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?