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Phineas Harper

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The Worst Thing About the 2016 Venice Biennale Was the Response of its Sanctimonious Critics

09:30 - 16 June, 2016
The Worst Thing About the 2016 Venice Biennale Was the Response of its Sanctimonious Critics, "Reporting from the Front" Arsenale Exhibition. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
"Reporting from the Front" Arsenale Exhibition. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

To many, it might seem that the goals of Alejandro Aravena's 2016 Venice Biennale—as he describes it, "to understand what design tools are needed to subvert the forces that privilege the individual gain over the collective benefit"—are beyond reproach. In spite of these aims, a number of commentators nevertheless have emerged, perhaps led most vocally by Patrik Schumacher, criticizing the biennale. In this article, originally published on The Architecture Foundation's website as "Holier than thou," Phineas Harper responds to those criticisms.

The most surprising turn of the 2016 Venice Biennale was not the exhibition itself, but the reaction of its critics. Within hours of kick-off, the internet was filling up with derogatory mutterings of the show being '"worthy," "moralizing," "holier than thou’," "earnest," "’virtue-signaling" and "right on" (which apparently is an insult). The architectural Twitterati, it seemed, were unimpressed.

But what exactly were they hating on? The biennale principally exhibited practices which saw some form of suffering in the world and, through their work, in way or another, were trying to lessen it. How did such a compassionate brief generate such a miserly push-back?

NLÉ's Makoko Floating School at the 2016 Venice Biennale. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu Gabinete de Arquitectura’s “Breaking the Siege” – Winner of the Golden Lion. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu UNFINISHED, curated by Iñaqui Carnicero & Carlos Quintáns, the winner of the Golden Lion for a national contribution (Spanish Pavilion). Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu In Therapy, curated by David Basulto and James Taylor Foster (Nordic Pavilion). Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu +16

The Barbican: A Lesson from London's Past for the Housing Crisis of Today

08:00 - 7 November, 2015

A higher percentage of the world’s population lives in cities than in any point in history, and with an ever increasing demand for housing, some of the planet’s older and more condensed cities are struggling to keep up. This crisis is currently front and center in London, where median housing prices 12 times the median income have prompted a large number of radical solutions to quell the storm, but with politicians so far declining to take decisive action a viable answer remains a distant possibility.

In a new video produced by a collaboration between The Architectural Review and the Architecture Foundation, Phineas Harper proposes London take lessons from housing solutions from the past. The example on display here is The Barbican, a massive housing block constructed in the 1960s and 70s, and featuring amenities such as an arts center, music school, restaurants, pub and a cinema, all while providing comfortable, affordable housing for the middle-class professionals at which it was targeted. The video recounts the tale of the project's inception and its design ideals, revealing how this 50-year-old fortress in central London could be an inspiration for the architecture - and the politics - of today.