Between 1931 and 1981, the Soviet Union exported a prefab concrete panel system for housing - whose development and exportation embodied the ideals of the modern movement - to countries around the world, creating more than 170 million apartments. In 1972, during the socialist government of Salvador Allende, the USSR donated a panel factory to Chile. The Chile KPD (an acronym derived from the Russian words for “large concrete panel”) produced a total of 153 buildings during its operation, before being shut down and forgotten during the military dictatorship.
The full story of the concrete panels produced in Chile had been buried in history, but research conducted by curators Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola for the Chile Pavilion has resurfaced the political, ideological and aesthetic implications of the panel. Monolith Controversies not only shows the technical aspects of a fundamental element of a prefab building system, but also demonstrates how it was connected to an ideology. Upon entering the Chile pavilion, visitors find themselves in the recreation of an interior of one of the apartments. Next they enter the main space, in which one concrete panel found by the curators stands as the representation of how modernity was absorbed in Chile.
In the Absorbing Modernity section of the Biennale, Koolhaas asked curators from all over the world to bring to light the ways modernism developed in their countries. The work done by the Chilean curators in the Monolith Controversies exhibition is one of the best examples of this call, recognized by the jury with the Silver Lion. Read on for the curator’s statement.
From the curators. Isolated in upright position, a large-concrete panel stands on the center of the Chilean Pavilion at the 2014 Venice International Architecture Exhibition. This was one of the first ever produced by the Chilean KPD plant—an industry to produce prefabricated housing donated in 1972 by the Soviet Union to the Chilean road to socialism led by president Salvador Allende. This panel has since been the agent of several political and ideological controversies, especially after Allende himself signed it up in the wet concrete, if only for his gesture to be later covered up by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, adding the panel the representations of the Virgin and Child between two colonial style lamp fixtures. This piece of concrete represents a relatively marginal tradition in the historiographies of modern architecture despite the fact that more than 170 million large-concrete panel apartments were built worldwide during the second half of the twentieth century. Thus the panel becomes fundamental symbol to the absorption of modernity proposed as the concept for the 2014 Venice International Architecture Exhibition. Monolith Controversies is a work by Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola based in a research project documenting the 153 housing blocks built in Chile by the KPD plant, as well as the technical, typological and conceptual reconstruction of twenty-eight large-concrete panel systems developed and disseminated worldwide between 1931 and 1981.
On July 31st, and event with will take place at the Stage C of the Arsenale with ex-KPD workers Verne Díaz and María Elena Pivet with Adrian Forty, Boris Groys and the pavilion curators Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola, all reacting to the presence of a controversial concrete panel in the Venice Biennial.
Curators: Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola
Commissioner: Cristóbal Molina (on behalf of the National Council of Culture and the Arts of Chile)
Pavilion Design: Gonzalo Puga
Visual Identity and Graphic Design: Martín Bravo
Guest artist: Gianfranco Foschino
Models and visualization production: Felipe Aravena, José Hernández
Multimedia: Francisco Hernández, Micol Riva
Communications: Marcela Velásquez
Pavilion Producer and Setup: Luigi D’Oro & Arguzia s.r.l.
Organizer: National Council of Culture and the Arts of Chile
Supporters: Fundación Imagen de Chile, DIRAC, CSAV, SAAM.
Venue: Isolotto dell'arsenale. - Calle della Tana 2169/F-30125 Venezia, Italia
Date: June 7 to November 23, 2014