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Lining up for the Venice Biennale

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This year's Venice Architecture Biennale opens on Sunday 12 September and here is a taster of what to expect, writes Andrew Mead.

Director Kurt Forster has chosen the grandiose title 'Metamorph' for the event, on the premise that 'architecture is going through a period of revolutionary shifts in thought that have already opened up unexpected new perspectives'.

As usual, the exhibition is split between two main sites: the former naval complex of the Arsenale and the Giardini della Biennale, where the national pavilions are located. In an Asymptote-designed installation in the Corderie, the vast old ropeworks of the Arsenale, there will be sections on 'topography' (projects in which building and site are fused), 'surfaces' (fashionably curved or folded and continuous), and 'hyper-projects' - large-scale schemes like museums and cultural centres that, says Forster, 'are carving out the sort of role once played by the public baths in ancient Rome'.

Additional displays will focus on the work of Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Aldo Rossi and James Stirling: 'Four positions that suggest a condition of departure for the profound transformations of architecture currently under way.' In what is presumably a nod towards Rossi's Teatro del Mondo, his floating theatre at the 1980 biennale, a supplementary exhibition, 'Cities on Water', will occupy a floating pavilion moored at the Arsenale and examine the role of waterfronts in urban regeneration.

Forster's exhibition also colonises the rambling and extensive Italian Pavilion in the Giardini. Here visitors will find installations by Eisenman, Massimo Scolari and Kengo Kuma, a section on concert halls, and an investigation of 'atmosphere' - buildings that 'open up a metabolic dimension in architecture' by their capacity for subtle changes in appearance, often through the use of new materials. One reason why Forster is giving an unusual prominence to photography, both in the Italian Pavilion and at the Arsenale, is because of its ability to capture such fleeting atmospheric effects.

Whatever the overall title of the biennale, no doubt the two dozen or more national pavilions will go their own way. Denmark has enlisted Bruce Mau to design its show of 'Seven New Denmarks', the Netherlands presents 'Hybrid Landscapes: Designing for Sprawl', while the US offers 'Transcending Type' - new takes on high-rise housing, shopping centres and stadia.

The British Pavilion, curated by Peter Cook, features nine practices 'in deliberate and rhetorical contrast to each other'. With participants as different as Caruso St John and Ron Arad, there will certainly be some 'contrast', though it remains to be seen whether the juxtapositions are resonant. Cook also promises 'a surprise from Future Systems for those who think they've got them taped'.

The biennale continues until 7 November. For more details visit www. labiennale. org

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