Among the Venice Biennale's two-pronged approach of hype and glamour on one hand, and artistry and theory on the other, it's easy to forget that the event is one of the biggest gatherings of architects around - and as such represents a great opportunity to put the more prosaic concerns of the profession out in the open.
The New York-based Architecture Lobby took full advantage of the opportunity however, holding a protest outside the Giardini on June 7th, the Biennale's opening weekend. Through their protest, they aim to draw attention to declining working conditions in the profession, including low pay, long hours and insecure unemployment - particularly for young architects, who are the most precarious of all.
We reached out to Architecture Lobby member Tyler Survant to find out more about the Architecture Lobby's presence in Venice, and the problems facing the profession. Read on after the break for the interview.
What are the aims of the Architecture Lobby, at Venice and in general?
We aim to influence the public perception of architecture as well as restructure the architectural industry from within, advocating for the value of architectural labor, both at the level of employee benefits and compensation as well as at the level of architectural fees. In addition to the protest, The Architecture Lobby also produced a book for the Biennale that was given as a gift to the US Pavilion and is currently on display there. The book borrows from Italian labor protests the character of San Precario, fictional patron saint of precarious workers. Lobby members and their colleagues submitted images and rewrote the San Precario prayer to address architectural precarity [an online version of this book is viewable here]. The Venice protest and San Precario book aim to cut through the self-congratulatory hype of the Biennale event, to remind architects of our precarity as laborers in a capitalist workforce.
What forces have necessitated this action by the Architecture Lobby?
A disciplinary culture that promotes overproduction and underpayment, an imbalance between our labor value and our compensation. We architects must recognize they we are part of a global labor force that has fought for and deserves fair pay, legal benefits, regulated hours, and termination policies. If we do not self-identify as such, we will remain immune to the global, labor-based, social reform movements.
What is the Architecture Lobby's relationship to the US Pavilion (if any)?
The Architecture Lobby is not officially tied to the US Pavilion, which is why the protest was staged at the gates to the Giardini rather than inside. However, there are several people involved in the US Pavilion who are also involved in the Lobby, and the Pavilion's focus on architectural production and office structure shares common ground with our interest in architectural labor.
How have your actions been received by those in Venice - both people involved in the Biennale and visitors?
We staged the protest on Saturday, June 7th, and by that time much of the media had left Venice. But the news of the action spread around the city. Many young people came up to members of the Lobby and said that they appreciated the action and acknowledged that the issues we cited are not just a problem in the US but also abroad. The protest seems to have resonated with people.