Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Venice and the Biennale, 36 Years Later

I went to the preview of the Venice Biennale of Architecture as a personal adventure, but was able to cover the Spanish Pavilion for Bauwelt and a "collateral exhibition" called "Time, Space, Existence" for Architectural Record (link).

On the main show organized by Rem Koolhaas in the Guardini, with its rooms given over to different building elements --windows, doors, walls, ceilings, elevators, and so on-- amid a conversation this week on what it might all be about, my best summary, I think, is that it is an autopsy or anatomy lesson, an examination of the vital parts of a lifeless corpse. It turns out that Peter Eisenman thinks much the same, declaring it "la fine dell'architecttura" (Dezeen 06.09.14).

More simply, it's just not metaphysical. No talk of abstracts, space, light, axis, as
Sarah Williams Goldhagen points out in Architectural Record. Not even the metaphysics of the window or door or fire. So what does that mean?

On my experience in Venice and at the show, I wrote to a friend:
"I was curious to see the Biennale, but I am really beyond those things I found out."

"I was also curious to see Venice again. I was thrilled the first 24 hours, but then the heat and crowds and work, and even the pungency of the jasmine and some other lethal perfumed flower, put me out completely, and I spent the rest of the time limping around with a cold, half myself. It really is a rat maze, I don’t see how anyone can live there unless in one of those palaces with a garden well away from the Grand Canal and its traffic. What a historic curiosity, what a strange experiment in organizing a city."

"There were still wonderful moments, mostly wandering around in the morning, trying to get lost (never quite managing it) before the heat and the crowds. But the picturesque wonderment of the little canals and bridges and plazas and surprises just didn't do it for me as it did when I was a student."

"Of course I live in one of these wonderful European cities now, much more sensibly organized than Venice. But it was all fun really, I shouldn’t complain."

Boys playing with a ball in a schoolyard

In my Bauwelt article, I previewed the Spanish pavilion in an interview with curator Iñaki Ábalos, the new Dean of Architecture at Harvard's GSD, who seems to be everywhere -- I just wrote the introduction to an upcoming AV monograph on his work, with partner Renata Sentkiewicz, which comes out soon.

On the exhibition, which featured oversize photos of the interiors of 12 works by Spanish architects, he told me, among other things:
"In Spain, and in the entire Mediterranean –as well as in many similar climates– the relation between the exterior building envelope and an interior void is completely different from that in cold climates, where normally this interior contains a nucleus emitting heat. In the Mediterranean, the interior dissipates heat. Thus a typological, thermodynamic vision is implicit in the theme of the interior." 
For Record, I did my best to review projects and installations by over 100 architects in two labyrinthine Venetian palaces, on the opening night, thronging with people, filing my story the next morning. I met some wonderful people doing the story, but it was, all-in-all, a nerve-wracking experience that colored the rest of my Venice stay:
"Are there any advantages to leaving a major show of this kind in untrained hands? It certainly opens the door to the unexpected, and it would be wonderful if it gives unknown creative talents the break they need. For the visitor, the experience is something like a visit to a flea market, looking for hidden treasures amid the random offerings on display." 

Preview of Spanish Pavilion, Venice Bienale, Curated by Iñaki Ábalos
Bauwelt 21.14, May 10, 2014, pages 42 - 43

Exhibition Review: Time Space Existence
"A scattershot architecture show sprawls through two grand Venetian palaces during the Biennale"
Architectural Record webpage, June 7, 2014

 Photos: DC

While I am on the subject of Venice, Koolhaas comments in an interview with Charles Jencks in The Architectural Review, otherwise unremarkable (Jencks as always, tiresomely obvious and oblivious), that Venice is largely an invention of the 19th century. Much like Madrid:
"RK: Well, by the way, one outcome of the whole effort here is an incredible book by Giulia Foscari [of the Villa Malcontenta] called Elements of Architecture where she applies the logic to Venice.... It’s truly amazing because one of the things she shows is that more than half of Venice was constructed in the 19th century. 
CJ: It may have been reconstructed in the 19th century …
RK: No, constructed!

CJ: Well, it looks much the same … The 13th-century Doge would have recognised the urban patterns …
RK: No, I don’t think so because she shows the whole pedestrian infrastructure of Venice was an invention of the 19th century … imposed in the 19th century."
Other interesting bits from the interview:
"RK: My initial inspiration as an architect is with Modernism, and the most ideological version of it, and it revealed a huge inhibition as an architect, because Modernism was over – and there was a nostalgia in the pursuit of it. So I used the abstraction of modernisation against the limitations of Modernism.
CJ: Like Jim Stirling and many architects you were aware that Modernism was in crisis and so like a radical conservative you went back to it – like Leon Krier in crisis went back to a radical traditionalism – to bring forward a new synthesis.
RK: I was attracted to this but able to escape from the gravity fields of Modernism, so going back is not accurate."
"RK: The apparent need of architecture to see itself in terms of continuities, and therefore be in denial about discontinuities and real revolution rather than evolution.
CJ: You are asking us to take evolution as the paradigm, but to what end?
RK: By architects thinking the way they do now, they have declared themselves incapable of taking part in the vast majority of operations that take place now. You cannot do a good shopping centre, good skyscraper, an intelligent house - on every scale it degenerates into incompetence."
 Selection of articles on the Biennale with a range of information and opinion:

Valentina Ciuffi
Rem Koolhaas is stating "the end" of his career, says Peter Eisenman
June 9, 2014

Oliver Wainwright
Rem Koolhaas blows the ceiling off the Venice Architecture Biennale
Includes revealing video interview/walk-through with Koolhaas of the "Elements" show
The Guadian
June 5, 2014

Rowan Moore
2014 Venice Architecture Biennale review: put yourself in their space…
"Rem Koolhaas's excellent Biennale sets new sensibilities against old, and maps out Italy's history of grandeur and brutality"
The Guardian
June 8, 2014

Oliver Wainwright
Hovership Holidays:
North Korean Architects Shake Up Tourism
Abundantly illustrated
The Guardian
June 10, 2014

Charles Jencks
The Flying Dutchman: Charles Jencks Interviews Rem Koolhaas on his Biennale
The Architectural Review
June 12, 2014

Sarah Williams Goldhagen
Critique: Rem's Rules
Counterposes conventional "fundamentals" of space, light, axis, boundary and views to Koolhaas' " anachronistic, contemptuous agenda"
Architectural Record
June 18, 2014

Julie Iovine
Just the "Fundamentals"
The Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2014

Roger Salas
Andrés Jaque obtiene el León de Plata en la Bienal de Arquitectura de Venecia
El País
June 7, 2014

Norman Kietzmann
Venice Blog 
The Dark Side Club 
What architects really talk about when they are alone
June 27, 2014

1 comment:

  1. love the series of pics of the boys playing ball, with its movement and mystery: even thought the evoked sound of ball on stone is not mysterious!