[Editor's Note: The Venice Architecture Biennale is still on through November 23 and it's still proving to be controversial. Professor Peter Lang shares his thoughts on Rem Koolhaas' event here.] A Tale about the Magician Koolhaas who plays Prospero, lives on an island in the Venetian Laguna, and brings a Tempest to the Venice Biennale. Miranda: O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't. —William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206 (Aldous Huxley quoted this line from the Tempest for the title of his dystopian novel Brave New World published in 1931) In choosing to take a different perspective on the 14th edition of the Architecture Biennale in Venice directed by Rem Koolhaas, I decided to skip the standard blow-by-blow critique, and instead confront what I believe is the greatest enigma behind this controversial event. Up till now, the majority of critics taking a look at this year’s exhibition find fault with Koolhaas’ method, not so much with his madness. But the key to the exhibition is not in its studied aloofness, but in its insubordination—Koolhaas is determined to shake up the Biennale institution by any means possible. In all likelihood it didn’t start out this way. Koolhaas went about his business to remake the Biennale as did any major curator in the past, but Koolhaas is ambitious, and he set the stakes very high. To remake the Biennale, Koolhaas would need to dismantle the entire institution in order to rid it of its nearly century old infrastructure, complete with archaic “nationalist” pavilions, an array of inflexible labyrinthine spaces and gigantean maritime buildings, and a legacy of incredibly dated architectural categories. Koolhaas must at some point hit a frustrating impasse, compelling him to look for alternative best practices. It might have been around then that he hit upon the Tempest. The Tempest has an incredible allure for the kind of intellectual figure who won’t be compromised. The Shakespearean play itself lives on and on: it morphs continuously through time into an incredibly wondrous amalgam of human drama and personal transcendence. The Tempest is a malleable condition, and can double as a playbook for utopian practices, a manual for post-colonial discourse, or a stage for feverish fantasies. Prospero, the ex-Duke of Milan was a man of great vision and curiosity. While his methods may not be commonly practiced today, he would be of great inspiration to someone like Koolhaas who also faced insurmountable odds. Prospero ruled by sorcery, commanded over an army of slaves, spirits, half humans and fairies. His supernatural powers were based on his immense intellect, drawn from his great library in Milan of which a portion accompanied him in his escape from the city. His strongest affections are reserved for his daughter, Miranda. But the most important cue Koolhaas probably takes from Prospero is dramaturgical, that all spectacle is one big illusion, and that the scenes and characters are but figments of one’s imagination. Prospero evokes the “stuff dreams are made on.” He reveals the insubstantial world of the theatrical craft, masking fiction from truth. Continue reading the rest of Peter Lang's essay here.
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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.
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.
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.
Santiago Calatrava has been ordered by a Spanish court to pay $4 million for problems plaguing a municipal building he designed in Oviedo in Northwest Spain. While the final fee is lower than an initial ruling, such legal problems have become something of an unfortunate calling card for the Spanish architect. The Palacio de Congresos de Oviedo was completed in 2011 and features the soaring forms and white ribs that tend to populate Calatrava's work. The suit stems from issues involving the construction of the building as well as the project's final budget, which exceeded original estimates. Calatrava's fairly loose interpretation of budgetary restrictions has come under fire throughout the architect's prolific career. He is also in the midst of a legal battle regarding an opera house in Valencia whose final cost of $455.6 million—four times greater than its original budget—was not enough to ensure structural stability for more than a decade. Part of Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences that the architect had a major role in designing, the concert hall is the biggest fish in a sea of problems besetting the complex. Practicality has also not always been a strong suit for the architect. Bridges in Venice and Bilbao have both developed reputations for the extreme slipperiness among other issues. An airport he designed for the latter city was found lacking in a sheltered arrivals hall, a problem that Calatrava himself was forced to remedy. And the list continues. Assuming all goes according to plan, by 2015 New Yorkers will be able to witness what may be the zenith of the troubled beauty that has come to define Calatrava's works. The World Trade Center Transporation Hub represents his avian aesthetic at its most striking. However, the project's completion date is six years behind schedule, while its initial budget of $2 billion has since swelled to $4 billion.
Architecture and urban design apps are appearing so fast its hard to keep up with the latest new site to investigate city history and growth. But a new one—Archipelago Town-lines—is the result of a 3 year-long research on three key places: Berlin, Beirut, and Venice. It uses original photo galleries, video, and audio content and interactive data visualization features, as a guide for new urban geography, history, and lifestyle of these three very different cities. These places are then place holders for the analysis of contemporary urban trends, in order to propose a new possibility for growth. A second app second section puts forwards a new model for urban growth based on 9th century Venice and the figure of the archipelago whose archetype is to be found in a place built in the impossible like Venice, namely a place in which un-built areas have the same importance as built ones. The third section of the app features video interviews of prominent architects, urban planners, and academicians, specifically produced for it, that suggest imaginary path and different reading of the urban phenomenon stimulated by the app itself. Archipelago Town-lines has been released in English as an app for the iPad. In April, it will be available for Amazon Kindle Fire and all tablets operating on an Android platform. It's worth a download!
Rem Koolhaas has been named director of the 2014 Venice Biennale, the 14th edition of the architecture exhibition. Koolhaas, a leading thinker and persistent provocateur in the discipline, succeeds David Chipperfield. "The Architecture Exhibitions of the Biennale have gradually grown in importance internationally," said Biennale President Paolo Baratta in a statement. "Rem Koolhaas, one of the most significant personalities among the architects of our time—who has based all his work on intense research, now renowned celebrity—has accepted to engage himself in yet another research and, why not, rethinking." Chipperfield's exhibition, called Common Ground, which sought to identify continuities across cultures, time periods, and architectural approaches, divided critics. Koolhaas will take a different approach: "We want to take a fresh look at the fundamental elements of architecture—used by any architect, anywhere, anytime—to see if we can discover something new about architecture.”
The Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale has in recent years been a bit of a snore. The space has been filled most recently in 2010 with unconvincing drawings of older Russian cities and earlier (2008) with models of Ordos McMansions. But this year the pavilion's interior was spectacularly reconfigured with walls of glass QR codes in its central space forming a digital dome, but the display's heavy-handedness brought to mind earlier periods of Russian single mindedness and even totalitarianism. It seems those in charge of this year's Venice effort finally realized what kind of pavilion makes an impact in the giardini on harried biennale visitors and journalists and went for the full design monty. But the tensions in contemporary Russian society were also highlighted on Thursday during the Golden Lion awards presentation ceremony when a few hundred feet away a crew of cocktail-dressed and balaclava-wearing young Russian women "occupied" the exterior of the pavilion to make the case for the Pussy Riot band back in Russia recently jailed for hooliganism. A rumor quickly spread that actual members of the band who had escaped Russie were present at the protest. Were these actually Pussy Rioters or sympathizers? No one was sure but it sure beat listening to the Biennale directors and bureaucrats drone on about Common Ground as the press rushed over from the dreadful press conference.