Venice Biennale 2012: Public Works, Architecture by Civil Servants / OMA

© Nico Saieh

“Forty years ago the public cause proved a powerful source of inspiration. Given the numbers of architects that chose to serve it, one might even speak of a common ground. In the age of the ‘starchitect’, the idea of suspending the pursuit of a private practice in favor of a shared ideology seems remote and untenable. In the context of the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, this exhibition hopes to provide a small contribution towards finding that common ground once more…” – OMA Partner Reinier de Graaf, August 2012

Throughout Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s, large public works departments employed architects to design a multitude of public buildings in an effort to serve the public cause. Reinier de Graaf describes this “heyday of public architecture” as “a short-lived, fragile period of naïve optimism – before the brutal rule of the market economy became the common denominator.”

Curated by OMA Partner and AMO Director Reinier de Graaf, along with OMA Associate Laura Baird, Public Works: Architecture by Civil Servants showcases fifteen architectural masterpieces that were realized by bureaucrats, across different European cities, for the greater good. The exhibition reveals the original and current state of each project through a mix of photographic records.

Laura Baird describes: “Maybe these buildings… can still have a very different function for what was intended or almost a second life… even the aesthetic, the formalism and the structure of the buildings remains refreshingly modern forty years later.”

© Nico Saieh

Ironically, De Graaf notes, the “benign ideology of the welfare state chose to be represented by an architectural style known as Brutalism”.

The works on display were designed by architects employed by the Greater London Council, the Public Works Department of Amsterdam, the Dutch Rijksgebouwendienst, the Senatsbauverwaltung of West Berlin, and work from various architects in France and Italy as members of special ‘Architect Councils’, ‘guiding’ the public sector on matters of architecture and urbanism.

Exhibited Works:

© Nico Saieh


  • Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall & Purcell Room
  • Pimlico School
  • County Hall Island Block Extension
  • Michael Faraday Memorial

The Netherlands

  • Wibauthuis, Amsterdam
  • Ministerie van Financiën, The Hague


  • Akademie der Künste, Berlin
  • St. Agnes Kirche, Berlin
  • Brücke Museum, Berlin


  • Centre Administratif à Pantin
  • Hotel de Prefecture du Val-D’Oise
  • MOZINOR- Montreuil Zone Industrielle Nord
  • L’Ecole d’architecture de Nanterre


  • Chiesa di San Giovanni Bono, Milan

OMA’s Public Works exhibition will be open in the Central Pavilion of the Giardini from August 29 through November 19, 2012.

© Nico Saieh

Keep up with ArchDaily’s exclusive Biennale coverage here.

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Cite: Karissa Rosenfield. "Venice Biennale 2012: Public Works, Architecture by Civil Servants / OMA" 05 Sep 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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