The most awaited event in the architecture world begins this week: the opening of the Venice Biennale. Thousands of participants, journalists, and invited guests will flood the fantastical Italian city to take the pulse of the discipline -the nations' representations, the novelties, the state of the art. For this, the 14th edition of the Biennale, the artistic direction of Rem Koolhaas has raised great expectations: the architect behind Casa da Música is, after all, the ultimate provocateur of an architectural stardom that's ever more predictable.
Eternally in search of place - there's no more space for pavilions in the enclosure for the Biennale - Portugal responds to Koolhaas' challenge, Fundamentals/Absorbing Modernity, with a polemic idea. Under the direction of Pedro Campos Costa, the Portuguese pavilion is pulverized and distributed to thousands of people. With the disvaluation of the Portuguese culture, our participation is reduced, by our own choice, to a newspaper. Perhaps this way a tangible message will reach many more people. After the organizational delirium and the deafening silence of other recent appearances, a more critical and intelligent intervention arises. Fundamentally, “Homeland” will bring to Venice an architectural thought imbued with a greater social commitment, a reflection on the present condition.
Unprecedentedly, Koolhaas asked participating countries to respond to a specific theme: the absorption of architectonic modernism in its national contexts. As architecture exhibits everything with mediation and representation, we will see many photographs and models of past buildings, we will question their significance and quickly forget them. The Portuguese participation takes the form of media with fresh content: what better expression of what we've retained of modernity than what we build and think today? We don't have buildings to exhibit, we have ideas that we can carry under our arms while we wait for the ferry, or can read on the plane ride home.
The Portuguese representation exhibits the contradictions of our current condition, here and in Europe. As the first edition of "Homeland" writes, the crisis of the last years only illustrates that modernity was "absorbed" unexpectedly. The modern ideals of progress were assimilated -- until they disappeared into an increasingly impoverished and unequal social reality. The rise of the middle class, typical of modernity, is in retreat. And with economists such as Thomas Piketty announcing a new feudal age, architects reveal themselves symptomatic figures of the new paradigm of zero growth.
Between the students at the College of Architects and the recent graduates, the unemployed and the displaced, Portugal currently has over 30,000 architects, almost all young. In the public eye, the profession is a success, but it has glaring problems. The rapid generational turnover struck not only a traditionally conservative context, but also a dwindling building market. As much as some complain of the (their) crisis, the thousands of young people, the recipients of a collective dismissal, were the true victims. With exceptional training, but with little to do, they symbolize a new class of the intellectual proletariat. Little good to them that architecture is one of country's most important cultural exports.
The Portuguese participation in the Venice Biennale is only a newspaper, but it's a newspaper that transmits the critical positions and opinions of people who celebrity passes by. This attribute is essential. From Post-War Europe to Post-Revolution Portugal, the expansion of media coverage has contributed to modern architecture's reaching all homes. Today, it's essential that these media serve new purposes, perhaps more political ones. As Jürgen Habermas suggests, there is no better way to contribute to the public sphere than a newspaper and its contemporary variants. If our architects today cannot express themselves through building, we can use other media to put their knowledge at the service of society. “Homeland” is just one small step in that direction.