UPDATE: In a press conference on Monday, Venice Biennale director Paolo Baratta and curator Rem Koolhaas expressed their commitment to using the event to highlight “things that architects can’t ignore.” These “Fundamentals” get back to the basic inventions of modernity, thus individual exhibitions will look to the “elementary particles of architecture.” Paying special attention to the developments of the past century, Baratta and Koolhaas hope that the event will serve as “a reference point and source of inspiration for architecture."
The Biennale website has posted new images and an expanded description of the Biennale and its events:
“Fundamentals consists of three interlocking exhibitions – Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014, Elements of Architectureand Monditalia – that together illuminate the past, present and future of our discipline. After several architecture Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will look at histories, attempt to reconstruct how architecture finds itself in its current situation, and speculate on its future."
Read on to learn more about architecture's most celebrated exhibition.
“Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 is an invitation to the national pavilions to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in architecture in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language and a single repertoire of typologies – a more complex process than we typically recognize, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions, and hidden ways of remaining “national.”
“Elements of Architecture, in the Central Pavilion, will pay close attention to the fundamentals of our buildings, used by any architect, anywhere, anytime: the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the roof, the door, the window, the façade, the balcony, the corridor, the fireplace, the toilet, the stair, the escalator, the elevator, the ramp…
“Monditalia dedicates the Arsenale to a single theme – Italy – with exhibitions, events, and theatrical productions engaging architecture, politics, economics, religion, technology, industry. The other festivals of la Biennale di Venezia – film, dance, theatre, and music – will be mobilized to contribute to a comprehensive portrait of the host country.
In addition, there will be special educational programs and publications:
• “Biennale Sessions” program for universities
The “Biennale Sessions” project istaking place for the fifth consecutive year. After the extraordinary success of the previous editions, la Biennale offers for the 14th edition the “Biennale Sessions” program directed at universities, fine arts academies, and research and educational institutions in the fields of architecture, visual arts and other associations. The goal of the “Biennale Sessions” is to encourage visits to the exhibition by groups of at least 50 students and teachers who will be assisted in the organization of their journey and stay. They will be able to organize seminars in a space made available to them free of charge by la Biennale. As of today, 47 international universities have already signed up for the “Biennale Sessions”.
• “Meetings on Architecture”
This year the “Meetings on Architecture”, organized by la Biennale, will be enriched by the Weekend Specials program, conceived as an essential part of the section Monditalia: conferences, workshops, performances and debates will run during the six months of the Exhibition. The 3rd International Conference “Archives and Exhibitions” will take place in October.
Educational activities are addressed to individuals and groups of students from schools of all grades, universities and architecture schools, professionals, companies, experts, fans and families. The activities, conducted by selected staff trained by la Biennale di Venezia, are aimed at actively involving participants in both guided itineraries and workshop activities.
• Catalogue, short guide, Elements of Architecture volume
The official catalogue of the 14th Exhibition (350 pages) is made up of the three sections of the 14th Exhibition:Absorbing modernity 1914- 2014, Elements of Architecture, Monditalia, and the Collateral Events. The catalogue is published in Italian and English. The short guide, in Italian and English, is an essential tool for visiting the Exhibition: it contains the short texts of the catalogue with useful information and maps. Catalogue and Guide are published by Marsilio Editori. Besides the catalogue there will be a volume of research: Elements of Architecture, dedicated to the fundamental elements of architecture and done in collaboration with a research team under Koolhaas’s direction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The three volumes and the graphic identity of Fundamentals are designed by Irma Boom.
Rem Koolhaas's introduction:
Architecture, not architects...
An umbrella theme for the national pavilions: from national to universal...
The Arsenale as performance space...
Fundamentals consists of three interlocking exhibitions – Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014, Elements of Architecture, Monditalia – that together illuminate the past, present and future of our discipline. After several architecture Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary,Fundamentals will look at histories, try to reconstruct how architecture finds itself in its current situation, and speculate on its future.
Elements of Architecture will pay close attention to the fundamentals of our buildings, used by any architect, anywhere, anytime: the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the roof, the door, the window, the façade, the balcony, the corridor, the fireplace, the toilet, the stair, the escalator, the elevator, the ramp…
Under near-microscopic attention, the apparently mundane elements of architecture are revealed as unstable compounds of cultural preferences, forgotten symbolism, technological advances, mutations spawned by intensifying global exchange, climatic considerations, fluctuating thresholds of comfort, mythical desires, political calculations, regulatory requirements, neoliberal economics, new digital regimes, and, somewhere in the mix, the ideas of the architect.
Traditional architectural elements – the ceiling and the window, but also even the façade – now belong to advanced technological domains, yet the fundamental elements of architecture endure, albeit in sometimes radically different forms. By looking at the evolution of architectural elements shared by all cultures, the exhibition will expand the architectural discourse beyond its normal parameters, and include a broad public in an exploration of the familiar, the erased, and the visionary dimensions of architecture.
Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014. In 1914, it made sense to talk about a “Chinese” architecture, a “Swiss” architecture, an “Indian” architecture… One hundred years later, under the influence of wars, diverse political regimes, different states of development, national and international architectural movements, individual talents, friendships, random personal trajectories, and technological developments, architectures that were once specific and local have become seemingly interchangeable and global. Has national identity been sacrificed to modernity?
Participating countries will engage a single theme – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 – and will show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language and a single repertoire of typologies. But the transition to what seems like a universal architectural language is a more complex process than we typically recognize, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions, and hidden ways of remaining “national.” In a time of ubiquitous google research and the flattening of cultural memory, it is crucial for the future of architecture to resurrect and expose these narratives.
By telling the history of the last 100 years cumulatively, the exhibitions in the National Pavilions will generate a global overview of architecture’s evolution into a single, modern aesthetic, and at the same time uncover within globalization the survival of unique national features and mentalities that continue to exist and flourish even as international collaboration and exchange intensify…
Monditalia.The physical presence of the Arsenale is interpreted as an ideal set. Rather than a sequence of individual episodes that typically do not connect to form a single narrative, we propose to dedicate the Arsenale to a single theme – Italy – and to mobilize other festivals of la Biennale di Venezia – Film, Dance, Music, Theatre – to collectively represent a comprehensive portrait of the host country.
In a moment of crucial political transformation, we decided to look at Italy as a “fundamental” country, completely unique but showing certain features – particularly the coexistence of immense riches, creativity, competences, and potential combined with political turbulence – that also make it a prototype of the current moment.
Throughout the Corderie, exhibitions and a series of theatrical productions and events will unfold, engaging architecture, politics, economics, religion, technology, industry… Each one could leave a physical trace in the form of sets, objects, written material, projections, or the extended presence of people. The Corderie would be imagined as a multidisciplinary work in progress, constantly evolving and on permanent display, with varying degrees of activity and varying scales of productions taking place in its different sections.
Together, these episodes represent a scan of the entire country, represented by the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 5th Century map of Italy as the core of the Roman empire, that is still entirely relevant...
Introduction by Paolo Baratta, President of la Biennale di Venezia:
With Rem Koolhaas our aim is to create an exceptional, research-centered Architecture Biennale. It will be significantly innovative as Rem has conceived a project that involves the entire Biennale, which fully exploits its potential.
Let’s start with the pavilions, which are independently managed by the participating countries and whose presence is a unique prerogative of la Biennale di Venezia. In this edition, commissioners and curators were not simply informed of the theme assigned by our Director to “his own” Exhibition. Instead, a specific topic (Absorbing Modernity 1914–2014) has been offered to all of them. This suggestion has been largely accepted and therefore the national pavilions are contributing and preparing a large part of the overall investigation, which together is entitled Fundamentals.
And this is certainly one of the reasons why the number of participating countries has risen from 55 to 65, of which 11 are taking part for the first time: Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, New Zealand and Turkey.
But this is by no means all. I must remind everyone that la Biennale embraces various disciplines beyond Art and Architecture (Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema), and here too Koolhaas didn’t miss the opportunity. The Monditaliasection of the Exhibition will also act as a container for activities pertaining to these different arts ensuring that they are not happenings alongside or overlapping with the Architecture Exhibition. Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema will be incorporated to epitomise the articulated and living contexts in which architecture may be conceived or imagined.
The Directors of the Biennale Danza, Musica, Teatro, and Cinema have taken this input on board and will be developing much of their programme (Festival and College) within the Corderie in the Arsenale and within the Architecture Exhibition itself, with programmes to be announced in an upcoming conference.
And there’s more. This time the role taken on by our director differs greatly from arranging a stage for the works and ideas of the invited architects. The Exhibition is the result of research carried out under the guidance of the director and exhibited in alignment with his project.
Some of the early Architecture editions offer precedents, but nothing on this level.
The spirit of research has always been our concern. For this edition, however, la Biennale turns itself into research. And we are convinced of the importance represented by this development and the extraordinary opportunity offered by Rem.
But why do we feel the need for in-depth research instead of aiming towards a merely updated representation of what architecture is? Why is the need for investigation insistent in the world of art and now in the world of architecture?
Last year, the Art Biennale was founded, to a more accentuated extent than usual, on its director’s commitment to research. We said that la Biennale needed to confront and dialogue with some of the developments which are affecting contemporary art. Contemporary art has become more and more customary or habitual, heavily market-dictated and drowned in that unstoppable, all-pervasive spreading of images all around us, running the risk of drifting towards a conformist dilution and trivialization of the relationship between the viewer and the works, which might end up as indifference. In this context the 55th International Art Exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni somehow strongly reiterated and documented the human need to create purpose-free images, backed by the urgency of personal obsessions and utopias.
And Architecture? For years we have criticised the divide that is growing between architecture and civil society, made up of individuals and institutions that should express a demand for architecture. We have observed the dualism between excess and indifference and, here also, we have seen a risk of conformism, fostered by economy and technology. For architecture and for art, development should be guided by a mindful ability and a wilful capacity to express needs and desires.
And here Koolhaas goes straight to the point. With great courage and ambition, after having traced the history of modernity over the past 100 years to the present, he identifies and presents the elements that should act as references for a regenerated relationship between us and architecture (Elements of Architecture).
The specific goal for the Monditalia section of the Exhibition, at the Corderie, is to gather and illustrate significant dimensions of Italy by means of ad-hoc studies. The result aims to remind us of the complex Italian reality, which is paradigm of not just local but global complexities that must not be denied or concealed. By revealing these realities we are able to access references that are also able to inspire architecture.
Debates, meetings and talks will enrich the Biennale Architettura for the whole duration of the Exhibition that, given the intensity and the scope of the project, we have extended to six months.
As at past exhibitions, the “Biennale Sessions” project will involve universities and, more specifically, faculties of architecture around the world, and a broad “educational” system will primarily target the new generations.
I would like to thank our partner Rolex, and all the other companies for their generous assistance and contribution. I would also like to thank all the international public institutions and many donors who have been so important in the creation of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition. I warmly thank Rem along with all his collaborators, and the huge number of researchers working behind the scenes for this Exhibition. My thanks also go to the directors of the Biennale Danza, Musica, Teatro and Cinema: Virgilio Sieni, Ivan Fedele, Àlex Rigola, and Alberto Barbera. Finally I would like to thank la Biennale organisation for its wonderful work in setting up this Exhibition.