Venice Biennale 2014: French Pavilion to Debate Modernism's Successes and Failures

Venice Biennale 2014: French Pavilion to Debate Modernism's Successes and Failures

With Le Corbusier casting a long shadow over the last century of France's architectural history, it is not surprising that, faced with Rem Koolhaas's theme of 'absorbing modernity' at the 2014 Venice Biennale, the country might have a unique reaction.

Jean-Louis Cohen's initial proposal for the French Pavilion, titled "Modernity: Promise or Menace?" reflects this history: “since 1914 France has not so much 'absorbed' modernity as it has shaped it with significant contributions made by French architects and engineers in order to meet the requirements of different segments of society. As is the case in many countries, modernity has had to come face to face with social reform and by doing so it has made great dreams such as quality housing and community services for all partially come to fruition. But this encounter has come about in a original way, also generating considerable anxiety.”

Read on after the break for more about the themes explored by the French Pavilion

The Villa Arpel in Jacques Tati's "Mon Oncle". Image © Flickr CC User brunurb

To cope with the multi-faceted nature of this proposal, and of the 'great dreams' and 'considerable anxiety' referenced, the French Pavilion will be separated into four thematic exhibitions:

Jacques Tati and Villa Arpel: from desire to ridicule?

Focusing on the true star of Jacques Tati's 1958 film "Mon Oncle" - that is, the super-modern Villa Arpel which houses the action - this exhibition examines the tension between the promise of a life made easier by machinery and the often farcical results of trying to make that dream a reality.

Jean Prouvé: constructive imagination or utopia?

This exhibition will study the life of Prouvé, the boundary-breaking cross-disciplinary architect, designer, constructor and ironsmith who, while influential with the components and structures he designed, failed to develop the full range of lightweight structures he had imagined.

Jean Prouvé's Demontable house 6x6m, 1944. Image Courtesy of Galerie Patrick Seguin

Prefabrication: economy of scale or monotony?

As in many countries, post-war France aimed to provide cheap, high-quality buildings through a state-led adoption of prefabrication techniques. Could Le Corbusier's plan of "industry taking over construction" constitute a utopian drive towards cheaper construction, given that it resulted in "an extremely monotonous landscape"?

The large housing schemes: happy heterotopias or places of reclusion?

The final exhibition examines the social housing outcomes of state-driven modernity, another utopian scheme which was this time undermined by complex social undercurrents, such as the middle classes abandoning the city for suburban single-family houses and persisting unemployment for those left behind. 

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Cite: Rory Stott. "Venice Biennale 2014: French Pavilion to Debate Modernism's Successes and Failures" 05 Apr 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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