Push­ing Bound­aries

WHILE GEN­EROS­ITY TAKES THE MAIN STAGE AT THE VENICE BI­EN­NALE, OLD CON­FLICTS AND NEW TEN­SIONS ARE EX­TEND­ING AR­CHI­TEC­TURE’S BOUND­ARIES

Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _Nelda Rodger

There’s ar­chi­tec­ture in Venice – mo­men­tous and iconic ar­chi­tec­ture that in­cludes every­thing from St. Mark’s Basil­ica and the 15th- and 16th-cen­tury palazzi lin­ing the Grand Canal to Carlo Scarpa’s mas­ter­ful in­ter­ven­tions and the im­mense for­mer ship­yards of the Arse­nale. Venice is an open-air ar­chi­tec­tural ex­trav­a­ganza to which the world flocks unceas­ingly – a dou­ble-edged sit­u­a­tion that both sus­tains and im­per­ils this wa­tery city. Ev­ery two years, the world’s big­gest ar­chi­tec­ture show takes place here, mounted by La Bi­en­nale di Venezia, the land­mark cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tion founded in 1895. The ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion, which al­ter­nates with the more fa­mous art ex­hi­bi­tion, fills the halls of the Arse­nale and the na­tional pavil­ions in the Giar­dini (a park-like space in the east­ern part of the city) from May un­til near the end of Novem­ber. This year marks the 16th edi­tion of the ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion, which de­buted in 1980 un­der the di­rec­tion of Paolo Por­togh­esi, with Aldo Rossi’s fa­mous float­ing the­atre, Teatro del Mondo, the event’s in­deli­ble em­blem. This year’s bi­en­nale is di­rected by Yvonne Farrell and Shel­ley Mcna­mara of Ire­land’s Grafton Ar­chi­tects, who have cho­sen the theme “Freespace.” In their inspirational man­i­festo, meant to gal­va­nize par­tic­i­pants, Freespace is de­fined as ar­chi­tec­ture that pro­vides “free and ad­di­tional spa­tial gifts” be­yond its pro­gram and that demon­strates a “gen­eros­ity of spirit and a sense of hu­man­ity.” This is just the sec­ond time the ar­chi­tec­ture bi­en­nale has been guided by a fe­male prin­ci­pal – the first woman di­rec­tor was Kazuyo Se­jima in 2010. The con­cept of Freespace, which in­cludes em­pha­siz­ing “na­ture’s free gifts of light” and pro­poses the Earth as client, could be read as a fem­i­nine per­spec­tive on how to make the built en­vi­ron­ment more sus­tain­ing for both hu­mans and the planet. Grafton’s theme of gen­eros­ity ex­tends to in­clud­ing both teach­ing prac­tices and par­tic­i­pants who don’t nor­mally make the A-list. Al­though Farrell and Mcna­mara’s ex­hi­bi­tion be­gins in the Cen­tral Pavil­ion in the Giar­dini, many peo­ple start in the Arse­nale. But in the end, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter where you start: The Bi­en­nale is a sort of pin­ball ma­chine that con­founds a lin­ear ex­pe­ri­ence. In the Arse­nale, in­stal­la­tions by some of the 100 firms or in­di­vid­ual ar­chi­tects par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Grafton ex­hi­bi­tion line both sides of the long hall of the Corderie, which is punc­tu­ated by soar­ing, six-me­tre-high col­umns. It’s a hugely im­pres­sive sight, with each of the in­stal­la­tions a won­der unto it­self and the hall (where moor­ing ropes were once made) con­tribut­ing its own awe­some scale and evoca­tive light. In con­trast to the art bi­en­nale, where the works are largely present, the ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion is fre­quently ref­er­enc­ing projects that ex­ist else­where. Some ar­chi­tects – Ali­son Brooks, Sauer­bruch Hut­ton and Flores & Prats among them – in­ter­pret “free space” in their projects by bring­ing near-life­size ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments into the Arse­nale. In­ter­ac­tiv­ity (or “in­stru­men­tal­ity,” as Cana­dian ar­chi­tect and Bi­en­nale jury mem­ber Pa­tri­cia Patkau calls it) is a theme, with many of the con­struc­tions of­fer­ing an op­por­tu­nity to climb, to peer into, to en­ter the ar­chi­tec­ture in some way. Other ar­chi­tects use mod­els

to con­vey built work or work in progress. A story could be writ­ten just about the mod­els: The in­tri­cate dio­ra­mas and minia­ture con­struc­tions are made of all kinds of ma­te­ri­als – pa­per, lichen, string, wood, wax, con­crete, metal. In fact, a stun­ning as­sem­blage of mod­els of works by Peter Zumthor, from the col­lec­tion of the Kun­sthaus Bre­genz, is on dis­play in the Cen­tral Pavil­ion. These mod­els could be en­joyed sim­ply as works of art, with­out ever con­nect­ing to the work they ref­er­ence. Dna_de­sign and Ar­chi­tec­ture’s Songyang Story, told through large-scale mod­els and video, is one of the most im­pres­sive in­stal­la­tions in the Arse­nale. Xu Tiantian’s Bei­jing prac­tice has been work­ing in east­ern China’s Songyang County for sev­eral years, ap­ply­ing what she de­scribes as an “ar­chi­tec­tural acupunc­ture” to help re­vi­tal­ize the area’s ru­ral con­di­tion. Seven projects – rang­ing from a bam­boo the­atre to a com­mu­nity per­for­mance space inside a brown-sugar fac­tory – demon­strate how small, sen­si­tive in­ter­ven­tions can ef­fec­tively aug­ment and re­in­force a sense of place and iden­tity and how great work can be lo­cated in non-ur­ban set­tings. Since this is ar­chi­tec­ture and not art, the in­tent of­ten re­quires con­sid­er­able ef­fort to un­pack, and a viewer can only do this with a small per­cent­age of the ma­te­rial. The sheer size and scale of the ex­hi­bi­tion – the Arse­nale alone con­tains some 20,000 square me­tres of ex­hi­bi­tion space – pro­duces phys­i­cal ex­haus­tion. Some of the most gen­er­ous free space is where the ar­chi­tects pro­vided a soft place to crash. It’s easy to be­come over­whelmed and won­der at the pur­pose of an ar­chi­tec­tural ex­hi­bi­tion. Is it a jun­gle gym for the pub­lic to clam­ber on, a self-con­scious dis­play of or­ches­trated beauty, a string of things loosely con­nected by a the­o­ret­i­cal idea? How does it ad­vance ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice? For Patkau, one of the pluses of the Bi­en­nale is the pre­sen­ta­tion of work from a wide cross sec­tion of the pro­fes­sion. “There were projects,” she says, “that did in­cred­i­ble amounts with lit­tle means, by ar­chi­tects you’ve never heard of be­fore, next to other projects by Se­jima, Souto de Moura and oth­ers. Pre­sent­ing to­gether neu­tral­ized the star qual­ity, and you were re­ally look­ing at how well it ac­com­plished what it set out to do. For the per­son you’ve never heard of be­fore, it’s a huge op­por­tu­nity.” To nav­i­gate the bi­en­nale, you need to pick a line and give up on any am­bi­tion of see­ing it all, get­ting it all. Some il­lu­mi­nat­ing text from Be­com­ing, in the Span­ish pavil­ion in the Giar­dini, where the rooms are empty and the walls are cov­ered from floor to ceil­ing with im­ages and text rep­re­sent­ing 400 works by stu­dents, reads: “A per­son would have to live in the pavil­ion of Spain for six days to see each image for 10 se­conds and read each word.” In some places, un­pack­ing hap­pens spon­ta­neously. Is­land, in the British pavil­ion by Caruso St John and Mar­cus Tay­lor, is an ex­pe­ri­en­tial in­stal­la­tion that func­tions as an al­le­gory for the U.K.’S po­lit­i­cal and geo­graphic con­di­tion. The in­te­rior of the build­ing is empty, leav­ing space for events, in­stal­la­tions and per­for­mances (a few are sched­uled). The main ges­ture is a rooftop plat­form, ac­cessed via a stair­case built of scaf­fold­ing along­side the his­toric build­ing. From the open pi­azza on the rooftop there’s a bird’seye view of the Giar­dini be­low and a unique van­tage point on the nearby la­goon. It’s a free space with a free view, serv­ing free tea at four o’clock ev­ery af­ter­noon. Awarded the Golden Lion for Best Na­tional Par­tic­i­pa­tion, the Swiss pavil­ion’s House Tour is a mus­ing on the ubiq­uity of banal apart­ment in­te­ri­ors, which in the ex­hibit are sized up and down to great ef­fect. Ar­chi­tects and cu­ra­tors Alessan­dro Bosshard, Li Ta­vor, Matthew van der Ploeg and Ani Vi­her­vaara spliced to­gether dif­fer­ent scales – from 1:5 to 2:1 – and strung the re­sult­ing in­te­ri­ors to­gether into a labyrinth. Vis­i­tors

Cover photo by Michael Mu­raz

An­other Gen­eros­ity, the Nordic pavil­ion at the Venice Bi­en­nale, ex­plores how new ar­chi­tec­tural forms can con­nect the nat­u­ral and built worlds. Photo by Alex Frad­kin

LEFT: In the Arse­nale, Re­cast­ing by Ali­son Brooks Ar­chi­tects draws el­e­ments from var­i­ous projects and re­casts them as four in­hab­it­able tim­ber totems.

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