Posts tagged with "Venice Architecture Biennale":

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Why hasn’t the U.S. Department of State announced the U.S. Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale?

When is the U.S. Department of State going to announce the commissioners of the 2018 American pavilion for the Venice Biennale of Architecture? It’s full year away from opening but, in fact, it's getting late in the process to create, fund, and install the exhibition. The American pavilion was for many years (the Biennale of Architecture began in the 1970s) a casual affair and officials would sometimes wait until last minute and simply call Philip Johnson and ask him for a theme—and to help fund the pavilion. In 2008, the State Department, the federal agency that organizes and partially funds the pavilion, began to systematize the pavilion's creation by implementing a traditional RFP process to select a theme and curators. The Department asked the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to organize a jury of peers to select the pavilion for Venice and, it was hoped, other national art and architecture exhibitions like Istanbul and Cairo. This has been the system since 2008 and has helped make the process more democratic and easier to organize. But what is up with the State Department announcement for 2018? We understand that the exhibition has been funded (by both the State Department and the NEA) and the NEA has passed on their recommendation of the top two applications. However, the deputy secretary at the State Department seems to be sitting on the announcement? One source claims that at least one of the finalists has been told they are in the running and the non-finalists informed (there were apparently a record number of recommendations this year) but at least one of the groups that submitted a proposal has not been contacted. Is this inaction a result of the Trumpian incompetence that we hear is spreading all over Washington or is there is simply no interest in having a pavilion at Venice in 2018?
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The 2018 Venice Biennale will focus on generosity and thoughtfulness within architecture

Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who are both principals at Dublin-based Grafton Architects and are curating the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, have disclosed their agenda for the Biennale. Titled Freespace, Farrell and McNamara explained at a press event that the 16th Biennale will exhibit "a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself." Officially, La Biennale Architettura 2018 will be known as The 16th International Architecture Exhibition Freespace and will begin on May 26th, running through November 25. At the press event held yesterday at Ca’ Giustinian in Venice, Farrell and McNamara elaborated on their plans, defining Freespace as the following:
  • Freespace describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself.
  • Freespace focuses on architecture’s ability to provide free and additional spatial gifts to those who use it and on its ability to address the unspoken wishes of strangers.
  • Freespace celebrates architecture’s capacity to find additional and unexpected generosity in each project - even within the most private, defensive, exclusive or commercially restricted conditions.
  • Freespace provides the opportunity to emphasise nature’s free gifts of light - sunlight and moonlight, air, gravity, materials—natural and man-made resources.
  • Freespace encourages reviewing ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world, of inventing solutions where architecture provides for the well being and dignity of  each citizen of this fragile planet.
  • Freespace can be a space for opportunity, a democratic space, un-programmed and free for uses not yet conceived. There is an exchange between people and buildings that happens, even if not intended or designed, so buildings themselves find ways of sharing and engaging with people over time, long after the architect has left the scene.
  • Freespace encompasses freedom to imagine, the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together, building on inherited cultural layers, weaving the archaic with the contemporary.
Farrell and McNamara continued, adding that the Biennale will showcase works of architecture—built and/or unbuilt—that exhibit "modulation, richness, and materiality of surface; the orchestration and sequencing of movement, revealing the embodied power and beauty of architecture." The pair also stated that they wish for the Biennale engage visitors emotionally and intellectually and to invoke discussion on architecture's contribution to humanity. In this sense, Farrell and McNamara's agenda is a riff on Alejandro Aravena's previously curated Reporting From the Front, which took a more hedonistic approach in addressing the overlap between architecture and global social issues. The Irish duo concluded their statement by saying:
We are interested in going beyond the visual, emphasizing the role of architecture in the choreography of daily life. We see the earth as Client. This brings with it long-lasting responsibilities. Architecture is the play of light, sun, shade, moon, air, wind, gravity in ways that reveal the mysteries of the world. All of these resources are free. It is examples of generosity and thoughtfulness in architecture throughout the world that will be celebrated in the 16th International Architecture Exhibition. We believe these qualities sustain the fundamental capacity of architecture to nurture and support meaningful contact between people and place. We focus our attention on these qualities because we consider that intrinsic to them are optimism and continuity. Architecture that embodies these qualities and does so with generosity and a desire for exchange is what we call Freespace. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” - Greek Proverb.
About Grafton Architects: 
Farrell and McNamara founded Grafton Architects in 1977 and made their first Biennale appearance in 2002. In 2012, their firm won the Silver Lion for a promising practice. Their projects are mostly institutional—for universities, schools, and governments—and are spread across the globe. Most recently, their Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) building, seen above, won the inaugural 2016 RIBA International Prize.
Their statement in full, along with President of La Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta's remarks, can be found here.
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2016 Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion to go on display in Detroit

The Architectural Imagination, the exhibition from the U.S. Pavilion of the 2016 Venice Biennale, is returning to the United States. Opening on February 11th at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the exhibition will bring the 12 proposed projects for Detroit back to their home city. Organized by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and curated by Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de Leon, the exhibition was first shown at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale. The show advocates for the power of architecture to construct culture and catalyze cities, with Detroit as the setting for a larger conversation about world cities. Projects in the show are presented through large models, drawings, and interactive virtual reality. The show includes work by; A(n) Office, Detroit, Michigan Marcelo López-Dinardi; V. Mitch McEwen BairBalliet, Columbus, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois Kelly Bair; Kristy Balliet Greg Lynn FORM, Los Angeles, California Greg Lynn Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta, Georgia Mack Scogin; Merrill Elam Marshall Brown Projects, Chicago, Illinois Marshall Brown MOS Architects, New York, New York Hilary Sample; Michael Meredith Pita & Bloom, Los Angeles, California Florencia Pita; Jackilin Hah Bloom Present Future, Houston, Texas Albert Pope; Jesús Vassallo Preston Scott Cohen Inc., Boston, Massachusetts Preston Scott Cohen SAA/Stan Allen Architect, New York, New York Stan Allen T+E+A+M, Ann Arbor, Michigan Thom Moran; Ellie Abrons; Adam Fure; Meredith Miller Zago Architecture, Los Angeles, California Andrew Zago; Laura Bouwman The opening of the exhibition will include an introduction by Dean Robert Fishman of the Taubman College and a presentation by exhibition curators Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de Leon. The exhibition will be on show from February 11th through April 16th, 2017, and will be free to the public at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Michigan.
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Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara named curators of 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Yesterday the Board of the Venice Biennale selected the Dublin-based architecture team Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara to curate the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, otherwise known as the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture. The duo founded Grafton Architects in 1977 and made their first Biennale appearance in 2002. In 2012, their firm won the Silver Lion for a promising practice. Their projects are mostly instututional—for universities, schools, and governments—and are spread across the globe. Most recently, their Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) building, seen above, won the inaugural 2016 RIBA International Prize. Paolo Baratta, chairman of the Venice Biennale board, released this statement on Farrell and McNamara and the upcoming Biennale:
The Exhibition curated by Alejandro Aravena offered visitors a critical overview of the worldwide evolution of architecture and underlined how important it is that a qualified demand on the part of individuals and communities be met by an equally effective response, thereby confirming that architecture is one of civil society’s instruments for organizing the space in which it lives and works. Along these lines, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara will continue to address the same theme but from the point of view of the quality of the public and private space, of urban space, of the territory and of the landscape as the main ends of architecture. The curators, who are well-known for the refinement of their work, are also known for their intense didactic activity and their ability to involve and fascinate new generations.
The biennale will begin May 26, 2018, and run through November 25, 2018.
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Detroit Resists decries lack of community representation on Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion panels

Earlier in September, the community organization Detroit Resists 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. In a follow-up, they've written this "Annotation" regarding an upcoming series of panel discussions taking place at the Biennale. A full resolution version of the image above is available here. Entitled “The Architectural Imagination,” the U.S. Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale exhibits “speculative architectural projects” authored by twelve “visionary American architectural practices” for four sites in Detroit. According to curators Cynthia Davidson and Mónica Ponce de León, these projects comprise “new work that demonstrates the creativity and resourcefulness of architecture to address the social and environmental issues of the 21st century.” Post-bankruptcy Detroit is a city shaped by violent processes of displacement in the form of mass evictions, mass foreclosures, mass water shutoffs, and mass blight removal primarily targeting the city’s working-class African-American families and communities. Taking this city as a field upon which to demonstrate architecture’s relevance, the U.S. Pavilion gestures to architecture’s long colonial tradition of appropriating sites of race- and class-based inequality as laboratories of disciplinary research. On October 1, 2016, the curators of the U.S. Pavilion will host “conversations” under the title of “Architecture and Change.” “Change” might be a very appropriate topic for the curators to address. As perhaps the most generic, value-free and depoliticized term in the historiographical lexicon, “change” offers itself up as a precious discursive resource: a word that can refer to virtually any difference over time whatsoever. Whether the architectural projects displayed in the U.S. Pavilion are posed as harbingers of “change” or consequences of “change,” conversations on “change” run the risk of displacing political understandings of historical transformation as, for example, in the form of decolonization or democratization. Repeated references to “the social” and “the political” in the description of these conversations may function as a ruse: these categories may be brought up as frames for discussion in order to elide their absence in the curatorial process itself. The circling of disciplinary wagons around the notion of architecture that the U.S. Pavilion advances is perhaps most vividly revealed in the constitution of the panels in “Architecture and Change.” The panelists are all faculty members from one of four schools of architecture in the United States, each with a deep stake in the U.S. Pavilion project: the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning is the Pavilion’s institutional organizer and direct recipient of the funding for the Pavilion provided by the U.S. Department of State, while the Princeton University School of Architecture, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture are official sponsors of this specific event. These schools are also employers of nine of the visionary American architects displaying work in the U.S. Pavilion. The panels, therefore, consist of the representatives of four institutions, discussing the work of faculty employed at these institutions, and funded by the same institutions themselves. As the list of the U.S. Pavilion’s sponsors reveals, most of the capital supporting the Pavilion comes from corporations that would directly benefit from the displacement of Detroit’s working-class African-American communities: Shinola is a luxury fashion company, Westin is a luxury hotel chain, and Aperol is a luxury liquor; Dassault Systemes makes Catia and other 3D software that designers use to make luxury architecture; and the Deshler group, Global Transportation Management, and GS3 are different subsidiaries of a single corporate conglomerate supplying the parts and logistics that manufacturers use to make automobiles, luxury and otherwise. The list of the U.S. Pavilion’s sponsors is itself an important text; it illustrates how the Pavilion participates in the current alignment of architectural attention and economic investment that is transforming Detroit into a city of gentrifying consumers and it points to the beneficiaries of the architectural imagination that the Pavilion stages. Who is absent from these conversations? We might suggest that the very communities these processes pretend to aid are both invoked and erased. Architecture can never change in decolonizing and democratic ways without transformative engagement with movement-based activism—the only site of emancipatory agency in our historical conjuncture. This is a proposition that the U.S. Pavilion not only refuses to grapple with but also, with all the talk of “change” floated around it, might actively attempt to displace.
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The Victoria & Albert Museum grapples with art, architecture, and authenticity at the Venice Biennale

As the Palmyra arch—destroyed by ISIS and recreated by archeologists and scientists—tours the world, preservation has been a hot topic this year. Building on this fervent global discussion, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) from London exhibited A World of Fragile Parts at this year’s Biennale in Venice.

Located in the Arsenale, the exhibition was designed by London architecture studio Ordinary Architecture and curated by Brendan Cormier. This was also the first time the V&A and La Biennale di Venezia had worked together. A World of Fragile Parts focuses on the phenomena of copies and raises questions about authenticity and the act of emulating artifacts. Does copying result in fakes? Rip-offs? Or acts of cultural preservation?

The exhibition illustrates how museums have long been displaying duplicates. The V&A itself did so from the 1800s onwards by creating plaster casts of art and sculpture work. In 1867, “The Convention for Promoting Universally Reproductions of Works of Art” was set up by the V&A to aid the exchange of such copies (a reproduction of which is on show). "The [V&A] founding director, Henry Cole, had a mandate to bring examples of great art and architecture to a British public," Cormier told The Architect's Newspaper (AN) over email. "Since certain pieces were unmovable, especially architectural details from churches across Europe, he instead decided to commission plaster cast copies of those details and bring them to London." The practice allowed locals to view artwork from across the globe, however, it eventually fell out of favor in the 20th century, with public opinion swaying to view such copies as unauthentic.

On display in the exhibition is the head of the former Egyptian queen, Nefertiti. Originally discovered in 1912, the bust has been on display in the Neues Museum in Berlin since 1924. Despite many calls from Egypt to return it, the German museum has refused and has blocked access to the artifact. That didn’t stop artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, though. Without the permission of the museum, Al-Badri and Nelles scanned the head of Nefertiti using an Xbox Kinect controller and made a 3D print.

The artists' 3D-print—exhibited in Cairo but also publicly available under a Creative Commons License—is the most precise scan ever made public of the original artifact. “With the data leak as a part of this counter-narrative we want to activate the artifact, to inspire a critical re-assessment of today’s conditions and to overcome the colonial notion of possession in Germany,” the two artists said on their website.

A World of Fragile Parts doesn’t just cover this passage of history: Cormier has sampled modern reproductions too. Part of the remade Palmyra arch can be found in the exhibition. The arch was fabricated with precise stone-cutting tools and information from a 3D model built using photographs of the original. In this example, and indeed many others, a sense of urgency is installed throughout the exhibition. "Despite best efforts to preserve originals, there will always be a level of uncertainty—the potential damage of violent attacks, environmental disasters, and accidents—that put our material culture at risk," said Cormier. "Compiling a vast database of digital backups, which then can be reconstituted physically, offers an immense opportunity."

Working with Cormier, architect Sam Jacob created a full-size mock-up of a refugee camp from Calais, northern France. Using, wood, plastic, and CNC milled synthetic stone, the installation referenced the camp which has become a talking point between France and the U.K. as refugees camp on the border between the two countries.

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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.