Under the direction of Laboratorio de Arquitectura Dominicana (LAD), the Dominican Republic’s first Pavilion at the Venice Biennale explored the intersection of architecture, urbanism, and politics through the lens of the Feria de la Paz y Confraternidad del Mundo Libre (The Fair of Peace and Brotherhood of the Free World), celebrated in 1955 in Santo Domingo. The fair was an attempt by the dictator Rafael Trujillo to project to the outside world a vision of a modern country firmly under his dictatorial control.
The Fair – today the site of governmental institutions – was a turning point for Santo Domingo and modern architecture, forever altering the city and its urban limits.
Read the curators’ description and take a virtual tour of the pavilion after the break.
From the curators: Dominicans are modern in attitude and by necessity, having had to continually set aside previous efforts and reset. Patterns of destruction caused by hurricanes crossing the country have created a permanent state of crisis and tabula rasa. The coming to power of the dictatorship in 1930 and the impact of Hurricane San Zenon only three weeks earlier redefined the architectural, social and political climate of the Dominican Republic.
San Zenon destroyed the wooden structures that made up close to 50% of the buildings in the capital of Santo Domingo and created an opportunity for the government to consolidate its power through the built environment. Following an official recommendation that all new buildings be concrete, Santo Domingo (renamed Ciudad Trujillo or Trujilo City) was built almost entirely from that material. Concrete was adopted as an ideal of modernity and security, entering the collective subconscious as a symbol of progress. In the following decade, the capital city continued growing and urbanizing with its first regional highway, new cross-town streets and monumental government projects.
The Fair of Peace and Brotherhood of the Free World (1955), the reaffirmation of the tropes of modernism created post-San Zenon, was held in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the government. While San Zenon consolidated local forces, the Fair was designed to present the country as a global power, with the city of Santo Domingo (Ciudad Trujillo) as its center. The Fair ground, including seventy new permanent structures, was designed and built in fourteen months with the participation of thirty countries. Architectural modernism was used throughout the buildings and monuments; much of the original structures are still in use and serve multiple people and functions. From the original objective of the fair to present an image of stability, power and progress, the Fair now defines a unique national identity of duality and contradiction. Buildings and public spaces currently serve several government institutions during the day and are co-opted for illegal activities at night. From past to present, from day to evening, from formal to casual, linear to nonlinear, the Fair involves architectural, social and cultural characteristics that are distinctly Dominican.