A History of the Venice Architecture Biennale

The Corderie at the Arsenale © ArchDaily

For over a century, the (La Biennale di Venezia) has been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. The avant-garde institution has remained at the forefront in the research and promotion of new artistic trends, while leading international events in the field of contemporary arts that are amongst the most important of their kind. Over the past thirty years, the Biennale has given growing importance to the Architecture Exhibition, which is still a young component of the Biennale considering that its first exhibition was held in 1975. Today, the Venice Biennale captures a multitude of interest from around the globe and attracts over 370,000 international visitors.

Before the festivities of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale begin tomorrow, read up on the origin of this highly acclaimed international exhibition.

A timeline history of the Venice Architecture Biennale:

1975: The first architecture exhibition was presented at A proposito del Mulino Stucky, curated by Visual Arts director Vittorio Gregotti during the four-year presidency of Carlo Ripa di Meana.

1980La presenza del passato Paolo Portoghesi

The architecture department finally became independent during the four-year presidency of Giuseppe Galasso (1979-1982), who appointed Paolo Portoghesi as director. After the Teatro del Mondo realized by Aldo Rossi (1979-1980), the new director organized the 1st International Architecture Exhibition titled La presenza del passato (The presence of the Past), which was a consideration to the Postmodernist movement. Frank O. Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Arata Isozaki, Robert Venturi, Franco Purini, Ricardo Bofil, and Christian de Portzamparc where among some of the leading architects who participated in creating Portoghesi’sStrada Novissima” – a hypothetical postmodern “street” made up of twenty facades that sparked a lively debate and became a symbol of the movement itself.

1982Architecture in Islamic Countries Paolo Portoghesi

Director Paolo Portoghesi called attention to the strengthening influence of Islamic culture since the end of the 19th century and proposed an overview on the Architecture in Islamic Countries, from the aftermath of 2nd World War onward. A series of built and unbuilt projects compared the “environmental contexts, spiritual component and basic social purpose of Islamic architecture” to the “coldness and self-referential elements of modernist standards”, while showcasing the combination of local traditions and innovative construction technologies. Monographic exhibitions centered around leading figures who confronted with Islamic architecture, such as Fernand Pouillon and Louis Kahn, were also presented alongside a tribute to the prominent Egyptian designer Hassan Fahty. Examples of restoration and requalification for ancient housing estates were also featured.

1985: Progetto Venezia / Aldo Rossi

After being appointed by President Paolo Portoghesi, director Aldo Rossi invited emerging and affirmed architects from all over the world to participate in Progetto Venezia (Venice Project). Over 1500 applicants, including Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind, took Rossi’s challenge to reinvent a selection of urban sites in Venice, Veneto and Friuli. In a “city known for its antimodern character”, this controversial 3rd edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale captured the interest of many. The theme which drew the most interest was the challenge to re-design the Accademia Bridge on the Grand Canal, of which Venturi/Rauch/Scott-Brown’s proposal is still anchored to Venetian artistic roots.

1986: Hendrik Petrus BerlageDisegni / Aldo Rossi

Once again under the direction of President Paolo Portoghesi, director Aldo Rossi chose to dedicate the 4th Architecture Biennale entirely to the master architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (Amsterdam, 1865-1934). A corpus of the Dutch architect’s work was exhibited in a new location at the Villa Farsetti in Santa Maria di Sala, on the Venetian mainland. One of the main reasons Rossi devoted the exhibition to Berlage was due to his belief that it is imperative to “Look at the building and at its history”. Similar to previous editions, Hendrik Petrus Berlage. Disegni was centered around the idea that, according to Portoghesi and Rossi, contemporary architecture should keep with the past.

1991: Forty Architects for the 90s / Francesco Dal Co

A staunch proponent of developing the Biennale’s internationality, director Francesco DAL CO – appointed by President Paolo Portoghesi – chose to model the 5th edition after the Art Exhibition and invited National Pavilions to participate. Among the most important pavilions present was the Austrian selection with works by Coop Himmelb(l)au, the United States with Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry, Switzerland with a Herzog & de Meuron retrospect, and Norway with Sverre Fehn. In addition, Dal Co’s exhibit Forty Architects for the 90s featured the work of Gae Aulenti, Massimiliano Fuksas, Aldo Aymonino, Giancarlo De Carlo, Renzo Piano, Luciano Semerani and Ettore Sottsass. Two other events that marked the importance of the 5th Architecture Biennale was the construction of the James Stirling-designed Book Pavilion in the main entrance street to the Giardini and the exhibition of 43 architectures schools from all over the world at the Corderie dell’Arsenale.

1996: Sensori del futuro. L’architetto come sismografo / Hans Hollein

In the 6th edition, Austrian architect Hans Hollein was appointed as director by President Gianluigi Rondi. Hollein confirmed Dal Co’s new format for the Architecture Biennale by inviting national participants. However, his main exhibition, Sensori del futuro. L’architetto come sismografo (Sensors of the future. The architect as a seismograph) at the Padiglione Italia, stole the show. Hollein investigated the “architect’s ability to catch underground vibes of present times, translating them in the future” and invited 70 architects to exhibit one of their significant projects as a sort of personal testament. Major international participants included: Frank O. Gehry, Tadao Ando, Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Peter Eisenman, Norman Foster, Herzog & de Meuron, Arata Isozaki, Toyo Ito, Philippe Stark, Jorn Utzon, Alvaro Siza Vieira, Massimiliano Fuksas, Rem Koolhaas, Rafael Moneo. Among this, Hollein also presented the Emerging Voices exhibition, which featured promising young talents such as Odile Decq, Liz Diller with Ricardo Scofidio, Peter Zumthor, Ben van Berkel, Kazuyo Sejima.

2000: Less Aesthetics, More Ethics / Massimiliano Fuksas

Appointed by President Paolo Baratta, director Massimiliano Fuksas abandoned the usual set up of the previous Biennale and occupied more space than ever before with his exhibition Less Aesthetics, More Ethics. No longer based on the idea of architecture as buildings, Fuksas focused his attention on the 21st century megalopolis in an effort to find a new, more ethical way to relate to architecture. In response to the growing trend of rapid urbanization, Fuksas used the “Biennale as a lab to analyze the new planetary dimension of urban behaviors and transformations”, highlighting three main themes: the environment, society, and technology. In the 300 meters of the Corderie, a mega screen presented twelve videos of contemporary megalopolis: Bogotà, Buenos Aires, Bucharest, Budapest, Mexico City, New Delhi, Paris, São Paulo, Quito, Cairo, Athens and Montréal. The megalopolis appeared as “a sort of global magma, where cultural stereotypes, turistic and economic flows all live together” along with the shunned existance of urban decay. A selection of architects, artists and photographers that had investigated metropolitan changes in the last years were also included.

2002: Next / Deyan Sudjic

For the 8th Architecture Biennale, director Deyan Sudjic – appointed by President Paolo Baratta – sought for answers to the question “What will architecture be like in the future?” with the exhibit Next. Believing that sketches, models and new technologies could reveal the architecture of the nearest future, Sudjic aimed to reveal the “traces and elements” for future projects through the investigation of architects’ studios, physical models and other materials. Designers were invited to “display not only drawings and plastic models, but also concrete materials such as bricks, glass, metal, in order to physically prove the impact they can have on architectural space”. Sudjic also believed that one could foresee the geographical areas that will host the future’s most innovative projects and imagined a possible scenario for China. He invited renowned architects to present a 1:100 model of a skyscraper in the exhibition City of Towers to highlight the new interest for vertical expansion that was beginning to occur. This took place a year after the September 11th attacks in New York.

2004: Metamorph / Kurt W. Forster

Due to the advancement of technology and the increased availability of avant-garde materials, director Kurt W. Forster – appointed by President Franco Bernabè – chose “metamorphosisin architecture, dictated and facilitated by new technologies and materials” as the underlining theme of the 9th edition of the Architecture Biennale. With the exhibition Metamorph, Forster featured an Asymptote-designed, modular structure that symbolized a growing metamorphosis process. The Arsenale exhibition was devoted to four artists who profoundly changed the theoretical debate at the beginning of the 80’s: Aldo Rossi, James Stirling, Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry. And, in the Padiglione Italia, photographers and architects provided site-specific installations inspired by the concept of metamorphosis and its relation to space and architecture. Additionally, three monographic exhibitions featured the work of Gladio Dieste, Ivan Leonidov and Peter Eisenman.

2006: Cities. Architecture and society / Richard Burdett

The 10th edition of the Architecture Biennale showed a manifesto for the 21st century city devoted to “the potential contribution of megalopolises for a better, more democratic and fair world”. Appointed by President Davide Croff, Richard Burdett called attention to critical questions facing contemporary society and the role of architects when it comes to “designing democratic and sustainable urban landscapes, as well as their links to policies of intervention, government statements and social cohesion”. Burdett curated an interactive display which took over the Corderie dell’Arsenale and featured the urban experiences of 16 big cities from across Asia, America, Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean. In the Padiglione Italia at the Giardini, this complex vision of urban transformation was further analyzed by 12 esteemed international research centers.

2008: Out There: Architecture Beyond Building / Aaron Betsky

Appointed by President Paolo Baratta, director Aaron Betsky announced Out There: Architecture Beyond Building as the theme for the 11th edition of the Architecture Biennale. Aimed to “move towards a building-free architecture, in order to face society’s crucial themes; it [the Biennale theme] shows site-specific installations, visions and experiments that help us understand and value our modern world, feeling at ease in it, instead of presenting the graves of architecture, that is the buildings.” With the understanding that architecture is “what makes us feel at home in the world”, the challenge of this exhibition was “to collect and encourage experimentation, not by presenting existing buildings, but through seductive images”. Participants included: Diller Scofidio+Renfro, UNStudio, Massimiliano Fuksas, Nigel Coates, Work Architecture, Droog Design, Philippe Rahm, M-A-D, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vicente Guallart, Zaha Hadid, An Te Liu, Greg Lynn, MVRDV, Penezic and Rogina, Asymptote, Atelier Bow Wow, Barkow Leibinger Architects. At the Padiglione Italia the retrospective Experimental Architecture was made up of different monographic exhibitions based on research and experimentation oriented studios, such as Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron, Morphosis, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Coop Himmelb(l)au.

2010: People meet in architecture / Kazuyo Sejima

For the 12th edition, President Paolo Baratta appointed Kazuyo Sejima as first woman director of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Sejima presented People meet in architecture, which intended for visitors to “experience the manifold possibilities of architecture and its plurality of approaches”. Forty-four international architects, studios, artists and engineers presented their work in an independent space to revealed their unique response to the theme, as well as their personal position towards the interaction of new social and natural environments. Each person acted as their own curator, allowing the exhibition to be presented through “multiple points of view rather than a single orientation”.

2012: Common Ground / David Chipperfield

Currently presided over by Paolo Baratta, director David Chipperfield has selected the theme Common Ground for the 13th edition of the Venice Biennale, which will officially begin this Wednesday, August 29th. David Chipperfield stated, “I want this Biennale to celebrate a vital, interconnected architectural culture, and pose questions about the intellectual and physical territories that it shares. In the methods of selection of participants, my Biennale will encourage the collaboration and dialogue that I believe is at the heart of architecture, and the title will also serve as a metaphor for architecture’s field of activity.” Chipperfield will present 69 projects by architects, photographers, artists, critics and scholars, of which many has responded to his invitation with a unique, collaborative installation that was expressly created for this Biennale. The list of participants include many world renowned architects, like Peter Zumthor, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, OMA, Alejandro Aravena, Alvaro Siza, Eduardo Soto de Moura, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and Norman Foster. Additionally, 55 countries will be participating, including four new entries from Angola, Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, and Peru. Find exclusive coverage here on ArchDaily.

via La Biennale di Venezia

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "A History of the Venice Architecture Biennale" 28 Aug 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=267113>

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    yes i was in venice from 19th of october till 29th of october, 2012, and i have visited Arsenal once and Giardini twice, still i have the ticket for Arsenal visit till 25th of november, 2012 :) i took lots of photos from the pavillions and exhibitions inside Venice, and i have visited the library of Biennalle, i felt myself in a wonderful fairytale, between the latest issues of more than 50 journals about architecture and art, and i have visited ASAC to check the archives of the biennale pavillions, now i am giving lectures about the steel structured pavillions of the biennale and the exhibitons inside them, during my elective courses, one is ‘how to design a building/ a structure with steel’ in spring term, now ‘how to design a residential house with steel’ for autumn term, for undergraduates, and the analysis of the structures of steel buildings/structure’ in autumn term, for master degree education, in the structure-construction branch, in the department of architecture, faculty of architecture, in Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, TURKIYE and i advise to all my students and my colleagues and also to my friends to visit venice architectural bienale 2012 :) really it is worthwhile to visit, a weekend may be enough for a 2 times visit :) thank you to everybody for all :)

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