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A place where architecture can be itself without feeling guilty

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The Venice Biennale is healthy.There is a definite air of excitement, anticipation and temporary reconciliation as you move through an excess of parties, galleries and openings.

This event has established itself as the major meeting place for the architectural community. It is essentially architects talking to architects in an open way that for once does not have to make any pretence about political correctness or public understanding.

Architecture can be itself and enjoy an exchange of a closed language without having to feel guilty. I have long thought that the world of ideas has been too long neglected and it is inspiring to see this vast array of work, much of which will not be built in spite of the intent.The title NEXT, set by Deyan Sudjic, was an attempt, in vain, to show the world a series of works that will soon finish in an array of cities and locations.Given the audience, who cares!

The vast,1km length of the Arsenale is full of works that manage to overcome the control of the John Pawson design, resulting in a display of almost every idiom that exists today.The result, because of the attempt to control, is not as dynamic as at the last Biennale, but nevertheless is impressive.

Architects in control allow work to exist in their own terms.

At the Gardini, with its national pavilions, it is always interesting to observe how different countries choose to depict their architectural personalities.The Israelis created a pavilion about edge, border and separation.The contents were only visible through a slatted louvre system. It is a vision of destruction.A built form that is reduced to indignity that cannot be sanctioned by anyone.A world created by conflict, not love, a hopelessness that cannot inspire, a destruction of the very fabric of existence.How else can Israel show itself? There is no architecture to celebrate.

The Spaniards focus on the floor of their space.A giant blow-up of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights lies on a wall-to-wall carpet that draws our attention to some of the horrific detail of its content.Large TV monitors hover over the carpet, each showing a sequence of film.The work is beautiful and suggests to us that the grand gesture is made up of small episodes, which are as vital to improvement as the whole.

It proposes that our lives are made up of episodes that give the quality to our day-today existence, and in this the whole installation is the antithesis of the grand gesture we see in the towers commissioned by Alessi in the Arsenale.The architect appears to always rise to the single gesture, given half a chance.

For example, the Max Protetch exhibition on display in the US pavilion contains work by 40 or so architects from around the world. In nearly every case, the resultant images show large, extravagant towers to replace the hideous World Trade Center edifice.Many of them are more beautiful but how can their imaginations be so limited? In this case the image of a possible building is simple but the underlying dilemma of replacement, memorial and need, is forgotten.Many are architectural muscle-flexing.

The British Pavilion is beautiful. It skillfully depicts the elegant boardwalk of the Yokohama Ferry Terminal in a thoughtful and powerful manner, with references to the constantly changing sections, compared to horizontal slices through the human body.

Why did the Dutch Pavilion win the prize for the best pavilion with its simple display of architectural mediocrity?

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