Venice Biennale 2012: The Most Political Biennale Yet

© Nico Saieh. Russia's Pavilion "i-city"
© Nico Saieh. Russia's Pavilion "i-city"

Of all the critiques of this year’s Biennale, there was one that was particularly hard to miss: “This event is an expensive danse macabre. In truth it is all hollow, arduous, exhausting, bleak and boring. It is no longer about lively discussion and criticism of topics in contemporary architecture, but rather about empty, conservative charged with feigned meaning.” Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Wolf D. Prix came under fire for this attack (especially when it was realized he didn’t even set foot at this year’s Biennale). And yet, had he written this critique for any other Biennale, he wouldn’t have been so far off. The Biennale is, after all, an expensive affair of prosecco-filled parties and, often, inaccessibly esoteric exhibits. Prix hedged his bets that this Biennale, with its fluffy-sounding name, “Common Ground,” would be just like its precedents. Unluckily for Prix, it wasn’t. In fact, it was probably the most politically-engaged Biennale yet. But its Gold Lion winners, including an informal settlement and post-Tsunami shelters, have made some architects ponder what has never been pondered of a Biennale before: Was this year’s Biennale too political, after all?

Venice Biennale 2012: The Filigree Maker / Kosovan Pavilion

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

After a long struggle for independence, Kosovo became a new European country in 2008. Much of it’s urban landscape consists of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Communist era architecture that has been mostly remained untouched by the war. As wealth returns and the economy slowly grows, a new building spur has ignited, covering the city with a sprawl of store fronts, apartments and office buildings. The Kosovan Pavilion takes a step back to reflect on the current state of their urban landscape, asking important questions on how architecture will effect the future of Kosovan identity and, more importantly, the emotional state and behaviors of the individuals that inhabit its cities. With the exhibition, The Filigree Maker, visitors and participants world-wide are given the opportunity to help shape the future Kosovo by sharing their emotional response to images of existing architecture. Find out more and learn how you can participate, after the break.

Venice Biennale 2012: Hungarian Pavilion

The Hungarian Pavilion for the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale presents a “forest” of white architectural models as a tribute to the common process and existence of this important subject within the profession. With an understanding that the model is where an architectural concept is first realized, the exhibition creates “sacred atmosphere” by placing 500, student fabricated models on top a pedestal.

Venice Biennale 2012: Taifa Letu Tujenge / Build Our Nation

The student led humanitarian initiative ‘Build Our Nation’ has begun a two-week workshop as part of the Biennale Sessions 13th International Architecture Exhibition. Through workshops and events students are collaborating to explore and experiment with ideas, discuss and connect internationally, and build an empathy and awareness for altruistic design issues. Sixty students from four Universities – Robert Gordon University (Scotland), Milano Politecnico (Italy), Universitat Roviravigili Reus (Spain) and ETSAB (Spain) – have made their way to Venice to take part in the 4th Stage of the project. Situated in the Arsenale, between the Italian pavilion and the Chinese Pavilion, the workshop will invite the public to walk through and interact with the students as they work towards the culmination of one and a half years collaboration. Focusing on the research areas of non-verbal communication, social characteristics of a participatory project and the technical aspects of a self-build project for women.

Architecture Biennale Venice 2012: Questions without answers

Text and photographs: Jaakko van ‘t Spijker As opposed to what certain critics and commentators have suggested about the opening week, they actually were there, the exhibitors with sociopolitical engagement asking relevant questions, at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale opening. What was lacking, however, were outspoken conclusions; the risky and exciting part of taking position after having made interesting observations. Where were the architectural mavericks, the polemical daredevils and provocateurs, to stir up and the debate and bring it further? It was in the Japanese pavilion that questions were asked as well as answered.

Venice Biennale 2012: Common Ground/Different Worlds / Noero Architects

As a contribution to the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, Noero Architects showcase two powerful works of art in their exhibition Common Ground / Different Worlds to reveal that architects, and artists alike, work to reinterpret, reinvent and transform preexisting ideas and forms. However, Jo Noero, Principle of Noero Architects, believes that the “difference between good and bad work lies in an understanding of that which is shared and common and the ability to transform these ideas into forms and spaces which are both useful and satisfying within the community in which the work is located.”

Noero spent six months hand drawing a 1:100 plan of the historic shack settlement in Port Elizabeth, known as the Red Location District, as a protest against contemporary architecture’s abandonment of the plan, which Noero describes as the common ground for all architects. Featured alongside the 9m-long drawing is the artwork Keiskamma Guernica, a tapestry made by fifty women from the Hamburg Women’s Co-operative from the Eastern Cape that reinterprets Picasso’s Guernica to illustrate their anger towards AIDS/HIV’s impact on South Africa. The featured film above, titled “Red Location Precinct”, supplements the exhibition by revealing the surrounding context of the district and taking viewers inside the Museum of Struggle, the digital library, an archive and an art gallery that are all part of a complex, designed by Noero Architects, that honors the settlement’s turbulent past and provides surrounding community with opportunities for education, employment, and artistic expression. Continue after the break to learn more.

Keiskamma After Geurnica | 7.8×3.5m Tapestry | Mixed Media | Various Hand Stitched Textiles | The Keiskamma Trust | Hamburg Women’s Co-operative
Keiskamma After Geurnica | 7.8×3.5m Tapestry | Mixed Media | Various Hand Stitched Textiles | The Keiskamma Trust | Hamburg Women’s Co-operative

Venice Biennale 2012: Copycat, Empathy and Envy as Form Makers / Cino Zucchi Architetti

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

The International Jury of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale has awarded Cino Zucchi Architetti (CZA) a special mention for their installation, Copycat. Empathy and Envy as Form Makers. Their contribution is based on the notion that “we are all a bit copycats”, understanding that cultures are propagated by following “infectious” processes that combine imitation and innovation. CZA presents a collection of “almost-alike” objects and images with the idea that “similarity” rather than “originality” is where people find common ground.

Venice Biennale 2012: Inhabitable Models / Eric Parry Architects, Haworth Tompkins, Lynch Architects

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

Inhabitable Models presents the work of three practices -Eric Parry Architects, Haworth Tompkins, Lynch Architects- who find their common ground in an engagement with London, as a city of found fragments. Perhaps uniquely among world cities London exists as a series of largely unplanned, independent, layered fragments which nonetheless come together for a host of legal, political, and economic practicalities. In responding to this conception of London, each practice seeks to resist the temptation of “hallmark” architecture in favor of one which is contextually sensitive and rigorously place-specific. Indeed, the practices’ appreciation of the fragmentary and unplanned applies both to the London that they find, as well as to the London they leave behind.

Venice Biennale 2012: ConVivência: Lucio Costa and Marcio Kogan / Brazil Pavilion

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

The Brazilian Pavilion brings together two outstanding professionals from two different generations: Lucio Costa (1902-1998) and Marcio Kogan (b. 1953). Costa is the world renowned urban planner who conceived Brasília, the country’s new capital inaugurated in 1960, with public buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer (b. 1907). Costa was one of the core ideologues of Brazilian modernism and the author of some of the master-pieces of modern Brazilian architecture.

From curator Lauro Cavalcanti: Riposatevi The 1964 Milan Triennale was dedicated to leisure. Most countries exhibited different ways of spending time, with emphasis on dynamic activities. The Brazilian Pavilion, however, invited viewers to rest in one of the many hammocks waiting to be used and surrounded by guitars that visitors were allowed to play. Costa named his installation Riposatevi, and with it he affronted the obvious and displayed total freedom in overturning established canon. Four years after Brasília was inaugurated, the installation displayed the notice: “The same people who rest in hammocks can, whenever necessary, build a new capital in three year’s time.”

Venice Biennale 2012: Revisit - Customizing Tourism / Cyprus Pavilion

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

In a time of rapid physical and digital connections the global phenomenon of tourism becomes more and more of a common activity. Tourism brings people from all over the world on a common ground giving them the opportunity to interact with a locality, places, and people. However, the conventional tourist entertainment character and the lack of local interaction alienate the notion of the common ground in most tourist destinations. Resorts, theme-parks, international hotel chains, global market icons, and city guides turned tourism into a travelling monopoly with global rules that are applicable everywhere. Common ground is at stake! The pavilion was curated by Charis Christodoulou and Spyros Th. Spyrou.

Venice Biennale 2012: Shifting Grounds (Beyond National Architecture) / Ireland Pavilion

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

The Irish Pavilion, designed by heneghan peng architects with the support of Arup, and curated by John McLaughlin, charts a position for Irish architecture in a global culture where the modes of production of architecture are radically altered. Ireland has developed a national culture of architecture derived from local place as a material construct. They now have to evolve our understanding in the light of the globalized nature of economic processes and architectural production which is largely dependent on internationally networked flows of products and data. They have just begun to represent this situation to themselves and others. How should a global architecture be grounded culturally and philosophically? How does it position itself outside of shared national reference points?

Venice Biennale 2012: An Interview with David Chipperfield

Director David Chipperfield discusses the ideas behind Common Ground and shares his response to the exhibitions featured inside the Arsenale at the 13th Architecture Biennale.

Venice Biennale 2012: Architecture as New Geography / Grafton Architects, Silver Lion Award

© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

Inspired by Pritzker Prize laureate Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s call “to get architecture out of the making and thinking of isolated objects and to show it as an inexorable transformation of nature”, Dublin practice Grafton Architects presents Architecture as New Geography at the 2012 Venice Biennale. The exhibition explores the work of the Brazilian architect in the context of Grafton’s first South American project for a university in Lima, Peru. The International Jury has awarded Grafton the Silver Lion for their “impressive” presentation’s ability to connect to the ideas of Paulo Mendes da Rocha and demonstrate the “considerable potential of this architectural practice in reimagining the urban landscape”.

AD Interviews: Alejandro Aravena / ELEMENTAL, Venice Biennale

Alejandro Aravena, Executive Director of ELEMENTAL, tells us more about The Magnet and The Bomb, their exhibit at the Venice Biennale. You can learn more about the projects presented at this installation: PRES Constitución and Calama PLUS.