The spectacular Venetian Arsenale at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale is devoted to the history of post-World War II architecture and urbanism. Italy, perhaps more than any country in the world, revels in its architecture and cityscape. It is still a place where architecture means more than simply building—it's a knowledge for describing and thinking about the world. This, it turns out, is true even for its youngest designers who assembled in the arsenal on Sunday, June 8 for a discussion, "Towards a New Avant Garde." Created and organized by the young research group Superscript it ranged over three 90-minute discussions and several key themes emerged in the discussions, including the need of architects to engage the public directly, the importance of evolving new forms of communication and criticism, and the value of capitalizing on opportunities to be proactive. Given the dire financial situation of the Italian economy it should not come as a surprise that young architects in the country are, like many radical Italian groups from the 1960s, are looking outside the country for opportunity. Editor David Tommaso Ferrando advocated exploring new forms of criticism using images and social media. “Criticism has to change because the media is changing,” said Ferrando. "With the opportunities to connect and work globally today, identity becomes less defined by nationality and more by an individual’s point of view and how they engage with the profession." In a session called Collective Action the young practitioners still living in the country discussed searching for alternative models of practice that will allow them to practice. They are increasingly turning to urban design and planning strategies that have them engage with local citizens and building users, but, unlike these profession in the United States, they have not abandoned form to public policy but instead are looking back to radical practices of the 1960s like Superstudio for models. In the finals session devoted to Economics the young participants looked ahead—past the economic recession of the present times and asked reflecting on a quote from architect Marco Lampugnani, how do you “create value, not things?” Architecture, if not building, is alive in Italy!
Posts tagged with "Venice Architecture Biennale":
While most of the attendees at the recently opened Venice Biennale were thinking about the basic Elements of Architecture a younger generation of architects were concerned about something even more basic: how to earn a living. In a series of Arsenale round table talks called Stay Radical created by New York–based Superscript, young Italian architects talked about the difficulties of earning even the most basic living wage in their country devastated by recession and a historic system of wage depression. Meanwhile the New York group, The Architect's Lobby took matters into their own hand and with megaphones held a protest just outside entrance to the Venetian Giardini (above). Led by architects Yolande Daniels and Manuel Shvartzberg, surrounded by Carabinieri, the Italian paramilitary police, the young architects shouted the demands and manifesto of the Lobby:
We are precarious workers; these are our demands: 1. Enforce labor laws that prohibit unpaid internships, unpaid overtime; refuse unpaid competitions. 2. Reject fees based on percentage of construction or hourly fees and instead calculate value based on the money we save our clients or gain them. 3. Stop peddling a product - buildings - and focus on the unique value architects help realize through spatial services. 4. Enforce wage transparency across the discipline. 5. Establish a union for architects, designers, academics and interns in architecture and design. 6. Demystify the architect as solo creative genius; no honors for architects who don't acknowledge their staff. 7. Licensure upon completion of degree. 8. Change professional architecture organizations to advocate for the living conditions of architects. 9. Support research about professional labor rights in architecture. 10. Implement democratic alternatives to the free market system of development.
At the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, Rem Koolhaas set the theme "Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014" for the national pavilions, and many countries took it up through the lens of domesticity. The Taiwanese American designer Jimenez Lai examined the spaces and rituals of Taiwanese life with his exhibition Township of Domestic Parts. Lai created "superfurniture," overscaled, Memphis-inflected installations that interpreted ideas such as museum-like living rooms—part shrine, part show place, reserved only for guests. The result is a fantasy hangout space, which conjures up memories of childhood. Inside the neoclassical German Pavilion, the organizers built a modern house. The two structures intersect and "absorb" one another—a sofa is split by a wall, an outdoor fireplace undercuts the monumentality of the pavilion's central atrium. The pavilion turns amusing and strange—the kitchen is entirely formed by a glass wall and resembles a scientific lab—the installation is one of the best-crafted of the Biennale, though its meaning is largely opaque. The French Pavilion skewered Modernism as it met the realities of modernity. The central portion included a model of the house at the center of Jacques Tati's film Mon Oncle. The gallery behind includes a beautiful collection of prefabricated panels designed by Jean Prové, but also includes videos that detail the failure commercial failure of prefabricated architecture. The exhibition takes a decidedly sinister tone in the side gallery, which looks at an unsuccessful modernist housing development outside Paris, which was later used as an internment camp for French jews during the Holocaust. By asking the national participants to consider "Modernity" as a condition rather than "Modernism" as a style, Koolhaas has provided a useful framework for examining 20th century architecture in the culture of the 20th century. But few seemed prepared to engage with the state of architecture and culture today.
The Florentine architecture group Superstudio enjoyed the penultimate moment on the world architecture stage at the 1972 MoMA exhibition, The New Domestic Landscape. However, by the end of that decade with worldwide radical politics on the wane and postmodernism on the rise, the Florentines found their radicale arguments and practice marginalized and they began to move away from architecture towards other sorts of design initiatives. But before the group left the international stage, they created one last potent architectural statement: La Moglie di Lot and displayed it at the 1978 Venice Biennale of Art. The piece consisted of an iron frame with a table on which were placed four basic architectural forms constructed of salt, like a round Coliseum (see below). The frame has a taller high-rise like armature that help up plastic tubes that dripped water down on the forms. Each mass slowly disappeared or eroded into nothingness like Superstudio's careers and hopes for radical change in culture and the architecture profession. The frame from Moglie disappeared after 1978 but now a gallerist from Genoa has reconstructed a new frame (in fact, he built three of them for sale), and it is on display the 2014 Venice Biennale in the Moditalia Arsenale.
The 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale is a bit like walking into a giant research project. If the exhibition The Elements of Architecture is not necessary thrilling to the spirit it is at least full of ideas on the basics of construction. It is possible to walk through a dozen times and come away with new information and concepts. Here is a quick look at several of the ideas in this intellectual project masquerading as an exhibition.
When Rem Koolhaas gave the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale the theme Fundamentals, he promised to create a research-based exhibition that would consider both the universal and place-specific aspects of the discipline. Serving as a counterweight to the multidisciplinary but single-country-focus of Monditalia, which fills the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale, the Central Pavilion in the Giardini is hosting The Elements of Architecture, which looks at the basic components of building around the world: the floor, walls, windows, stairs, elevators, etc. Based on a book of the same name, the exhibition juxtaposes the mundane and the cutting edge, building science with artistic interpretations, historical facts with speculative futures. The gallery devoted to "walls", for instance, has a row of examples different construction techniques from different historical periods. Beginning with stone fragments, the collection includes a lathe and plaster wall, which ably illustrates the artistry that can turn plaster into confection-like moldings, and ends with a glass fire wall and a tensile kinetic wall by Barkow Leibinger. This range is both obvious and interesting, illustrating the diversity of even architecture's most basic elements. A nearby room devoted to "toilets" includes a throne-like Roman toilet—on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—a curious Victorian mechanical example, a 19th century flowered urinal, as well as contemporary loos. Just inside an alcove is footage of mid-20th century police busts of men having illicit sex in public restrooms—often through entrapment. The grainy footage adds a somber note to the otherwise giggle-inducing gallery. The gallery on "roofs" includes a fascinating look at an 11th century Chinese building code, which details the elaborate roof assembly of many Chinese buildings. A collection of salvaged English windows—Gothic points and leaded glass—contrasts with a factory window system made by machine (at top). Though the factory-built windows have every advantage over their leaky wooden predecessors, one can't help but be charmed by the "Englishness" of the historical objects. The room devoted to "facades", organized by Alejandro Zaero-Polo, is perhaps the most satisfying, with full scale mock-ups from Herzog & de Meuron to Jean Prove (exhibition view at left). Curtain walls, highly insulated panels, green walls, rain screens, double facades, and other elements are explained in detail, and their strengths and limitations are put up for debate. (The text on green walls is called "Greenwashing," though the text is less controversial than one might expect. The system on display includes both live plants and smog-eating coatings, so the curator asks which is more effective or important, the feel-good foliage or the invisible coating?) Large group exhibitions usually feel both inspiring and scattershot, and Fundamentals is no exception. The Elements of Architecture helps ground this Biennale in the real world, allowing other pavilions and participants to freedom to speculate and dream.
AN just had a quick Arsenale walkthrough of Radical Pedagogies: ACTION-REACTION-INTERACTION by creator and Princeton professor Beatriz Colomina. The Arsenale has been given over in this biennale to Monditalia, a single-theme exhibition with exhibits, events, and theatrical productions engaging Italian architecture with politics, economics, religion, technology, and industry. In this installation the other festivals of la Biennale di Venezia—film, dance, theatre, and music—will be mobilized through the architecture event to contribute to a comprehensive portrait of the host country. In Radical-Pedagogies, Colomina's team (that includes Britt Eversole, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, Anna-Maria Meister, Federica Vannucchi, Amunátegui Valdés Architects, and Smog.tv) has created a wondrous wall display of the effects of the radical years in Italy and as their influence spread around the world to architecture schools and movements on every content. The display is a wall of information that, rather than make definitive claims to all inclusiveness, uses an open-source strategy to feature what's known so far about the these multiple international movements and that asks others to add their own information to the wall. The wall includes original journals, fantastic period images of major protagonists from Giancarlo de Carlo, Manfredo Tafuri, and many others. The display makes use of augmented reality that allows users with mobile devices to scan the display which then creates an interactive display of films, videos, images, and other displays. Its is a not-to-be-missed part of Monditalia in the biennale.
The 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale has published a list of events around Venice during the opening three days of the biennale. Below is a list of collateral events not to be missed if you're in Venice. Thursday, 6/5/2014 10am-7pm Venice Biennale - Opening Preview - Rem Koolhaas - Fundamentals Location: Giardini and The Arsenale 10am-7pm OfficeUS: Storefront for Art & Architecture Location: U.S. Pavilion, Giardini 4:30-7pm Hans Ulrich Obrist's Marathon Location: Swiss Pavilion 6:30pm Liz Diller's Culture Shed talk Location: Swiss Pavilion Friday, 6/6/2014 10am-7pm Venice Biennale - Opening Preview - Rem Koolhaas - Fundamentals Location: Giardini and The Arsenale 10am-7pm OfficeUS: Storefront for Art & Architecture Location: U.S. Pavilion, Giardini 10:00am Zaryadye Exhibition Press Preview Location: Santa Maria della Pieta 11:00am Zaryadye Panel Discussion - Charles is speaking! 'Polis 21" Public Space and The Urban Commons Location: Santa Maria della Pieta 1:00pm Zaryadye Exhibition Preview Location: Santa Maria della Pieta 7pm-12am Charles' Birthday Party! Location: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection 12am BIG Biennale Rooftop Party (Bjarke Ingels Group) Location: Calle del Cafetier 287 30124, Venice Saturday, June 7th The Biennale opens to the public. You may purchase tickets and find useful information to the Biennale here. Other sites to check out: Palazzo Grassi - A beautiful Doug Wheeler awaits you. Also wander through this exquisite Palazzo dodging through video rooms and emerging the other side, viewing slightly self conscious contemporary art and an Irving Penn exhibit at the top. Punta della Dogana - The Tadao Ando converted space greets you with more of the of the moment Pinault Lite fare - worth a wander through this architecturally contrasted space. Sebastiao Salgado, Casa dei tre Oci Prada Fondazione; Preview 4th June, Ca Corner della Regina, Calle Corner, 2215 - a sound exhibit.
AN is already in Venice preparing an edited list of the best of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. The biennale in years past was confined to the spectacular Arsenale and the pavilion-filled giardini (some of the pavilions were designed by Carlo Scarpa), but one of the big changes in the past two biennials is the number of off-site events, pavilions, and installations that now participate in the architecture fair. For the first time the official biennale has published a listing of the considerable number of ancillary events around Venice. But arriving here we discovered that there are many more events taking place than are officially listed on the biennale website. For example, in the Serra dei Giardini and in the Cini-Venier Naval Institute, the Swedish art and architecture residency program, Botkyrka Konsthall, opens the Fittja Pavilion. The pavilion artists are presenting work inspired by the philosopher and farmer Masanobu Fukuoka in their thinking about how a new arts institution can be built through the element of chance and unexpected encounters. This garden installation includes New Yorker Lind Roy. The organizers are reevaluating the architecture and city planning of the 1960s and 1970s Sweden, a fascinating exercise (one we should be doing in New York) that shows why the biennale is still the most energizing and intellectually-challenging event on the architecture calendar. If you cannot make to to Venice, follow the biennale right here on the AN website.
The board of the Venice Biennale announced today that Phyllis Lambert is the 2014 recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for the 14th Architecture Biennale, Fundamentals. Best known for championing the selection of Mies van der Rohe to design the Seagram Building for her family and for founding the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Lambert has worked as an architect, author, curator, and advocate for contemporary architecture and historic preservation. In a statement, board chair Paolo Barata praised Lambert's contribution to the field:
Not as an architect, but as a client and custodian, Phyllis Lambert has made a huge contribution to architecture. Without her participation, one of the few realizations in the 20th century of perfection—the Seagram Building in New York—would not have happened. Her creation of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal combines rare vision with rare generosity to preserve crucial episodes of architecture's heritage and to study them under ideal conditions. Architects make architecture; Phyllis Lambert made architects.She will be presented with the award on June 7 at the Biennale.
From the abandoned foundations of the ill-fated Chicago Spire to the ghosts of would-be Tribune Towers galore, Chicago’s unbuilt legacy could rival the iconic skyline it actually achieved. An exhibition on display downtown, dubbed City Works: Provocations for Chicago’s Urban Future, confronts the city with its alternative skyline in the form of a panoramic wall design and a “Phantom Chicago” iPhone app. The overall effect evokes “a dream but also a nightmare,” in the words of curator Alexander Eisenschmidt. It also presents “a series of urban environments that are typical for Chicago,” meditating through the work of four prominent local designers on some of the city’s contemporary challenges: waterways, industry, shelter, and vacancy. To borrow Eisenschmidt’s metaphor, the aim is to turn potential nightmares into visionary dreams. Studio Gang’s work on urban waterways is well-known and their work here, titled “Reclaiming the Edge,” reprises the vision they laid out in Reverse Effect and other publications: a riverfront community and restored natural habitat nourish each other in a kind of urban symbiosis. After years of legal wrangling, Chicago’s Water Reclamation District will soon disinfect the wastewater it dumps back into the river, signaling some substantive progress on water quality. Meanwhile the Chicago Riverwalk grows along the waterway's main branch. UrbanLab / Sarah Dunn & Martin Felsen present “Free Water District,” a vision that also draws on Chicago’s aquatic resources. Rust Belt cities share many challenges stemming from deindustrialization, but they also share a common asset: water. UrbanLab’s piece envisions a Great Lakes region revitalized by water-focused industries, in a “megastructure-scaled public/private land/water partnership.” Stanley Tigerman offers a rumination on shelter in both the spatial and spiritual sense with “Displacement of the Gridiron with the Cloister.” His target is the “ineffable in architecture,” which is philosophical enough to mean many things to many people who might have very different ideas of the city’s urban aspirations. “The Available City” by David Brown displays a similar yearning, manifesting the city’s 15,000 city-owned vacant lots as blots of color bubbling up amid fractured neighborhoods. The bright colors, which appear to denote potential programs for unused space, could mean anything — adaptive reuse, public space, space-age capsule hotel — but the important thing is they reanimate dead spaces that total an area twice the size of the Loop. All four panoramas will eventually connect, sharing continuous topographic or development features. But until the closing days of the show they remain separate, traveling slowly along dotted lines that traverse the small exhibition space. “By pulling them apart,” Eisenschmidt said, “there’s a little suspense.” City Works, adapted from the 2013 Biennale in Venice, returned to its city of origin May 24. And these “provocations” are not Eisenschmidt’s first. In 2011 the University of Illinois at Chicago professor’s Visionary Chicago (reviewed here for A|N by Philip Berger) stirred conversation about bold building while the real estate market languished. The free show is open at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St., seven days per week through September 29. Listen to a conference on the topic, held September 22, 2012 and recorded by WBEZ. Watch 50 meters of the "Phantom Chicago" wall panorama scroll by: