[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.
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.
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).
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 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.
It’s day two at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and AN had a chance to run through Monditalia in the Venetian arsenal while workers and young architects were feverishly finishing their installations. Here is a selection of iPhone image of projects we saw on our whirlwind tour.
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.
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.
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.
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.