Posts tagged with "Venice Architecture Biennale":

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Venice Architecture Biennale to host symposium on museums and urban progress

This weekend, a symposium at the Venice Architecture Biennale, "Museums and Cultural Spaces As A Motor of Urban and Social Progress," will address the role of culture in society and cities. The Architect’s Newspaper will be there reporting on the event and the international museum experts, architects, curators, urban planners, and policy makers scheduled to speak. The event will take place in The Teatro Piccolo Arsenale all day Saturday 24, 2016. For more information, visit here.
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Detroit Resists fires back at Venice Biennale’s U.S. pavilion curators over community engagement

Detroit Resists is a community organization that submitted this essay, "Let’s get serious: “Community” and “Activism” in the Architectural Imagination," regarding the recent controversy surrounding the U.S. Pavilion at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale. We've published it here with links to The Architect's Newspaper's review and the curators' response. In their response to William Menking’s review of The Architectural Imagination, the curators of the exhibition, Cynthia Davidson and Mónica Ponce de León, call out Menking for “his egregious word substitution in one phrase.” Menking wrote that “[the curators] assert that the projects are entirely speculative and ‘offer no serious solutions for a city beset by real problems’.” The curators point out that they used the word “concrete” instead of “serious” in their original statement; while the projects in The Architectural Imagination were not “concrete solutions,” the curators argue, these projects were nonetheless “serious.” Regardless of how one parses the meaning of “serious” in relation to The Architectural Imagination, the curators invite us to read their “Response” as closely as they attempt to read Menking’s review. When we engaged in that reading of the curators’ “Response,” we also find some wordplay worthy of note. When The Architectural Imagination was launched in the summer of 2015, the project’s website announced a “Detroit Advisory Board.” In the “Response,” however, we read about “an advisory board of community activists.”  Who—or what—are these “community activists”? The Architectural Imagination’s Detroit Advisory Board was comprised of a Senior Advisor to the U.S. Department of State, an Associate Dean of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the Planning Director of the City of Detroit, the Executive Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the CEO of Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, a Real Estate Manager of Midtown Detroit, Inc., and on and on… We submit that there is no conventional definition of “community activist” that would apply to any member of this advisory board and we are fairly certain that few—if any—members of this board would present themselves to any Detroit community as a “community activist.” Moreover, many Detroit communities know organizations represented on the Detroit Advisory Board as explicitly anti-activist. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has been a driving force in the securitization of public space in downtown Detroit; despite the efforts of the National Lawyers Guild and American Civil Liberties Union to defend the right of free speech on the publicly-owned RiverWalk, the Conservancy has consistently and actively prevented activists and demonstrators from assembling there. Midtown Detroit, Inc. has choreographed the transformation of the Cass Corridor, once a center of alternative communities and activist organizations in the city, into the gentrified “Midtown.” Detroit Future City has scripted the displacement of some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities and most vibrant activist organizations for “innovation landscapes.” What prompted an advisory board with a decided leaning towards market-oriented neoliberal urbanism to be recast as “an advisory board of community activists” is a not uninteresting question, but we—just like the curators in their “Response”—are more interested in the effects of this rhetoric than the reasons for engaging in it. In reframing the members of their advisory board as “community activists,” the curators rhetorically annihilate authentic community activism in Detroit—activism that has been resisting emergency management, austerity politics, disenfranchisement, and ethnic cleansing well before and all during the course of their project—and they delete this activism from the architectural imagination that they so seriously want to advance. This annihilation allows the curators to co-opt the term “community activism” to describe philanthrocapitalism, public-private partnerships, corporate nonprofits, and the culture industry. In so doing, the curators invite us to occupy a world in which “community activism” is an appropriate name for the activities of the state, foundations, real estate development enterprises, and, presumably, the architects who serve them. This co-option of “community” and “activism” becomes vivid in a dramatic instance of word substitution in the curators’ “Response.” Consider, in one short section of that response, the way in which the words “community,” “business,” and “neighborhood” so easily replace one another:

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.
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What role should architects and outsiders have in reimagining Detroit?

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

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Cynthia Davidson and Mónica Ponce de León respond to AN’s review of U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Curators’ Response

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

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Is the U.S.’s Biennale Pavilion actually the Quicken Loans Pavilion?

The theme of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale Reporting from the Front—according to its curator Alejandro Aravena—addresses issues like inequality, sustainability, insecurity, and segregation by looking for “creative, innovative projects willing to risk going into such complex fields.” Further, these projects should be “able to integrate more than one dimension at a time, framing old, charged issues in an original way in order to move forward.” How did it happen that only one American project (from Rural Studio) was included in the main exhibition? In part, one might assume that biennale president Paolo Baratta’s selection indicates a desire to avoid work from the industrialized countries and focus on contributions from the developing global southern hemisphere. This approach mirrors the 2015 art biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor. But an examination of the participants (excluding those in the national pavilions) disproves that notion, as there are 86 participants from Europe, 22 from South America, 18 from India, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as nearly a dozen from Asia. Perhaps a closer look at the U.S. Pavilion may suggest a partial answer: The Architectural Imagination, curated by Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce De Leon, consists of 12 speculative projects for specific sites in Detroit, Michigan. But does the world have much to learn from these 12 visionary projects? Or is their "Americaness" so specific to our corporate society and culture as to be of little interest or importance to architects in other countries? While focusing on an American city, they make a claim to offer “far-reaching applications for cities around the world.” Furthermore, they assert that the projects are entirely speculative and “offer no serious solutions for a city beset by real problems,” at a time when they believe “problem solving has become the mantra of a new social agenda for architecture.” They feel that “powerful ideas and architectural forms” can “spark the collective imagination.” Might their reliance on the power of the imagination to suggest solutions to profoundly troubling problems come at the expense of a more expansive definition of architecture and a deeper urban analysis? It is important then, to interrogate these forms and proposals in order to understand why they might hold so little appeal to the rest of the architectural world’s “collective imagination.” The curators made much of their early engagement in the design process with “an 11-member Detroit advisory board” that helped choose the sites and “arrange site visits and community meetings over a four-week period.” The group chose four sites in Detroit and then asked or selected architects to propose projects in them. The sites chosen were: Dequindre Cut/Eastern Market (1923 Division Street), Mexicantown (6370 Vernor Highway), The U.S. Post Office (1401 West Fort Street), and The Packard Plant (East Grand Boulevard and Concord Avenue). Why were relevant community members such as business improvement districts omitted from the process, giving the illusion of inclusion yet allowing the freeform architectural fantasy to predominate? It is primarily this aspect of the U.S. Pavilion’s projects that is the starting point for the group Detroit Resists’ alternative proposal and virtual occupation of the pavilion in Venice. By privileging architectural language and practice as exclusive to trained designers, the curators suggest that only architects have the capacity to “imagine” future spaces. This, in turn, encouraged the chosen designers to propose only large, internalized multi-use projects. All of these would be realized only via enormous financial investment—which in the United States doesn’t come through collective democratic action, but via top-down corporate development and profit. It is astonishing that the curators and architects are not more attentive to this reality of urban development in the United States. These projects might all be called the Quicken Loans proposals, as that company's founder Dan Gilbert has his own vision for downtown Detroit. To that end, he has invested $1 billion in 2.6 million square feet of commercial space; he has big plans to build in the city over three years. A more serious and collective attempt might produce an alternative to the previous system, one that consciously and systematically destroyed central Detroit to the benefit of the wealthy surrounding suburbs and region. But these architects (and curators) don’t seem to understand that corporate clients don’t often spend money on the sort of architectural added value hinted at in this pavilion; rather they employ commercial firms to crank out projects that bring immediate returns. Sadly, the future Detroit proposed by this pavilion seems not much different than the failed corporate city of the past. Yet there were hints of a way forward in several of the pavilion’s projects. One can detect traces of alternative design modes in the project Detroit Rock City by Stan Allen, which works off of Detroit’s enormous Packard Plant to propose conditions for the creation of future smaller-scale architectural projects scattered throughout the plant. A Liminal Blur by Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam features a single sculpture that they hoped would embody the poetics of Mexicantown; their project proposes a program that supports the local constituencies while simultaneously addressing the more vital questions of architecture’s relevance to society as a whole. Andrew Zago proposed housing for Middle Eastern refugees displaced by American warfare in the region as an important starting point for a renewed Detroit. The majority of the proposals are massive in scale and urban footprint. Pita and Bloom Architects’ New Zocolo is an “urban platform” or plinth hovering 16 feet above a street and parking lot that would become the support for six clusters of buildings in working-class Mexicantown. New Corktown (Present Future) and Dequindre CIVIC Academy (Marshall Brown Projects) both propose massive developments. New Corktown takes 250 blocks and reimagines them as a high-density environment with a 40-story complex of retail, office space, and residential flats. The Dequindre CIVIC Academy puts forward a 2.7-million-square-foot concrete mega-facility as a “coordinate unit or a single architectural entity” able to synthesize many diverse programs and spaces.
Dequindre CIVIC Academy references the idea of a coordinate unit that was developed by John Portman in his massive, fortress-like development Renaissance Center, “a total environment where all of a person’s needs are met.” Like so many other projects in the exhibition, its programming includes a multitude of uses such as cultural spaces, a community college, workshops and apartments for faculty, dining halls, and an 865-foot-tall bronze-clad tower housing a shopping center and an observatory. It’s really unfathomable that anyone would use the Renaissance Center as a model for a “new Detroit.” They would be operating on the premise that imagination alone, without reference to practicality or community involvement, can spin out benefits to the blocks lucky enough to be across the street. Clearly, this strategy did not work with the Renaissance Center, which in fact sucked the financial blood from the surrounding shops that gave the city it’s life. But the project that best illustrates the egregious defects inherent in the concept behind The Architectural Imagination is the spiraling ramp design Revolving Detroit described by its designer Preston Scott Cohen as a ”void” or a “purposeful consequence.” The massive ramp, undulating roof, or "void" can transform from orthogonal to hexagonal to elliptical and back again. With a nod to pure formalism posing as social planning, Cohen claims that the form is derived from the “historic Woodward Plan circles.” Further, the helically ascending ramp passes through the middle of a garage structure that Cohen claims will transform, over time, into a building of great importance to the city. A proposed 10-story building would rise out of the roof structure and “welcome the automobile.” It absurdly claims that as the city rejuvenates, the parking decks installed in the upper “hyperboloidal” spaces of the project will be redeveloped in a series of “performance” spaces: educational facilities, cinemas, athletic spaces, and community centers. Cohen is convinced the undulating passage will serve as a monumental portal to the river and, implicitly, a symbolic gateway to the border between the U.S. and Canada. Likewise, Greg Lynn FORM’s proposal has a mix of uses for autonomous vehicles, manufacturing robots, university researchers, and students. A 24-foot-wide, 1.7-mile-long logistics drone super-highway would connect the complex’s original vertical elevator cores. In his catalogue essay, Lynn cites Cedric Price’s Detroit Thinkgrid proposal and emphasizes Price’s plan for a cheap mobile architecture of faculty offices, small mobile libraries, and teaching “booths” that were to be delivered on the backs of trucks and craned into place according to a pre-figured grid. But judging from Lynn’s enormous proposal, he seems to have entirely misunderstood the essence of Price’s. Had he or the curators studied the 1968 project more closely and seen it as a starting point for research, they might have transformed this pavilion into one of distinguished thinking and relevance. In short, Price believed there was absolutely no need to build any fixed architectural monuments in Detroit; for they would simply squander money on unwanted buildings in an attempt to appease white guilt. His project was initiated in the wake of the 1967 riots to find a strategy to deliver workers from their tough, impoverished conditions. As described in the book Architecture and the Special Relationship, Price held extensive meetings with community groups, educational bodies, and local politicians. Far more useful would be a system of social organization that encouraged the education and circumstances of younger members of the community. In theory, this would break the cycle of deprivation and social exclusion which held them back. Regrettably, neither the curators nor the architects took Price’s thoughtful, reality-based, and radically imaginative project seriously. It, much more than the Architectural Imagination, inspired the profession and residents in Detroit to think of a truly new type of city. Provocative architecture projects that actually try to solve problems rather than remain in the gallery have been, can be, and will be embraced by architects worldwide seeking new ideas from the United States.
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AN Lions: 20 must-see things at the 2016 Venice Biennale

The 2016 Venice Biennale is now open to the public until November 27, 2016. "Reporting From the Front" is Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena's manifesto of sorts, a gorgeous aesthetic project with a slightly less clear political overlay. In this Biennale, he was looking to share success stories from engaged practitioners who are working to address the problems facing the world, such as inequality, crime, waste, traffic, and segregation. AN had three editors and a cadre of writers scoping out all of the main exhibition, the national pavilions, auxiliary events, and any other interesting things happening in the city during the opening. We selected 20 of our favorite moments and have awarded them AN Lions, a different take on the Biennale. This collection should also serve as a guidebook of sorts so that visitors throughout the summer can get some perspective on what to see, and how to get to the good stuff, without taking a whole week! 1. Pavilion of the Western Sahara In one of the bolder moves of the Biennale, Aravena assigned Swiss architect Manuel Herz and the Western Sahara a small spot on the lawn where last year sat a wooden replica of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-ino, constructed by the Architectural Association. This year’s small, tent-like structure occupied a prominent space in the Giardini, giving the contested nation-state of a place alongside Belgium, the Netherlands, and Finland. The Western Sahara is a region that has been occupied by Morocco, so Herz commissioned a set of photos by Iwan Baan, and a set of large carpet-like tapestries produced by National Union of Sahrawi women in the “permanent” refugee camps where the Sahrawis have been living since the occupation forty years ago. 2. A World of Fragile Parts — Special Project Applied Arts Pavilion A project of the Victoria and Albert Museum and curated by Brendan Cormier, the exhibition shows the complex history of copying, including its role as a form of preservation, museological imperialism, resistance, and reportage. Starting from the plaster casts of the V&A’s 19th century Cast Courts, Cormier gathered contemporary projects that explore copying as an active engagement with the geopolitics of art, architecture, and culture. An illegally scanned bust of Nefertiti is on display, made possible by two artists who “took” it digitally from Germany’s Neues Museum in solidarity with Egypt’s pleas to return it to its original location. 3. Zaha Hadid Retrospective — Palazzo Franchetti If you have been wondering why the passing of Zaha Hadid was so important, then this show will let you into the discussion. If you already loved her work, this show will make you love her more. With original paintings, models, and drawings filling every inch of a baroque palazzo, this show presents Hadid's work that has rarely been seen anywhere else. 4. Bravoure — The Belgium Pavilion The Belgium Pavilion takes a look at the effects of scarcity on architecture. The pavilion, which has not been completely refinished since the last biennale, is filled with projects that blur the lines between built and speculation. The large images by Filip Dujardin are a highlight. 5. Fair Building — The Poland Pavilion This pavilion highlights the dirty little secret of architecture: The workers who build (and sometimes die) in construction. Architecture is social in construction, reception, and use, yet those who actually construct buildings are invisible to most architects. This pavilion, appropriately installed inside a grid of scaffolds, calls for “Fair Trade” buildings that recognize the value of construction labor. 6. Our Amazon Frontline — The Peru Pavilion In this pavilion titled "Our Amazon Frontline," the Peruvians highlight the traditional native visions of the ecologically valuable Amazon with modern ones and try to restore dignity to the native peoples of the region. A beautiful pavilion with an elegant-but-cheap display system of ropes holding plywood displays that focus on modular schools for the children of the region. It’s easy to miss but don’t! 7. Baltic States Pavilion — The Baltic Pavilion One of the most interesting venues—the spectacular Palasport gymnasium just around the corner from the Arsenale entrance—was the perfect venue for a sprawling, three country Baltic exhibition. The three countries banded together to display the history of resource extraction in their region. The display of post-Soviet infrastructures and the geologies, for some, will be a welcome large-scale project in the sea of smaller interventions at the Biennale.

Padiglione Italia_biennale 2016 #airesmateus #includeme

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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. Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 3.24.21 PM 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.
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Zaha Hadid’s retrospective in Venice: A kaleidoscopic tribute missing her final touches

The first posthumous retrospective of the grand dame of architecture opened at the Palazzo Franchetti last week to coincide with the opening of the Venice Architecture Biennale. A smaller show was quickly re-shuffled after her passing in March into a retrospective featuring an impressive range of material and media. From hand sketches to virtual reality environments, the variety of media is a testament to Hadid: She began her career in an analogue world and later became a leading figure during a transitional moment in digital design. In that sense, the show doubles as a record of techniques adopted within architecture throughout the past four decades. The retrospective encompasses built, under-construction, in development, and unrealized projects, loosely organized in ten rooms by chronology and media. In addition to models and drawings, video interviews and animation sequences supplement the show. It opens spectacularly with a gradated field of parametric tower studies set in the sumptuous hallway of the Palazzo Franchetti. Both the neo-gothic Venetian palazzo and Zaha's architecture respond to a series of mathematical rules and proportions that can be applied at all scales and work together harmoniously. In fact, Hadid has exhibited multiple times in historic spaces in Italy, often to great effect. Several biennales ago, she designed a series of sculptures for the Villa Malcontenta by Andrea Palladio based on the building's proportions. Special attention is given to early projects pivotal to her career, including her first built project from 1993, the Vitra fire station. Even though computers were already used for drafting at the time, the project is mainly represented through hand sketches, hand-cut foam models, and her legendary large oil paintings. The MAXXI Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, completed in 2009, shows an evolution of her aesthetic enabled by increasingly available 3D modeling software. The curvy forms of the museum were drawn using programs such as Rhino or Maya, yet the process still includes paper models and hand sketching. In contrast, the projects of ZHA CODE, a unit within the office dedicated to digital design research established five years ago, tend to generate—rather than sculpt—form through code. Instituted as an experimentation and education platform, ZHA CODE projects often do translate into concrete design proposals. One of their realized projects shown at the retrospective is a 3D printed chair designed through a combination of 3D modeling and structural optimization scripts. This combination of technique, which uses both sculpting and generative scripting, points towards an increasing technical proficiency in creating form based on particular functional variables, rather than purely formal ones. As another example, the minimal surface defining the Mathematics Gallery at the Science Museum in London was generated based on airflow around an airplane displayed in the show. One room at the exhibit is dedicated to the documentation of constructed projects and features photographs by Helene Binet. Strangely the black and white photographs of the built projects are among the most abstract representations of space in the entire exhibition. Seeing four decades of incessant production compressed into such a small space is impressive, yet it also makes the absence of the architect the more palpable. Missing the eye of an architect famous for her consistency and drawing disparate things together, the show is vertiginous in its density and variety. It also produces some strange adjacencies and overlaps. Overlooking the grand canal of Venice, the most recent and in-progress projects are represented through large scale, colorful client renderings filling every available square centimeter, only to be topped by a set of VR glasses and large tables covered with models and publications. Perhaps, precisely because of this hurried, unfiltered display, the show becomes an important snapshot of the work produced by an office still under the immediate direction of Hadid. Given the stature of the work and the strong legacy created by the Iraqi architect, the office might become the first architecture super-brand, not unlike fashion brands continue to thrive for decades under different directors, bearing the founder's name. For now, this retrospective allows to marvel at Zaha Hadid’s immense production while already missing her final touches.
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Greg Lynn uses Microsoft HoloLens to visualize architecture at this year’s Venice Biennale

"The biggest problem an architect has," said Californian architect Greg Lynn of Greg Lynn Form (GLF), "is getting from the screen into physical space." And so Lynn, who is also a professor of architecture and urban design at UCLA, has been using the Microsoft HoloLens at the U.S. Pavilion for this year's Venice Biennale. Assigned the Packard Plant, a historic half mile-long abandoned car factory in Detroit, Lynn and his firm were tasked reimagining the site. The HoloLens, which is aided by tech firm Trimble's mixed reality technology, allowed Lynn to holographically visualize and navigate the space. "It actually changes the way you think about design" said Lynn, who added that the lens meant he could fully comprehend the scale of the site, something which he achieved by placing twelve Tate Moderns into the area, by virtual means. According to Lynn, the technology also allowed him to make decisions regarding design and spatial qualities much earlier than usual. "Without the HoloLens, I would have been making those decisions three, four months from now, but with the HoloLens, I'm making those decisions at the point of inception" said Lynn. The HoloLens can also be shared with clients, allowing architects to use the language of space to show why certain design decisions were made. "Using this technology I can make decisions at the moment of inception, shorten the design cycle and improve communication with my clients," added Lynn. AN got a chance to test out the device at the Venice Biennale last week. The use of Hololens in exhibition design is very useful in displaying the US Pavilion proposal. Visitors can see the history of the site holographically projected on the physical model, complete with diagrams that display change from year to year, tracking the growth and decline of the Packard complex. The technology also allowed the exhibition to be annotated with information about the design, as well as animations that made it come alive with images of drones and puffing smokestacks. "HoloLens is going to bridge that gap between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional and physical space.... It's a revolution," Lynn concluded. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70xDCokzAck If you want to get your hands on a Hololens, they're only $3,000. According to Microsoft’s website, the device features sensors, a processing unit, special high-def color lenses, and built-in speakers. Microsoft is also collaborating with Lowe’s, the home improvement company, to help customers visualize new kitchen or living layouts, finishes, and more.
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Christian Kerez creates a unique multisensory experience at the Biennale’s Swiss Pavilion

Switzerland’s own Christian Kerez, in collaboration with curator Sandra Oehy, brings an enigmatic architectural experience to this year’s Biennale’s Swiss Pavilion exhibition, titled Incidental Space. With today’s prolific use of computation in architectural fabrication, Kerez’s design process and complex structure offers a refreshing, mysterious design that cannot be easily decoded. He returns us to the primitive, imaginative, inhabitable space that defies conventional research. Not at all like some emerging-technology users who are sometimes guilty of finding the “functional” aspect of a thing “post-creation,” ascribing something biomimetic "behavior," of losing any relationship to humanistic experience, Kerez used point cloud scanning of dynamic particles—such as sand or sugar—to generate form. This results in a completely organic, random geometry whose physical incarnation creates a unique experience for visitors. Evocative of a grotto-like experience from the inside, this self-supporting fiberglass reinforced concrete shelled structure features walls that thicken where necessary from .4 to 1.5 inches. The exterior’s ornamental crevices resemble a cloud’s backlit tonalities as it reaches the pavilion’s pinnacle skylight. When you enter, Kerez returns you experience to the primitive womb, with a complete change of scale, inviting you to explore barefoot, carefully float, and reconnect to you inner child’s naïve fantasy. The work is anything but a product of architectural construction, but almost becomes total product of our imagination. Commissioned by Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetica head of Visual Arts, Marianne Burki, Rachele Giudici Legittimo, Coordinator, and Sandi Paucic, Project Manager for Swiss participation at the Biennale, this project was enriched by over 30 international collaborators and students, including ETH and DARCH, and sponsored by industry leaders, Holcim, Marty Design Haus, National Center of Competence in Research Digital Fabrication, and Adunic.
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Venice 2016: Golden Lion goes to Gabinete de Arquitectura, Adeyemi claims Silver

The results are in at the 15th Venice Biennale of Architecture. The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement went to Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha. Paraguay's Gabinete de Arquitectura, led by Solano Benitez, brought home the Golden Lion for Participant for the masonry arch that stood at the entrance to the Central Pavilion. Nigerian-born Kunlé Adeyemi, leader of Dutch practice NLÉ and visiting faculty at Columbia GSAPP took home the silver for his Makoko Floating School, which has been seen on the internet for the last couple of years, but made a cameo behind the Arsenale this year in Venice after floating down the Grand Canal. It was a fitting update of Aldo Rossi's 1979/80 Teatro del Mundo, reimagined for this Biennale. Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement: Paulo Mendes da Rocha Golden Lion for Best Participant: Gabinete de Arquitectura Silver Lion for Participant - Kunlé Adeyemi/NLÉ Golden Lion for Best National Participation: Spain Pavilion Special Mentions for National Participations: Japan Pavilion, Peru Pavilion
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Why are there (almost) no American architects at the 2016 Venice Biennale?

Alejandro Aravena, curator of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale (themed "Reporting from the Front"), claims that this 15th architecture exhibition wants to “offer a new point of view” and is about “listening to those who are able to gain perspective and are in the position to share knowledge and experiences, inventiveness and pertinence with those of us standing on the ground.” Yet except for several young Americans, there are seemingly no “new points of view” from America that address urban issues and contribute to the international debate. The lone U.S. representative is Auburn University’s Rural Studio; it takes nothing away from their profound and important contribution to say it offers little that's new or urban. The largest number of official delegates in Aravena’s Biennale comes from Europe (86), Mexico and South America (22), and rest from global developing countries. The United States has never dominated the biennale—it began as an Italian and European event—but has always had significant representatives (excluding, of course, those in the U.S. Pavilion). Aaron Betsky curated it in 2008 as well. Is Aravena (who has taught at Harvard from 2000-2005) unaware of developments in American architecture? Or does he simply believe the most exciting new ideas are emerging from developing countries? Paralleling the 2015 Art biennale, does he think it's time to focus on work from the southern hemisphere? The President of the Biennale Paolo Barrata, who has a significant presence in the formulation of biennale's direction, claims that the image of this biennale (a woman on a ladder gazing across a desert horizon) is the counterpart to the one chosen for the 2015 art biennale. That biennale—"All the World's Futures"—was curated by Okwui Enwezor. Enwezor wanted to open the event to artists in under-represented developing countries (also largely from the southern hemisphere). Barratta also claims that previous architecture biennales were “characterized by an increasing divergence between architecture and civil society” and the 2016 edition would examine whether there exist “phenomena that show trends that run in the opposite direction.” He promises this biennale seeks "positive images” of change geared toward civil society. It's worrying that the U.S. has so little influence in this global debate. Are American architects providing solutions that emerge only from our unique codes and industrialized materials? Or are the solutions offered so corporate in nature that they cannot have applications outside the developed world? A partial answer to this question might be hinted at in the 2016 U.S. pavilion; we will be reporting on that tomorrow.
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Traditional and unconventional materials abound at the Venice Biennale

At this year’s Venice Biennale, the title and theme "Reporting from the Front" charges architects from around the world to present projects that “make a difference” on the front lines of the world’s current challenges. A range of topics—refugee immigration, militarized space, social housing, spaces of education, and more—are addressed throughout the show. Though the discussion varies, one concept seems to pervade the show: the novel or uncommon use of materials. The study of material usage isn't outside normal architectural practice. However at this particular Biennale, the conversation surrounding materials, form, and space is taken to an extreme. This is most prevalent throughout the portion of the show that is specifically curated by head curator Alejandro Aravena. The central pavilion and the Arsenale, the two major spaces of Aravena’s show, are filled with projects that present the literal physicalness of materials. This focus on materials is first evident in the main entrances of both spaces. To discuss waste, and take an inward look at the Biennale itself, Arevena reconfigured thousands of pounds of plasterboard and steel studs from the 2015 Art Biennale. The plasterboard was broken and staked into masonry-style walls; the steel studs hang on end from the ceiling. Continuing into the central pavilion, the space opens up to reveal a soaring brick masonry arch by Paraguay-based Solano Benítez. Rather than a typical brick arch, the bricks were configured into thin members, giving the arch a lightness and seeming fragility. Subsequent rooms engage other materials in similarly unconventional ways. Epic bamboo structures and living plant walls are presented by Colombia-based Simón Vélez and Vietnam-based Vo Trong Nghia, respectively. In an exhibit entitled Mud Work! by Germany-based Anna Heringer, a full scale mud structure is built in the center of the gallery. The material studies continue into the Arsenale. As with a handful of other projects, China-based Wang Shu looks at local and traditional building technologies in a series of brick and tile vignettes. International building consultants Transsolar’s contribution is completely composed of light and a thin vail of artificial fog. An entire space is dedicated to a series of sunlight beams coming through the roof of the building into the dark space. Polish architect Hugon Kowalski works in a material nearly polar opposite of Transsolar’s in his garbage and trash-filled exhibit. In more than one case, small structures are built with board-form concrete or simply stacked bricks. Metal scaffolding is utilized in multiple exhibits as well. As a whole, the show is decidedly tactile. There is a great deal to touch and many spaces have a decidedly strong, yet not necessarily unpleasant, smell. Though not completely devoid of models and drawings, most of these typical modes of representation are presented in the National Pavilions, of which Aravena has much less influence. The significance of this strong emphasis on material practices could be read in many ways. Without a frame of reference outside the exhibition, visitors might focus on a proliferation of traditional building techniques and materials. Considering a broader context though, one could easily question the definition, and engagement, of what Aravena defines as the “front” of architectural issues around the world. If Aravena’s assessment is accurate, perhaps we should be expecting to see more and more architect-designed “vernacular” in the coming years.