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Wolf Prix attacks Chipperfield's Venice Biennale


Austrian provocateur Wolf Prix has hit out at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale for failing to tackle major political themes behind architecture

In a press release, the Coop Himmelb(l)au likened the international showcase to a ‘product fair’, describing it as ‘hollow, arduous, exhausting, bleak and boring’.

Prix cited controversial plans to redevelop Stuttgart train station, the cost explosion of high profile buildings like the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, political arguments about mosques and minarets and the collapse of the single-family home market in the USA as ‘disputes about the localisation of an idea’ and topics ‘worthy of discussion’.

However, the fact that Herzog & de Meuron’s controversial Elbe Philharmonic hall was displayed in the Arsenale, along with extensive coverage of its overspend, as published in the press, has fuelled speculation that Prix criticised the exhibition without having seen it.

In his statement, Prix labelled the festival an ‘expensive dance of death’, claiming a ‘great’ biennale would have featured forums and themes looking ‘behind the scenes’ at decision-making ‘instead of boring exhibitions’.

Using a Venetian carnival metaphor, Prix said architects were ‘playing on a sinking gondola’ like the orchestra on the Titanic while in the real world ‘our leaky trade is sinking into powerlessness and irrelevance’.

The 69-year-old Jencks Award winner explained: ‘This is because politicians and project managers, investors and bureaucrats have been deciding on our built environment for a long time now. Not the architects.’

Turning to festival director Chipperfield, Prix urged him to draw inspiration from pop band Pussy Riot’s demonstration in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral to ‘finally understand our society.’

He said:’ While in Russia artists are stubbornly resisting the authoritarian regime, the current director of the Architecture Biennale considers these characteristics to be obstacles for our profession and he explains in an interview that space must be taken from the genius. One would have to show him Pussy Riots in order for him to finally understand our society.’

On the biennale in general, Prix said: ‘It is no longer about lively discussion and criticism of topics in contemporary architecture, but rather about empty, conservative and perhaps populist shells that are charged with feigned meaning.’

This year’s biennale theme ‘common ground’ was a ‘compromise’ which ‘cannot get any worse’ he also claimed.


Readers' comments (3)

  • What is the point of the biennale? If it is an excuse to sup kir royal whilst making architects feel like a valued part of the wider art world then fine, it can be an arty Italian version of MIPIM. However, Architecture is inherently political and architects are generally well informed fully signed up members of society so why doesn’t it serve a bigger function, giving a platform for the important and controversial debates. I am inclined to agree with Wolf Prix.

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  • It’s the usual suspects who get selected for the Biennale yet it is those very suspects that have brought architecture to its knees. Who Sir David Chipperfield excluded is more important than who he included and it shows that the Biennale remains an old boys club rather than a serious attempt to look at architectural polemics. Mr Prix is right, he has the guts to tell Sir David you’re fired.

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  • Perhaps Prix missed this pavilion:


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