The Venice Biennale is staged in an enormous old Arsenal building and in an urban park a few blocks away that houses 30 national pavilions. The first of these pavilions opened in 1907 and several were designed by famous architects like Josef Hoffmann (Austria), BBPR (Canada), Alvar Aalto (Finland), and Sverre Fehn (Nordic). The United States pavilion was designed by William Adams Delano. There have been very few buildings built in the garden since James Sterling designed the biennial book store in 1991, but just behind the U.S. pavilion the Australians are building a new exhibition space designed by Denton Corker Marshall. The Australian architects describe the pavilion as a simple structure or "a white box contained within a black box." The pavilion will open in 2015 for the 56th art biennale and its $6 million price tag will be paid for with private funds.
Posts tagged with "Venice":
Just when we were getting used to Behnisch Architekten having an office in Venice we learn that leader Christof Jantzen is leaving and the office is closing. Stuttgart-based Behnisch opened the outpost back in 1999 and the location has worked on projects ranging from a lab at Yale, student housing at UC Berkeley, and an upcoming parking garage in Santa Monica. Now Behnisch's only U.S. office is in Boston. "It's an evolution," described Jantzen. "We had a successful story together." Here comes the good news: Jantzen is starting his own firm, Christof Jantzen Architecture, just down the street, and he hopes to take some of Behnisch's eight Los Angeles employees with him. Jantzen described the venture as on the "smaller scale" to begin but noted, "we'll see how it develops." The web site isn't yet live, but it will be www.cjantzen.com.
In an effort to consolidate its efforts in Los Angeles, Google has leased 100,000 square feet of office space in three buildings in Venice, including space inside Frank Gehry's Chiat/Day Building, a.k.a. the Binoculars Building. Why is it called that? Because one entryway is shaped like a gigantic pair of binoculars, of course. Finished in 1991 on Main Street, the space is probably the most famous of Gehry's forays into...shiver... Post Modernism. The binoculars themselves were designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The new Venice Googleplex will hold many more employees than its present collection of buildings in Santa Monica, which contain about 300. Earlier this week Google announced that it would be adding 6,000 total employees this year. Recession? What recession? Not in Google's world.
Mapping Visage. Canadian artist Ingrid Dabringer has attracted attention for her unique map paintings, finding countenances in irregular land masses. The artist explained that she draws inspiration from large-scale topography and lines on detailed maps. Dabringer believes that maps hold meaning and by adding her own touches, she seeks a more personal interpretation within a traditional tool. More at Core77. In Situ Study. Recently on Building Design, third-year architecture student Jonathan Brown posed the following question, “Do architecture students today focus too heavily on design theory and practice and consequently, neglect construction skills that cannot be taught in a classroom?” Not alone in his query, the latest RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) “Part of the Picture” campaign permits graduates to credit three months of on-site experience toward their education. Now and then. Technology and the internet have transformed the way we preserve and promote history, particularly our photographs. Trendcentral highlighted three exciting websites: Historypin, where users can upload historic photos and search geo-tagged photos by time, period, and address; Dear Photograph posts reader-submitted photographs of historic photos in context; and the Flickr group, Looking into the Past, includes a diverse range of historic-current photo collages. Troubled Bridge over Water. Conservationists and architects have rejected the Venetian superintendent’s call to replace the historic Ponte del Accademia with a glass and steel substitute, reported Building Design. Although architects Schiavina of Bologna have incorporated an Istrian stone version of the iconic bridge’s gentle arch in their design, prominent art critic Francesco Bonami has dubbed the plans a “bad crash.” Plans remain on hold while the city seeks funding for the €6 million design.
Is there a better place to see contemporary homes than Venice? This weekend's Venice Art Walk and Auctions is offering a tour of one of this architecture hub's most impressive blocks: Appleton Way, where several ambitious residences have sprouted up in the last five years. The tour includes gems like the Walnut Residence by Modal Design; Our House, by du Architects; the Yin-Yang House by Brooks + Scarpa; Ortiz Mexia's Ortiz & Wheeler Residence; Sylvia Aroth & Jeff Cook's Sylvia's Duplex; and Thomas Carson's Carson/Bettauer Residence. The block, points out Art Walk Steering Committee member (and local architect) Victoria Yust, is in an area with the largest lots in Venice; providing enough space to start from scratch (being near a nice public park doesn't hurt either). The Art Walk is also offering a tour of homes in West LA by the likes of A. Quincy Jones, Barton Myers, and William Hefner; as well as a tour of Venice homes along canals and tree-lined streets. The event, which supports the Venice Family Clinic, also includes artists' studio tours, art auctions, and lots of yummy food.
The 17th-century Sospiri Bridge (Bridge of Signs) in Venice connects an ancient prison with interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. The bridge crosses the Rio de Palazzo that itself slices through the palace and makes a spectacular vista as one crosses the canal bridge on the Grand Canal. This vista has been rudely emblazed for at least the past five years by a giant advertising sign the wraps the palace walls and over and under the beautiful Sospiri bridge. Finally the Art Newspaper reports that after a campaign led by the British charity Venice in Peril Fund and signed by Norman Foster, Glenn Lowry, and other sculptural dignitaries the sign will be taken down after the contract ends. The sign has been raising about 40,000 Euros a month to help maintain the Doge’s palace. Further, the newspaper reports that Italy’s cultural minister, Giancarlo Galan, claimed “the advertisers themselves must be finding that they are bad publicity.” Venice is of course faced with many other (perhaps more serious) issues like its declining population of full-time residents (from 200,000 to 70,000) over the past 15 years, but the removal of this vulgar signage is some progress for the serene republic!
The 2010 Venice architecture biennale closed on Saturday—at least for media representatives, as journalists were required for the first time to turn in their press passes and enter as public citizens (tickets, $25). I hated giving up that pass as it allowed me access to the exhibitions both at the Arsenale and in the giardini, home of the national pavilions. Though Venice is hardly a major military installation there are canals in the area that are off-limits to civilians; a water taxi driver informed my group that only a special permit would get us into the canal so I produced my press pass and he said “va bene” and he drove us up the canal. The power of the press! I walked the exhibition again but this time trying to imagine the message it was communicating to the public rather than to professionals. It was now no longer possible to speak with the designers of the installations who were made available for the press to help explain their projects. In one bay of the Arsenale, for example, an elaborate recording studio space had been created in which Hans Ulrich Obrist dramatically interviewed biennale participants live during the vernissage but there was now only silent faces of interviewees on isolated flat screens with voices accessible by head phones. The fantastically elegant installation Architecture as Air: Study for Chateau la Coste by the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami was still there, that highlight of jury day that was later, as we reported, knocked down by a rampaging cat the night before the opening. Now as you walk by the piece, its a huge bare room with monofilament fragments scattered across the floor, a mere memory of the installation that won the Golden Lion for the best project in the exhibition. Small groups of workers are trying to figure out how to reconnect the piece, while at a computer, some five techies try to figure out how to put it back together again before the end of the biennale. Visitors still wonder by, not sure what to make of the mess. In fact, the Venice biennale, like any architecture exhibition, communicates with two audiences between which its curators and directors must always mediate: the professional and academic architecture community, including the design press, and the public, particularly young students from Italy and Europe. This problem of how to display architecture to different audiences is of course an issue with any architecture exhibit, but in Venice it takes on added meaning because architects have looked to the biennale as the most experimental and trend-setting event in the architecture world. Yet its curators—from the first by Vittorio Gregotti (“On the Subject of the Stucky Mill”) to this year’s Kazuyo Sejima (People Meet in Architecture)—always claim they are thinking of the public first when they create their biennales. Which always leads them to being slammed by the design press for elitism and lack of concern for the public. The question of how to display architecture in an exhibition is not an easy one to answer but criticism most often focuses on each biennale’s emphasis on art-like installations rather than on attempts to grapple seriously with the important architecture and urban issues of the day. Gregotti, for example claimed that when it comes to presenting architecture “communicating with the public is practically impossible” but then he did the first biennale in which he claimed: “I wanted to make a clear and certain declaration that the biennale was open to the public, to Venice and to non-specialists.” Even the curator of the famous 1980 Strada Novissima exhibition in the Arsenale, Paolo Portoghesi, asserted at the time that architecture had lost its ability to “speak to the common people.” But this lack of communicating was behind the creation of his cinematic facades lining both sides of the Arsenale. The best exhibitions of architecture, according to biennale president Paolo Baratta, are the ones that are the most cinematic and entertaining. Yet it is equally true that the best ones are those that inspire without preaching. How well did the 2010 biennale do in this regard? This is the fourth Venice biennale that I have attended and this year there seemed to be even more displays of art-like installations than before. Mostly, they focused on the nature of design as a way of inspiring people to recognize the power of architecture. But then the question is, whether design in the absence of urbanism is architecture or just design? The great thing about the biennale is that there is always something for everyone to love (or to hate) regardless of their position. The Kingdom of Bahrain’s national pavilion consisting of actual hand-hewn shacks imported for display and judged the best by the biennale team of jurors, proved that architectural ideas and concerns can be displayed in an exhibition setting. Throughout the biennale many exhibition spaces were, in fact, examples of architectural ideas on display that didn’t need to resort to strategies of artistic practice. It should be noted that in the biannual complaining— for which opportunities abounded at such venues as Raumlabor Berlin’s inflatable bubble space, Volume journal’s Dutch pavilion, and Robert White’s Dark Side club soireés—concerns about cost and exclusivity of its message are now getting more serious. There were many people speculating that the biennale format may have outlived its usefulness and should be abandoned. Some of this is a reflection of the ubiquity of communications and image-making on the web, but it is also a feeling that money would be better spent on solving more demanding issues, like poverty and affordable housing. I know from experience that staging a biennale in a national pavilion cost in excess of $400,000, and there are rumors that this year the Austrian pavilion cost in excess of $800,000, while the Germans at their pavilion showed only drawings and it still cost $650,000. If you add up all the pavilions, the Arsenale, the giardini, not to mention the parties and airfare, this is a $20 million to $30 million affair, an increasingly flashy two-month party. How much longer can, or should, we carry on? Look for a final blog post on the Golden Lions, the national pavilions, and the events surrounding the biennale.
No, not the Fascists—that was 2008, when the Northern League held its national rally at the entrance gates of the biennale giardini. I mean the architects! They have arrived in droves, and it’s easy to spot them walking along the Grand Canal absorbing the searing heat and humidity of August in Venice. The second day of reading press releases, walking the giardini, and visiting collateral exhibitions reaffirms my sense that there is more art in the 2010 biennale than architecture. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing, and many of these installations do consider architectural questions. But it makes one wonder why national pavilions make the decisions they do about the architectural conditions in their country. Still, there is architecture to be seen in the giardini if one looks carefully. The Austrian pavilion, despite its thin premise, has wonderful architectural models and a fascinating central space designed by curator Eric Owen Moss. Elsewhere, the British pavilion has a beautiful-looking installation (glimpsed through a crack in the door) by MUF that looks like a 19th-century teaching hospital; the Germans seem to be showing a long line of architectural drawings on the wall; the Czech Republic is presenting an exciting wooden wonderland of form; and the Japanese pavilion, curated by SANAA partner Ryue Nishizawa, looks to have an installation on metropolitan Tokyo. Finally, the U.S. pavilion’s Workshopping project promises to be one of the few purely architectural shows in the biennale. The challenge for the Venice architecture biennale in general is that just showing buildings in an exhibition space can be a deadly bore. The real problem for architecture exhibitors is how to occupy the space between architecture and exhibitions—and the fact that what architects should be doing is designing for unique conditions. I’ll have more on that note from the biennale tomorrow.
The Venice biennale does not open officially to the press until Thursday, August 26, and just about all of the national pavilions in the giardini are madly rushing to finish before that date. All the pavilions that is, except sadly the crumbling Venezuelan pavilion, which will not have an exhibition in it this year. The small, rough concrete structure was designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1954, and is being kept alive, I have been told, by a single guardian angel who maintains it free of charge. Where are the petro dollars? Or is the Chavez government thinking this exhibition is irrelevant to its more pressing economic problems? Making it even sadder, right next door the Russian pavilion has been lovingly restored on the exterior, with a new skylight and pre-Soviet iron pinnacle. So far, a first impression of this year’s biennale, under curator Kazuyo Sejima’s theme “People Meet in Architecture,” is that there is remarkably little architecture here. The majority of national buildings feature installations that are more like art than architecture. For example, the exhibition at the Polish pavilion, Emergency Exit, curated by Londoner Elias Redstone, is composed of reclaimed birdcages stacked to the roof. It asks viewers to surmount the structure, hold their breath, and then dive into a void. I trust Elias, so will give it a jump tomorrow and report back—assuming I make it out alive. The project at the adjacent Egyptian pavilion looks as if it were meant to be made on a CNC milling machine, but is being entirely cut and framed by hand—with very sharp edges all along. In the garden, Raum Berlin have a crew of workers making funky wooden chair/stairs, and I may try to bring one home! The Italian pavilion, by the way, has a great-looking Op Art cafe created for the last art biennale, inserted in a corner with a nice outdoor seating area on a canal. The Canadian pavilion, which did not open on time in 2008, is filled with an amazing installation by Philip Beesley called Hylozoic Ground, with a publication edited by ex-Storefront staffer Pernilla Ohrstedt and Hayley Isaacs. Check out a few more first glimpses from the giardini below, and stay tuned!
LA’s City Planning and Building and Safety departments, which we could not reach last week, have finally spoken up on the now-imperiled M Cube in Venice. To remind you LA City Council on Thursday rejected designer Mark Baez’s request to allow his floating modular, glass-clad, cube shaped apartment building an exception to remain two feet above the Venice Specific Plan’s requirement of 30 feet. Baez asserted that building inspectors informed him too late that the building was too tall, that his contractor bungled the height, and that the city was nitpicking over a height limit that other buildings are able to surpass. Baez may now resort to tearing down the building instead of going through with the costly changes. City planner Kevin Jones and building and safety investigator John Kelly beg to differ. Jones says that Baez knew that his building had to be 30 feet tall; the project, he said, was granted that height in 2002 as part of a discretionary action allowing him to raise the height from 25 to 30 feet, and the 30 foot height was specified in his plans submitted to the city. “If you tell us that your building is going to be 30 feet in height then it has to be 30 feet in height,” said Jones. “When you are an architect and you prepare plans it means you are legally responsible for following all the laws that are in place,” he added. His planning report concludes that, “A Specific Plan Exception is not appropriate relief post hoc from a hardship created through negligence or misrepresentation.” Jones added that while some buildings in Venice can have mechanical systems measuring up to 35 feet, the buildings themselves must still measure under 30 feet. As for the contractor error, Kelly said it wasn’t his department’s fault that Baez built the project higher than planned. ”That’s between him and his builders isn’t it?” he said. Baez must now come to terms with the city’s criminal proceedings against him. Baez has been living in the building and renting out units for years despite lacking a certificate of occupancy (that was held up due to the height limit battle). Baez answered: “Their side of the story suggests that I didn’t have any approvals and I just built it on my own. I got every approval, every sign off to where I was,” said Baez. He acknowledges “Yes, the drawings indicate that the building was to be 30 feet; the result was an oversight by myself, my contractor, and everyone else.” That includes the city, who he still contends sent him mixed signals all along.
One of Venice's great new houses—the M Cube by designer Mark Baez— is in danger of being at least partially demolished because of a local height restriction that says it's about two feet above code (32 feet instead of 30). The prefab, modular building glows from within thanks to exterior windows and sliding doors made of translucent fiberglass. These and other elements make the cube look like a Japanese Tatami home floating above the city. The structure also uses radiant heating powered by solar panels on the roof. A hearing on the home is scheduled for June 2 (at LA City Council chambers at 10 a.m.) , and the architect is urging supporters to email their local councilman Bill Rosendahl at firstname.lastname@example.org. So what's two feet between friends, right?
Is Italy returning to medieval-era warfare between city-states Milan and Venice? AN’s own Julie V. Iovine reports from Milan that Milanese and Lombardy officials are more than a bit miffed that Venice is proposing to start its own design fair in 2011, seeking to steal the spotlight from the nation’s long-established epicenter of design. Milan has been displaying its prodigious output for nearly half a century at the annual Salone Internazionale del Mobile, and sporadically at the Triannale’s Palazzo del’Arte. But Carlo Guglielmi, the president of Cosmit, which runs the Milan fair, said that Venice’s sophisticated biennale exhibition and marketing organization would like “to pick off a little bit of the Salone for its avant-garde furniture, and from the Triennale for culture.” The annual Milan event attracts more than 300,000 visitors and brings in, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, at least 7 million euros a year for the local Lombardy economy. Siphoning some of that wealth into Venetian coffers would be a blow to both the Milanese pocketbook and to its powerful design community. Venetian officials are said to be giving a serious look to the proposal, which would add another high-style biennale to its roster of well-known art and architecture events. Whether the dueling design capitals can reach a peace accord over the matter remains to be seen.