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Fundamentals – Rem Koolhaas’s research-led biennale

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Venice Biennale 2014: Rem Koolhaas - Fundamentals

Rem Koolhaas launched Fundamentals by focusing on the first of three themes the Biennale will explore: Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014He showed two slides: the first presented 12 countries, represented by national or vernacular architectural styles, such as a classical palazzo for Italy or a traditional courtyard house for Saudi Arabia. The second showed the same countries in 2014, each represented by glass skyscrapers with the provocation: ‘What remains of national styles today? How did we get here?’ But, as co-curator Stephan Petermann of OMA explains, the apparently limiting brief has instead highlighted the differing threads of modernity in the national stories of the 66 participating countries.

‘We have to realise that 100 years has meant many different things for all these countries,’ says Petermann. ‘Many countries went through wars, many had political problems, some were under communism, others were market economies, and we can see that all reflected in how modernity is translated into architecture.’

The team was also keen to have countries from the Southern Hemisphere represented at the Biennale, to show Modernism’s global story. ‘Some of these countries have far more interesting stories to tell about how the process went, about how the West influenced the traditional,’ says Petermann. ‘Some pavilions will respond to the fact that they have directly imported Modernism… and how they are starting to reject or introduce new aspects of Modernism.’

The second theme moves away from national stories and zooms in on building blocks of design. Elements of Architecture is a curated installation at the Central Pavilion devoted to building elements. Included is part of an archive by Friedrich Mielke, who has researched staircases for 40 years, writing 25 books on the subject and making more than 2,000 drawings.

‘If you break down these elements, you find an abundance of creativity and detail that we have forgotten with time, and which can enrich our vocabulary again,’ says Petermann.

The final theme of the biennale being curated by Koolhaas’s team is Monditalia, which will share some of the architectural show space with other strands of the biennale, such as art and film, to give a survey of the culture and history of the host country.

‘This year’s show will be more about reflection than about the crazy utopian projections, which is usually the case,’ says Petermann, adding: ‘It will also give us a good insight into the current moment and where we are going in the world.’






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