by real problems.’” His insertion of the word “serious” where we wrote “concrete” completely changes the meaning of our catalogue statement. These projects are serious; they are not fixed buildings—that is, not concrete solutions. They represent multiple programs and design opportunities for a postindustrial city that is seeking unique ways to stabilize its population and neighborhoods. By putting architectural ideas and forms on the table for Detroit, The Architectural Imagination gives the city’s residents access to a high level of architectural design and language. This access empowers citizens to engage in discussions about the city’s future direction before that direction is decided by existing power structures.
From the beginning of this project we laid out a process that enabled the architects to meet with a number of diverse community groups. These organizations included members of business improvement districts that Menking erroneously claims were excluded from the process: the Southwest Detroit Business Association, the Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit Future City, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and others too numerous to list here. From these community meetings, the architects developed programs that recognized neighborhood aspirations and then they began to work on architectural designs. The projects will be shown in Detroit in early 2017, where we are organizing a series of public conversations about the projects and re-engaging the neighborhoods that worked with us last year.
It is also important to note that we worked with an advisory board of community activists (see thearchitecturalimagination.org) who were instrumental in the selection of the sites—sites that they considered key for the future of the city and that would benefit from speculative architectural thinking. Menking complains that the projects are large, but overlooks the fact that the four real sites, three of which are owned by the city, are even larger, due to job and population loss and abandoned buildings. To reduce them to small parcels is to return to a postwar model that failed in Detroit. Most importantly, if civic architecture is not to be subsumed by the large scale of corporate development in America today, then size matters in the construction of the public realm. All of the projects call for public investment—not developer-driven privatization. They follow the models already surfacing in Detroit through grass-roots organizations responsible for the success of the riverfront, Dequindre Cut, and Eastern Market. These recent projects, which have transformed Detroit, are not small, and at the time of their implementation, funding was cited as the impediment to their realization.
The problems in Detroit are myriad; we, and the architects in The Architectural Imagination, would never claim to be able to solve them in the context of an exhibition. But by providing three options for each of the four sites, the projects put forth alternatives to the status quo and provide a framework for conversations about what the public realm could be. In doing so, they address inequality, sustainability, insecurity, segregation, and much, much more.
Cynthia Davidson and Mónica Ponce de León Co-curators, The Architectural Imagination July 1, 2016
8. Aires Mateus — Central Pavilion Mezzanine This installation is a response to those critics who argue that, while they agree with Aravena’s crises theme, there is no beauty in this biennale. This small, easy-to-miss installation tucked away in the Central Pavilion mezzanine is all about beauty. It argues that beauty is not an added layer of good taste but the capacity to capture and express human desires. The dark space was an inspiration to stumble into after a long day of forensic research.
9. The Class of 6.3: Rebuilding Nine Schools after the 2014 Chiang Rai Earthquake — The Thailand Pavilion This beautiful installation hidden in the back of the Arsenale takes the "building on stick" trope to a new level by suspending hundreds of wooden buildings that are attached to a spring-loaded plywood floor. This produces a chilling, quaking effect that provides the underlay for the nine projects. The earthquake-proof educations facilities are models above the sea of shaking buildings. 10. Home Economics: Five new models for domestic life — The British Pavilion Led by Jack Self, Shumi Bose, and Finn Williams, the British Pavilion addresses structural problems in the late capitalist housing market. It is a slightly more cynical version of Aravena’s position on scarcity. They propose new models of living that are rooted in real estate models and lifestyle arrangements. While it is impossible to escape the logic of the market, the British Pavilion looks at its structural foundations, from mobile technology to minimum furnishings to getting a mortgage, and projects possible futures ranging from inflatables to a bunk-like unit. 11. The Architectural Imagination — The U.S. Pavilion If only because of, or in spite of, the controversy surrounding the U.S. Pavilion, it is well worth seeing. Controversy aside, the pavilion holds some of the most beautiful drawings and models in the entire biennale. If you don’t agree with what you see, simply download the augmented reality app from Detroit Resists to see the pavilion through a new lens. 12. Makoko Floating School by Kunlé Adeyemi/NLÉ — Arsenale We have all seen Kunlé Adeyemi’s floating school barge on the internet for the last couple of years. It makes a celebrity appearance at this year’s biennale after a trip down the Grand Canal. Perhaps it's like the “Reporting From the Front” version of Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mundo, the floating companion to Strata Novissima (1980). Adeyemi originally designed the floating school structures for the lagoons of Lagos, Nigeria, where access to education is an ongoing struggle. The version that appeared in Venice is actually a second generation Floating School that has bigger structural members. The original was decommissioned and has since come down in Lagos. 13. Masonry arch by Solano Benítez/gabinete de arquitectura — Central Pavilion A spectacular start to the Central Pavilion, this brick structure hovers over visitors, giving a beautiful form to what Aravena calls “scarcity.” The architects claim it is built with just bricks and unqualified labor, which might be an exaggeration, but nonetheless, it is a stunning piece of architecture, and it won the Golden Lion for a reason. 14. Heroic: Free Shipping — The Serbian Pavilion The sublime Serbian Pavilion takes a look back in on architecture and critiques the treatment of freelance and intern workers. The boat shaped blue room is devoid of architectural proposals, and instead is meant to be a respite from the rest of the show. The pithy description and pile of thousands of intern rejection letters at the entrance give you something to read while recharging in the space. 15. Making Heimet. Germany, Arrival Country — The German Pavilion The German Pavilion is a must-see, especially if you have been to a past biennale. Winning a battle to alter the historic building, the curators cut four large entrances in exterior walls, changing the entire space of the pavilion. The wall graphics are a bit heavy handed and the message of openness is a bit literal, but it is a great place to rest and congregate. 16. The War on Bending — Ochsendorf, Block, and DeJong This exhibit in the Arsenale makes a case for compression in building. Rejecting the flatness and tension, the War on Bending produces a spectacular vaulting space that is held in place completely be compression. Of many of the material-based projects in the show, this one is the clearest in showing how old and new technology can be blended to make evocative space. 17. Blue: Architecture of UN Peacekeeping Missions — The Dutch Pavilion The Dutch Pavilion is a simple but brilliant idea to highlight United Nations peacekeeping mission buildings that can be usefully repurposed if and when the peacekeepers move on. Curated by Malkit Shoshan of the think-tank FAST, it highlights the spatial challenges and opportunities of this complex situation and proposes that design be made part of peacekeeping buildings and be based on the conditions that arise post-peacekeeping mission. 18. Reboot — The Uruguay Pavilion The Uruguayans challenged visitors to don "invisibility cloaks" and steal items from other pavilions. The action is a response to the concept of informality, as the curators claim that illegality is "a main component of informality beyond its pauperism and hypocritical perception." The objects will be shipped back to Montevideo for an exhibition that reports from the front. You may have a hard time seeing the actual object, however, as the action has caused some controversy and some of the pricier booty has been returned, while the rest is hidden away. 19. Nordic Pavilion The Nordic Pavilion has a deceptively simple setup, as projects are presented bluntly on flyers. The curators constructed a wooden pyramid that acts as a social condenser and blocks the iconic trees in Sverre Finn's famous building that many call the most beautiful in the Giardini. The new construction is a metaphor for the relationship of contemporary architects with the masters of Nordic architecture's past. The pyramid obscures the trees, but still allows visitors to see them. It also gives a new perspective on the eight-foot-deep lightwell-roof-structure for which the building is known. Go climb the installation and look at the exquisite detailing of the board-formed concrete beams. 20. Wayward Eye: The Photography of Denise Scott Brown — Palazzo Mora This exhibition of Denise's photos "from Venice to Venice" shows her broad range of interests in the 1950s and 1960s: automobile cities of the American Southwest, social change, multiculturalism, action, everyday architecture, “messy vitality,” iconography, and Pop Art. There is quite a bit to see in this show, which also includes strip signs and a Rezzonico-Tourisissimo chandelier, purpose-made for the show in Murano alongside her pictures of 1950s Venice and 1960s California and Nevada.The Thailand Pavilion title "Class of 6.3", profiles 9 rebuilding efforts for schools after the 2014 earthquake. Spring loaded floors make the model shake. #biennalearchitettura2016 A video posted by The Architect's Newspaper (@archpaper) on