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  • 09.03.10

The Venice Architecture Biennale: A Visitor’s Journal

This year’s theme is less about buildings than the people they serve.

The Venice Architecture Biennale: A Visitor’s Journal

[Product designer and former Pentagram associate partner Stefanie Kubanek recently returned from the mammoth Venice Architecture Biennale, and filed this report. ? Ed.]

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The 12th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale opened last Sunday, and for the first time in history, the show is directed by a woman: Kazuyo Sejima, who co-won the Pritzker Prize this year.

The exhibition is a relief; it is about presenting architecture as a human-centered endeavor and not as a self-indulgent showdown. The exhibition encourages the unconventional, the present, and the real.

Kazuyo Sejima is also real and present. She seems reserved and shy but there is a strong sense of determination and passion about her work and mission. The title of this Biennale — People Meet in Architecture — might sound a little too simple, but it is not. It’s about time we draw attention to how people respond and relate to architecture and other aspects of the built environment.

Why did it take us so long to move away from the elite and make the fisherman the center of attention?

Below, some installations that do an excellent job of highlighting this year’s theme:

Vacant NL
Dutch architects Rietveld Landscape designed a foam-model city to represent the millions of square meters of abandoned property in the Netherlands. The exhibit calls upon the Dutch government and the future Minister of Innovation (!) to use the space for the creative industry’s innovation programs.

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Cloud Escapes
Fog machines installed by German engineers Transsolar and Japanese architects Tetsuo Kondo fill the Arsenale, one of the exhibition buildings, with artificial clouds. It shows perfect balance, emerging from humidity and temperature and characterized by immaterial lightness.

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Nagelhaus
German artist Thomas Demand worked with British architect Caruso St John to construct a facsimile of a Chinese take-away building that was demolished in Chongqing. (The structure is itself being permanently rebuilt under a highway bridge in a derelict part of Zurich.) This is the story of a private man who lost something that should be remembered and put to life again.

A Rendez-Vous Of Question Marks
Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist conducts an interview marathon with all the main participants in the Biennale. Monitors on light tripod stands and chairs with backs that look like rabbit ears (designed by Sejima) transform a section of the large, open, industrial Arsenale into an intimate, personal space in which to experience architecture.

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Decay of a Dome
China’s Amateur Architecture Studio designed this wooden structure to reference both the domes of western architecture and the gentle footprint of traditional Chinese construction. The design is non-invasive, elegant, intelligent, and utterly simple.

Usus/ Usures
Belgian architecture firm Rotor removed human
traces from their usual context in architecture, giving them much-needed attention and appreciation.

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Hylozoic Ground
This installation, by Canadian architect and sculptor Philip Beesley, is a poetic, sensitive, magical, and scientific exploration of architecture. It’s an artificial forest full of sensor-controlled foliage that reacts to human movement.

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Reclaim
The Kingdom of Bahrain — the first Gulf state to participate in the Biennale — reconstructed three fishermen huts. There, you watch video of locals discussing their nation’s relationship to its rapidly changing coastline in the face of vast urban development. An honest and self-reflective installation, it allows visitors to experience and engage with ” rather than just observe ” architecture. The exhibit was curated by Noura al-Sayeh and Fuad al-Ansari.

[All images by Stefanie Kubanek]

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