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.
It’s been a hot and highly stimulating few days at the Venice Biennale. David Chipperfield’s theme, “Common Ground,” which sought to establish connections across architecture culture, has proven surprising divisive. Some loved the elegant progression of projects in the Arsenale, which included everything from expressionist displays by Zaha Hadid, to neo-postmodern confections by FAT, to a hand built house by Anupama Kundoo, all of which managed to mingle thanks to Chipperfield’s tasteful curation.
Some formalists griped that the show was regressive, while more socially engaged architects thought it too estheticizing. Still, every Biennale must crown its winners. This year’s Golden Lion for the international exhibition went to Torre David/Gran Horizante by Urban-Think Tank (Alfredo Brillembourg and Herbert Klumpner) and Justin McGuirk, an investigation, featuring photography by Iwan Baan, of an informal community built in an abandoned, unfinished skyscraper in Caracas. The team created an bar inside the Arsenale which featured food, music, drinks, and neon lights to showcase their work and transform the atmosphere of the overall exhibition.
Before the 2012 Venice Biennale opens on August 29, Zaha Hadid Architects has released its own preview of the firm’s pavilion to be displayed at the Giardini and the Arsenale in Venice. The pavilion will be one of 66 projects in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale, entitled Common Ground.
Known for his bright, modernist pieces, Venice designer and fabricator Ilan Dei gets up close and personal at his eye-catching pop-up on 1650 Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Made out of three converted shipping containers rendered in brilliant colors with an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living, the installation exudes an inviting appeal even on this busy, uber-trendy street. “1650 Abbot Kinney has been an empty lot and a site for pop-ups for many years. I drive or cycle by everyday to and from our design studio,” said Dei, who quickly pounced when the site became available.
Trust us, you don’t want to miss this weekend’s Venice Art Walk & Auctions (May 19-20), which in addition to showing off the area’s wealth of art studios and galleries, will introduce you to some of its finest new architecture. That’s impressive because everybody knows that Venice has more architects per square foot than pretty much anywhere else.
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.
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.
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. Read More
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.
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! Read More