The AJ’s bloggers report from the opening weekend of the Venice Biennale 2016
This is my round up blog solely as there was far too much to see in Venice! I couldn’t have packed in any more if I’d tried; an amazingly sociable first Biennale experience…time well spent at the German, Polish and British Pavilions initially and then spent exploring Niall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou’s excellent & very moving reflection on working as architects to understand and improve the quality of life for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Then onto the Turkish exhibition with Carolyn and Diane and the Caro team after a very lovely dinner and drinks on Wednesday evening hosted by Carolyn, with the ever fabulous Mr & Mrs Allford, Mr & Mrs Monaghan, Martyn Evans, Alex Ely…Thursday included a long architectural lunch at Ill Nuovo Galleon…hosted in style by Alicia Pivaro. Annalie & David of Mikhail Riches in food heaven …enjoying squid ink spaghetti, a truly Venetian lunch discussing the best of this years (& previous years) Pavilions… with Glenn Howells Architect-spotting throughout. On to the British Council party, what a ‘do.’! A seriously impressive setting in Academia. Everyone including Paul Karakusevic & Andrea Klettner, on top form as usual.
Friday was spent celebrating with Alex Ely; his very lovely birthday lunch with views do die for over a truly memorable and excellent lunch at the Danieli. The evening was a true experience at Robert White’s the Dark Side…hosted by Ma of Mad Architects.
Saturday, I visited the Zaha Exhibition, both superb & very moving. Her early paintings amd the photography of her buildings by Helene Binet being my favourites and then back to the Arsenale for exhibitions that i’d missed the day before.
The last evening at the Venice Biennale 2016 culminated in a dinner (salon) hosted by the fabulous Christophe, David & Lucas of SEW. A beautiful evening in a very impressive Venetian Palazzo, modern decor & then quite unbelievably with walls adorned with a Picasso & a Chagall…the perfect platform for more architectural discourse.
Venice Biennale is an invaluable moment on the architectural social calendar aimed at promoting discussion, reflection, collaboration and if successful, ending in hugely valuable bonding, relationship & friendship making. The success of the event cannot be measured immediately - that takes time - the success and joy of building relationships via both can, over time be hugely rewarding to all and will undoubtedly in the end make for a much richer architectural experience and a better outcome.
This was my first Biennale - whilst it was my first and I have nothing to compare to - it was a joy and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with everyone. I’m still digesting - everything that we’ve seen and everyone that we’ve met and friends we spent time with. Grazie mille Venezia & Biennale 2016!
So much for starchitects. As I sit here awaiting the late arrival of my Easyjet flight I’m reflecting on the overall feeling this exhibition on contemporary architecture has left on me. My highlights, the German pavilion quite literally opening up its walls to allow nature in and views out, a simple physical installation to express the open borders into Germany for immigrants. The Spanish pavilion discussing how construction stopped due to the financial crisis…and then started again…with small interventions in and around abandoned projects. The Evidence Room in the Italian pavilion showcasing compelling evidence of the ‘greatest crime of architecture’, the design and implementation of detailed holocaust apparatus. The Irish pavilion must be the most beautifully constructed piece. Bronze quadropods supporting AV equipment deliciously layering the work of 16 hands on the floor below; the research and supporting text powerfully describing an argument for considered architecture when designing for people with dementia. All incredibly internal, thought provoking, people centred, political and strangely ‘big building free’ series of installations. It’s all a little bit ‘inside’.
Outside the Giardini and Arsenale an exhibition of Zaha’s work sits proudly…a series of rooms showing an intuitive series of paintings, reliefs and models moving into parametricism, the digital, dare I say it, more political age of the practice. Big buildings and what they actually might look like from the ‘Outside’…architecture as form…as well as idea. I was fortunate enough to attend two late night salons with Patrick Schumacher, Sam Jacob, Arron Betsky and others…discussing ideas and yes believe it or not ‘buildings’. Discussions around the issues of conservative/progressive values around nature, people and construction. Sam noted, with caveat on the way that he makes them, that at least Schumacher is out there arguing a case for big buildings with form.
My first and only previous ‘blog’ noted it was time to ‘think’…and yes my time here has allowed that but we also have to ‘do’…I.e. make things, sometimes big things in a political world. Early thoughts of the British Pavilion was that it was underwhelming and that the contents lacked a clear provocation. However, over time…and with the help of the impressive accompanying literature, the pavilion successfully suggests practical ideas of how to overcome the issue of provision of UK housing in a changing world from the inside out. If you find your way to the back of the book you find typologies and towers…yes…actual buildings. I find it educational, and a microcosm of the overall feel of the Bienalle, that the corollary of these ideas, the large formal outcomes, aren’t found in the pavilion itself. Are we ashamed of buildings?
For me the Bienalle has been refreshing, in its most simple way, architecture finding a way to show that we ‘feel and think’ in order to ‘make’…but why so few big buildings? As Amanda Baillieu noted to me…’it’s a little tiresome’ after a while. A new American friend also described the exhibition as ‘Crunchy’ a term from across the pond for politically correct. Architecture shouldn’t be a question of those who go to MIPIM and those who go to the Bienalle, like a fight between good and evil, the fight between money and art, a place for architects and another place for developers (although thankfully Martyn Evans, ‘Uncommon’ and John Nordon ‘Pegasus Life’ were present)…we sometimes need to make big interventions to solve large problems, and architecture has form. Architects need to take the conversation of form and express it, otherwise others will do it for us. Perhaps a super famous contemporary architect who makes building, morphology, material and experience the way the Bienalle suggests all architects want to…will be here in two years time. A good architect can do the outside of a building, a very good one can do the inside, a proper one can do both. I’m in search of a proper starchitect.
The collateral events of the Bienalle are also being followed with great interest this year. Time Space Existence in Palazzo Bembo is one of them. During the preview evenings it did take quite some time to reach the stairs, while trying to bypass the giant Parmigiano on the right hand side of the entrance hall. Our exhibition archlstratalantioch is in the main hall of the second floor.
The exhibition showcases the Antakya Museum Hotel Project located in the center of Antakya, Turkey, close to the St. Pierre Church which is one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Christianity. Through images text, videos and the model, the exhibit highlights the complex layers and the unique manner of the project displaying how architecture can cause paradigm shift in interpreting private and public. The archlstratalantioch will be open till the end of the Biennale but of course you can check out its details on our website (www.emrearolat.com) as well.
Venice blog Emre Arolat 4
Venice blog Emre Arolat 3
Though I never come to the biennalles with great enthusiasm, I tend to cheer up once I step onto Venice. Everyone should have a taste of it, the experience of being in this magnificient urban landscape, away from the worries of daily life. And tomorrow I will be in the exceptional aura of Giardini.
A farewell to the Biennale with Laura Iloniemi at the ultimate ‘departure lounge’.
Venice blog Gabor Gallov
I didn’t think I would be this impressed with Darzana, on show at the Turkish Pavillion. As I mentioned before, I had found the conceptual background and the mental references quite convincing, assesing the selection process as an outsider. Still when I came across the ’baştarda’ composed of more than 500 pieces from different ships and periods, surrounded by the dimness of the exhibition hall, its walls covered with the patina of so many years, I totally got the goose bumps. I may be taking sides but I really think it has a a very important place in all the country pavillions I have seen so far in Arsenale. Feride Çiçekoglu, Mehmet Kütükçüoğlu, Ertuğ Uçar and all the others who have put in an effort one way or the other have to be congratulated wholeheartedly.
There is also a book for Darzana. Bülent Erkmen with his mastery has turned the texts of Namık Erkal and Vera Constantini and the incredible photos of Cemal Emden, which can be hang on any wall on their own, into a highly qualified and a perpetual book.
Probably one of the reasons I like this project is the competent mediation it presents while positioning itself with the general theme. Now I think we are so over the ages where direct messages can be delivered head on. The spotless and sincere cries of the ’68 and the ‘La Prezensa del Passato’ of the ‘80s were so genuine. The world was a different place then. Now making holes on the thick walls of the bienale pavillion trying to draw attention to the refugee crises is far from convinving, quite naive and hardly believable. I will go to Giardini soon. I can’t wait to see the German Pavillion…
Gonca and I, we go around seperately. Our paces are different, she is faster. I can get stuck somewhere for hours sometimes. We meet up to grab something to drink. While queing for a table, we run into Lousia Hutton; little later Matthias Sauerbruch joins the conversation in haste. We chat about the Budapest Museum of Ethnography Competition gloomily…
I continue on from where I left off in Arsenale… Rehul Mehrotra’s Ephemeral Landscapes is very impressive. Its conceptual frame is quite strong, with a very rich content. I can’t help but think of the same question yet again: Wouldn’t I be better off if I were to see all these in a book in the calm of my desk instead of this bombardment of hundreds of side by side, even nested works all together? What would be the loss? Probably nothing. Yes, conceptual depth and a rich context, they are absolute musts. However to have a brilliant exhibition performance and to strike as an attractive one off experience in the visitors’ imaginations are also very important. Just like a noteable space creates ease in one’s mind…
I quickly pass by a couple of insignificant works that just try to look good. Right before lunchtime I can’t help but catch a glimpse of the outside. While we are dealing with self-proclaimed architectural issues, outside the real life is going on… Pablo Picasso, enjoying the sunshine, is chatting with his neighbours…
Venice blog Emre Arolat
Soooooo, nice for Lord Norman Foster to rock up to the New Architects 3 book launch and hear me mumble on about pallets and get deep insights into African cows, lunches and Margate. His enthusiasm, support, generosity and willingness to engage with the panel and the floor was appreciated and being the only architect my parents have heard of gives me a useful name-drop to convince them I’m ‘doing okay’.
I keep hearing and reading quite banal and inane mutterings about how architects should stick to what ‘we’re good at’ and not try and affect issues that shouldn’t be of a concern to us. These kind of crass, unthinking, intellectually weak generalisations are the lowest form of professional discourse and quite frankly a weird attempt to deny a sense of someone’s individual agency. What all the speakers at our talk shared was an understanding that where the conditions and the resources don’t exist to create wonderful architecture and places then we might be able to use our intellect, training, resources and creativity to manifest the type of change in the culture, sociology and economics of a particular context that then creates a need and demand for genuinely progressive forms of physical and spatial intervention. The ability to raise money, create cultural and social programming, develop enterprise and inform politics and policy with the ambition to challenge and reduce inequality should be applauded rather than dismissed. As for taking an interest in addressing some of the most pressing concerns facing humanity then that’s an interest I have as a human being never mind an architect.
I’m going to spend more time immersing myself within the pavilions today, hanging out with Graham from Lateral North who have created a beautiful and interactive installation within the Scottish Pavilion at Ludoteca Santa Maria just close to Garibaldi.
Currently my prize for the most amount of nonsense goes to Preston Scott Cohen’s speculative intervention into Detroit. In a city full of empty buildings and voids let’s just create even more empty space to be filled and interpreted. Really, really stupid but I know some of you out there are crying out for ‘the architecture’ so head to the US pavilion and drool over some truly silly buildings. If that’s not quite what you were hoping for then Japan, South Korea, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and pretty much everything in the main exhibition at the Giardini; there’s even a splash of Chipperfield in there to calm all those put off by all the ‘issues’
Starting the tour from Arsenale again. It has turned into a habit. How many times have I been to the Venice Biennale? I guess I don’t want to think about it. Were previews always this crowded? It is very hot and humid. Weather App says it is 21 degrees but it definetely feels 30.
Alejandro Aravena arrives at the same time as us. And starts addressing the crowd gathering around him. Unfortunately in Spanish. Trying to understand won’t make sense. I dive into the darkness.
The theme is quite intense, I think to myself. Reporting from the front is not an issue that can be handled easily. It is hard to stay away from cliches, especially trying not to fall into shiny and attractive traps of populism is tricky. A large banner with tiny letters welcomes me. ‘Is it possible to create a public space in a private commision?’ Come on. I have been cursed at so many times because I wanted to perform the profession of architecture in a way to bring a positive outcome to this question. Another question follows: ‘Is it possible to minimize the impact of building in a public space?’ Of course it is I think instinctively. If only I could figure out the relation of the texts and the work that is on show.
I am looking for things that go beyond stating the obvious. Like I said, it is an intense exhibition. Architecture is way too complicated for such a spotless message. Just as I am about to loose hope, I come across the monolithic concrete cast blocks of Marte.marte. Search of the unexpected. Incredible objects. Five abstract statues. I touch them tenderly. Can’t stop myself. The projects are good too. Especially that plain bridge. I am relieved a little.
I come across Paola Urbano suddenly. What a coincidence. We tried to meet many times to do something, not accomplishing to come together so far. Here was where it was meant to be. She has liked the bells further ahead. Her face lights up again…
Helpful tips from Peter Zumthor on how to arrange your wardrobe….
Venice blog Tracy Mellor 4
Friday’s official opening of the Danish Pavilion drew what seems like the biggest crowd we have ever had at this event. Most of the audience clearly came to hear the legendary Jan Gehl, who is also celebrated in the exhibition. He was joined by curators Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss and Boris Broman Jensen, Bjarke Ingels, Kjetil Thorsen and Anupama Kundoo, all discussing the ‘Right to Space.’ Highlights were Jan’s call that it should be human right to walk and to bicycle and hear his enthusiasm for ‘reconquering’ Moscow for pedestrians, which he saw as a much greater challenge than working in places like NYC’s Times Square.
Much of the rest of the day was spent touring the various pavilions and Arsenale with our Minister of Culture Bertel Haarder and Kent Martinussen, director of the Danish Architecture Center. Then happily off to the parties by DAC - with stunning views from the terrace of the Westin Europa - and Nordic.
End of day two and beginning to flag. 27,902 steps. You can only take in so much architecture over a couple of days. I’m glad I saw Niall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou’s installation at the Arsenale based on Niall’s Alzheimer’s Respite Centre in Dublin. Dementia erodes the ability to remember where you have come from and to plan where you would like to go. The installation traces the use of the building over a 24 hour period using film of drawings of hourly activities.
Then there was Turkey’s Two Arsenals, One Vessel. It’s probably one of those that Tim Abrahams is moaning about i.e. no architecture, but it’s a lovely thing and makes some pertinent references to the maritime link between Venice and Istanbul. I liked the British Pavilion but I’m familiar with the issues; non-GB visitors that I watched found its coolness rather incomprehensible. Even journalists suggested it was much improved by a curator-led tour. Nevertheless Hans Ulrich Obrist said it was the best Biennale pavilion he had ever seen.
Patrik Schumacher complained that the German Pavilion didn’t have any architecture and was full of sloganising. Yes, it was indeed full of sloganising but it included some pretty good and inexpensive emergency housing to accommodate the influx of refugees. The Koreans investigated how you use the tight FAR regulations of Seoul to deliver new building forms as well as increased accommodation. I preferred DCM’s new Australian Pavilion to its contents - a paddling pool - particularly the characteristic canalside cantilever, a view that sadly few visitors actually get to see. I missed the Japanese pavilion because they were having their opening reception and didn’t manage to get back. So much to see and too little time. Progress is always so slow through the Giardini as you keep meeting people you want to stop and chat to. There’s lots I’ve missed, but I try not to feel too guilty and enjoy the whole event as an intense submersive experience where the discussions and encounters are as important as the displays.
Friday at the biennale.
The Arsenale has been the highlight of the Biennale for me - a far more successful response to this year’s theme than the pavilions, which in general seemed to have struggled to reconcile their own agenda with the idea of “reporting from the front”.
On arrival the striking reuse of the plasterboard partitions from the previous biennale create an elegant and poignant introduction to this year’s exhibits.
Venice blog Tracy Mellor 2
The Ephemeral Urbanism exhibit was addictively fascinating – it explores what can be learnt from temporary settlements created for a range of reasons from festivals to refugee camps, with a particular focus on the city of Kumbh Mela in India- a temporary settlement for 5 million dwellers and 100 million visitors- which is created every 12 years for just 55 days. I could happily have spent half the day in this exhibit alone, but with so much to see I bought the book and moved on…
A second highlight was the “The war on Bending” exhibit which was a call to arms for less tension -not in our lives but in our structures- and explored how using materials primarily in compression could reduce the structural mass by up to 70 per cent - thought provoking and simply illustrated it gave a glimpse into a future of 3D printed structural slabs.
Venice blog Tracy Mellor 3
Passing through Transsolar’s light shafts was cause to pause and enjoy the striking impact in the space, I am not sure I understood the installation although their explanation that “sustainability is nothing other than rigorous use of common sense” seemed like, well… common sense.
The final treat before emerging into the blazing sun, we passed through the irish contribution - an exploration of the impact of Alzheimer’s on the perception of space – beautifully presented it was a insightful response to the theme.
Had to really sleep on this one as it’s so close to home (I am from Helsinki) . The Nordic Pavilion exhibition curated by David Basulto and James Taylor-Foster is an incisive window into the transition and perhaps malaise that Scandinavian design has grappled with in recent years (and perhaps for a few too many recent years). Identity crisis is there in subtly different ways for Finland, Norway and Sweden. Good to get it out there and tackle it. Certainly better than building a smoke sauna inspired Guggenheim in Helsinki!!
The best is the Enemy of the Good; Last night & this morning Venice; Tomorrow Wembley!
After a hot afternoon in the Giardini we retired for early evening Aperol on the waterside terrace of the Monaco. After three stays here I am enjoying ever more the lobby with its Castiglioni inspired maverick collection of modernist furniture, Perspex detailing and a screen printed hanging glass ceiling.
I missed the, apparently rather good, Turkish party in the Monaco’s glamorous ballroom. Instead we escaped the Biennale for drinks and an impromptu dinner with old friends in the Cipriani. We returned late enough for me to sneak in to The British Council’s lavish party just in time to to miss the last drinks. As an old school friend, who owns the esteemed rug maker/designer Christopher Farr remarked, ‘you architects are proper old school: in the Milan furniture Fair the designers retire before midnight, here you’ve drunk the bar dry and move automatically and en masse to The Bauer’! The latter was full, so I retired but others sought out yet more of the hard stuff!
As we escape to London, without hangover, my recollections of this Biennale are mixed. There is a camaraderie born of chance encounter that leads to interesting discussions and design dissections of and with fellow travellers! But I left feeling as uncomfortable with the theme ‘Reporting from the Front’ as when I arrived. As an architect I am trained to be an optimist so I have reported on what I thought was good. But in what I perceived to be the race to be best, I saw much more fetishisation of the aesthetic of an ‘Architecture Povera’ than I did examples of what architecture can do for the improvement of the human condition en masse.
On the temporary versus permanent debate, David Chipperfield’s project in the Sudan highlighted how much can be done with very little to achieve the considerably important task of providing essential enclosure (in this case of archeological ruins) with an architecture of long term generosity - that is open to appropriation. By violent contrast Architecture as Evidence, Robert Jan Van Pelt’s study of the Nazi’s careful concealment of the architecture of the holocaust (produced to deny the denier David Irving), highlighted the great horrors that much architecture has housed throughout history. The inevitability of the appropriation of architecture for good or bad over time is of course evidenced by the history of Venice itself. A Gothic and Renaissance city of great beauty borne of a violent empire run as a democracy.
Aravena’s ‘Reporting from The Front’ felt far too much like a profession genuflecting to minor projects in acknowledgment of shared guilt at how in general it earns fees from all sorts of other real clients. Hopefully this will be addressed in the future by a Biennale that looks through the other end of the telescope at the key role architecture needs to play in the design of the vital infrastructure of mass housing, public transport and the distribution of sewage, water and power. All of which are essential to transforming the quality of many, rather than few, lives. Ultimately a Biennale that fails to acknowledge that it is in part a glorified Trade Show runs the risk of becoming even more of one.
Still we had fun, learned something and as we waved Venice good bye my mind turned to real life, Saturday and thoughts of Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley…
Just finished fixing up the AF palazzo or as I now refer to it ‘my home’. The Venetian police did a mighty good job of getting people to leave our post British Pavilion Launch Party Party but they did a much worse job of sticking around to help tidy up and load the dishwasher.
They were suitably impressed by proceedings though and have asked if they can come round this evening when they have the night off. I’m waiting on a Vaparetto to take me to the Arsenale, well I’m on it now. I got there last night about 6pm in order to catch the Urban Think Tank exhibition; Sarajevo Now. The exhibition also includes a retrospective of Urban Think Tanks work which is well worth a look to appreciate the variety and breadth of their output over the last few years. They also get a prize for the best use of grey plastic pipes, utilised here to create the structure for their exhibition. It was great to bump into Danny Wills from Urban Think Tank and the fabulous folk from Architecture for Refugees, all of whom were fellow workshop leaders at last years Hello Wood.
This exhibition clearly sits within the theme and the agenda of the biennale and it was interesting yesterday to move from the pavilions into the main exhibition space at the giardini where the ‘message’ is also more palpable (I like that word). Here I found the most compelling exhibits to be the ones that shares the characteristics I most enjoyed in the best pavilions; the creation of beautiful forms, objects and incidents that improved and interpreted the space in which they were hosted. They did this without preaching and without polemic, the qualities inherent within their craft, concept and execution being enough to communicate their impact and agenda. Solano Benitez brick arch was the most excellent example of this; a monument of beauty, craft and endeavour with the lattice formwork displayed on the walls as both decoration and education.
I’m doing a wee talk later with some lovely, cool folk all doing great work; Sam Causer, Assemble, Orkidstudio and myself will be talking about alternative modes of practice. My own focus will be on innovative, generative and capacity building forms of urbanism that I employ within marginalised communities in Scotland. Pop along for a prosecco in the basement of the British Pavilion. I’ve definitely stayed too long on this Vaparetto.
We will start with going to Arsenale today with my colleagues who have been here since a couple of days. It is time to put aside my tired and reckless attitude. I am really curious about the installation performance of Darzana, the one and only actor of the Turkish Pavilion. The photos I have seen are promising. I have already thought that the conceptual background was quite strong just as I have heard about. A nice gesture from an old and unused shipyard Haliç to another old shipyard, Arsenale, which embraces a different identity today. A chic and meaningful tribute.
Although I have not yet seen the exhibition and the Darzana itself, I can easily talk about the classiness of reception given in its honor at the magnificent ballroom of Hotel Monaco. Apart from a bit runny risotto and the increasing heat of the room as it became crowded, it was quite an impeccable event. The architectural crème de la crème of our neighborhood were there nearly in full force. The art world owes much to Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts. However I really was not expecting to see Paul Finch entering the hall with his witty look on his face in the middle of the evening. It was a great surprise for me. I have always been delighted to chat with him. Suha Özkan, accepted as the Paul Finch of Turkey with an overall consensus was with us as well. Also seeing David Chipperfield at the same reception was another surprise. Long afterwards, when I remembered he was one of the many architects working for the renovation of Haliç, everything fell into its place.
Leaving the reception early, we steered towards Rialto, to the preview of Time Space Existence at Palazzo Bembo, where our exhibition arch I strata I antioch is on show. A couple of my architect friends wanted to join us. We became around 15 as we climbed down the stairs to the gate. We arrived at Bembo in full sweat after a respectable detour with the guidance of Prof. Ugur Tanyeli. I will talk about the exhibition later.
Let’s see what today beholds!
Dinner was at a secret location in a Palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal and hosted by Robert White of White Partners in his regular Dark Nights series of Biennale get togethers. The meal was followed by a rowdy debate on the topic of Architecture and Politics with Patrik Schumacher as the main protagonist promoting his ideas on anarcho-liberalism. Attendees including the annoyingly interventionist Aaron Betsky, who curated a previous Biennale and most famously fell in the Canal at one grand occasion, Deyan Sudjic, also a past curator, Vincente Guallert City Architect of Barcelona and Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelblau. Even the accomplished chair Paul Finch struggled to control the proceedings. The most telling intervention was from Guallert who accused contemporary architects of being a ‘self referencing profession. People are interested in cities and we are still talking about form.’
I finally arrived in Venice in the early hours of the morning, sadly too late to have made it to opening party of the British Pavilion. I heard the after party at the Architecture Foundation’s pad was broken up by the police.
After reading everyone else’s thoughts on the Biennale and the various pavilions I’m looking forward to seeing it all for myself.
Later I’ll be heading to the opening of the Ireland’s pavilion. I’m really interested in Niall Mclaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou’s research into Alzheimers and how we experience spaces.
I really liked the exhibition in the Arsenale which responded well to Aravena’s aim to include a social, economic and political dimension in the architectural debate while delivering great architectectonic experiences including the entrance installation made out of the waste studs from partitions demolished after last year’s art biennale. It referenced Rem Koolhaas’ exhibit from 2014 of a section through a modern office ceiling.
Transsolar’s tests for the roof of Jean Nouvel’s Abu Dhabi Louvre was simple and striking, while the Block Research Group’s Armadillo Vault spans 16m using limestone voussoirs, unreinforced and without mortar in a dramatic reinterpretation of the Gothic vault.
I was reminded of my old friend and AJ correspondent, the later Martin Pawley, with exhibits using bottles set in concrete to create light permeable walls and plastic bottles that stacked together. all this stuff can be found in Pawley’s seminal book ‘Garbage House’ published in the 70s.
I was also struck by the Open Incremental Architecture of BeL whose work on incremental development, turning Corb’s domino house idea into communal blocks, is something we should seriously look at in London.
Lots of self-build and interesting materials, handmade bricks, timber constructions made this an enjoyably haptic experience while addressing Aravena’s brief.
My first day in Venice was cut short by French air traffic control, but after a boat taxi from the airport - slight improvement on the Heathrow express - I was welcomed to the city by the Australian delegation doing what they do best in their pop up bar at Rialto.
Thursday was all about debates, talks, tours and chats. The Danish Pavilion kicked off a day of programming addressing the five agendas developed by our curators. Signe Kongebro of HLA , Søren Leth and others grappled with the ‘Exit Utopia’ first and then I spoke with editor of Mexican architecture magazine Arquine Alejandro Sanchez Galvez about how architecture shapes behavior for the ‘Designing Life’ panel. The unexpected and recurring - and unexpected - theme was how to ‘design spaces for getting naked,’ i.e. environments that supported the freedom to do whatever you want.
Ben Prosky and Carol Loewenson of the American Institute of Architects New York City Chapter stopped by the pavilion for a tour and engaging conversation about the differences in support and funding in our respective countries for these kinds of endeavors. I was able to step away and begin to explore some of the rest of the Giardini, barely scratched the surface, before visiting Lin Utzon’s (the daughter of our legendary Jørn Utzon) exhibition ‘Cosmic Dance II’ at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
We always seem to pack two days worth of activity into one here at the Biennale and the ‘second’ day began with dinner (as it often does) on the terrace of Hotel Danieli with the Danish Minister of Culture, Kent Martinussen of DAC, our curators Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss and Boris Broman Jensen as well as colleagues from the major Danish arts foundations. Another late espresso-fueled night and ready for the ‘official’ opening of the Danish Pavilion on Friday afternoon.
A day at the Giardini seeing all the national pavilions. Noticed for the first time how my native Finland’s Alvar Aalto designed pavilion pays homage to its neighbour from Hungary echoing its triangular shapes. In the evening, a cornucopia of seductive shapes at the Espace Louis Vuitton designed by Frank Gehry. We enjoyed peering inside models of Gehry’s recently completed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. What joyful and perfect party pieces for this glam vernissage. Auguri!
Two events not to be missed are the Aries Mateus room and the New Zealand exhibition. Both are somewhat hidden but offer a surreal experience when stumbled upon. And for those not keen on reading miles of copy after having walked some miles, these exhibits provide deserved relief!
Bridges: words & ideas & forms
A late night led to a lazy start in the haze and heat. Which meant the shade and breeze at the Giardini was evermore appreciated. Then the race round the pavilions before lunch was on. If more of the curators accepted that most visits involved little more than a cursory glance then the Biennale would get ever better.
The German pavilion was a success. In both collating the architectural response to the short term need (hostels on arrival) and long term need (housing for rent) of mass waves of immigrants. In parallel it conveyed stories of immigrant lives through multiple generations. The French did something similarly successful but focused on the non urban condition of rural France. The Japanese beautifully curated a collection of seven buildings that each explored different models of communal living. All three pavilions worked well because they picked up the theme - something about improving the human condition -and focused on a particular built response. All three engaged in a discussion of architecture and the theatre of everyday life.
As a general rule the more the introductory texts allied themselves to incomprehensible, art speak the less they had to say. The only Pavilion that bucked this trend was the British Pavilion which is elegantly and succinctly titled ‘Home Economics: Five new models for domestic life’. What we actually got was the rather naive regurgitation of five very old ideas of furniture, pods, pop ups, take away walls and functionless black box design all in a retro minimalist aesthetic. Still I should not complain, part of the pleasure of the Giardini tour is of course the contradictions and contrasts.
Other highlights were The Dutch Pavilion which explored the role of the UN peacekeeping forces long term pop up camps leaving an urban legacy. The work that has been done on these pop up cities already presents a much more interesting and optimistic urban parallel than that of the ‘airport city’. Christian Kerez did his very focused thing in the Swiss Pavilion - a very large hollow blob - highlighting the import of the incidental - allegedly! Which contrasted well with his highly rational study for the Favellas In the Italian Pavilion. Through the two, Kerez displays his impressive range of focused and controlled thinking. The Nordic, Belgium and Danish Pavilions were either super sparse or dense by comparison to each other and everyone else and offered little of interest. I heard good things of other Pavilions including the Polish, & enjoyed Russia’s latest (ironic?) enquiry/celebration of Soviet urbanism, but have not yet got to them all…& I never will!
The Italian Pavilion, performed its role of catch all well, and highlighted another important idea - which was also touched on in the Arsenale - of the relevance of very long term permanent structures accommodating transient use. I am of course very sympathetic to this latter point as it ties up with the idea of Theatre, Stage Set and Props that we have been exploring for the last twenty five years!
Lunch was hosted jointly by the AR and The Bartlett. At the wrong end of town for the Giardini but the food and company more than compensated. I shared a table with Patrik Schumacher rehearsing his interest in the triumph of markets and met Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley who are preparing for the Istanbul Design Biennale. At least I think that was the plan: the acoustics were as tricky as the food was good. Still it was interesting to hear of Wigley’s ‘forensic interviews’ with the late Cedric Price.
Price would have had something to say about curator speak, and the theme ‘reporting from the front’. In fact of course he did when he observed that ‘it is not about the design of bridges but more about the thinking on how best to get to the other side’!
Everytime I come here I think the Biennales are getting less and less meaningful. The weather is great… I don’t feel like going to the Arsenale at all. It is prosecco day today. We’ll think about tomorrow later.
The world has become such an interesting place. Abba is playing in San Marco. Money money money!
Maybe it is because of the glint of the dazzle of the sun on water but I’m having trouble finding the architecture in this architecture Biennale. Maybe there isn’t mean to be any of course. The curators of the national pavilions have clearly taken Biennale director Alejandro Aravena at his word. The title for the Biennale is Reporting From The Front after all, and many of the curators have done just that; reporting rather than actually responding let alone actually proposing. The German pavilion is literally a research project, a very good one, around the architecture of arrival points for immigrants to major German cities. But whilst the reportage is good, there is very little architecture in it. One of the captions goes as far as to speculate about a pictured warehouse evolving into a market. Imagine that! No honestly, do.
Maybe there is architecture in this, and I can’t find it, distracted as I am by the glare of virtual signalling. Maybe it is just behind the surveys of transigent communities: the videos and the maps and the photographs, (very rarely the plans) It is only early days and I may find it down the back of Avarena’s sofa along with his remote control. There are exceptions of course. Venice’s own pavilion is a good one, proposing at it does its own front line in the heavily industrialised region of Marghera which lies brooding at the other end of the causeway from Venice. Here a group of young architects have imagined a kind of metabolist / postmodernist series of housing estates which match the region’s industrial patrimony.
Or maybe the whole place is actually full of architecture and I can’t see it because I just walked into the glazed frontage of the Israeli Pavilion. (This of course caused a good deal of hilarity to the 20 or so people who saw me do it. The joke though was on them though because they didn’t know that I did exactly the same thing six years ago. Ha. So, architectual sophisticates, I will be laughing harder. When I have stemmed the bleeding.)
Sam Jacob’s timely 1:1 scanned replica of a shelter from the Calais Jungle refugee camp. It sits among a display of replicas in the V&A’s World of Fragile Parts which makes the case that copies are a way of documenting our material heritage. 3D printers, electroplated wood, scans and plaster casts are beautifully displayed in a new, to me, space in the Arsenale; how one would die in London for a set of cultural buildings of such flexibility and magnificence.
An attempt to record Robin Hood Gardens in glass is less than successful. Better to keep the real thing methinks.
Further to my earlier post, if anything seems to represent this biennale it’s free-standing intro panels in each of the rooms in the Central Pavilion: a steel reinforcement bar stands in a honeycomb brick, with a roughly finished ceramic panel, on which the text is printed, hanging via wires affixed by hand. It’s meant to be raw and stripped back, but appears overwrought and far too deliberate.
I have just emerged from Alejandro Aravena’s Central Pavilion in the Giardini. As ever, it’s a vast array of ideas, objects and displays which is hard to make sense of initially (I plan to return tomorrow). These are just a few first impressions. The opening room is lined by the plasterboard that’s usually thrown away at the end of each biennale, making a point about the waste generated by these types of multi-national exhibitions, and also possibly a more conceptual one about their transitoriness. It’s shame that the this idea isn’t followed up.
The theme of ‘Reporting from the Front’ is explored via a number of case-studies of projects and works from both familiar and little known names. There isn’t much sense of coherence; what we get is multiple ‘fronts’, with some more interesting, apparent – and dare I say – important than others. While the focus is intended to be on ideas and action, my initial reaction is that this is an aesthetic proposition more than anything else, one of raw, natural, unfinished materials imbued with some kind of moral imperative. Maybe I’m being unfair. I visit the Arsenale later.
Sandy Toksvig opens the British pavilion (Is there anyone left in London to read this?) ’The director of the biennale said architecture is the most political of all the arts. I agree’, she said. And the prosecco corks popped and the party began.
Everyone used to say ’Where are you staying - the Danieli?’ Now everyone I’ve met says ’I’ve found a lovely AirB&B flat in the old Jewish Quarter.’ This is the view from mine. I’m looking forward to seeing if Finn Williams deals with the impact of AirB&B on the residential market in the British Pavilion.
Venice blog Peter Murray 2
My attempts at navigating Venice using the skills gained from playing Assassins Creed didn’t seem to work as well as I’d hoped when we ended up recreating the backstage scene from Spinal Tap. The discovery of the word ‘Arsenale’ and an arrow scrawled in marker pen on a piece of card and stuck to a wall put us pack on track though.
Made it to lunch after a morning of being relentlessly slapped around the face by national stereotypes communicated through drawings, models, films and pictures. There is a palpable tension between cool and worthy as nations struggle to associate. their output with this year’s theme.
Best wooden bench award goes to the Nordic pavilion as their installation creates a simple but rewarding way to get up close and personal with Sverre Fehn’s beautiful roof. I’ve also learnt that the future of the British home is colour impregnated MDF and that Switzerland sure know how to build a cool den.
The exhibition Blue successfully tempered my innate cynicism as it brought humanity, sensitivity and insight to the life of UN Peacekeepers and the manner in which both community, home and amenity is developed in a temporal fashion under the most extreme and challenging circumstances.
They also get an award for best fake palm tree and coolest sand pit.
After a grumpy one hour wait for a water taxi Jeremy Till, Sarah Wigglesworth and David West sit back and enjoy the ride into Venice.
Venice blog Peter Murray
Museum vs. Biennale… a good way to start with a breakfast meeting of architects at dawn discussing varying potentials of different platforms presenting architecture.
Venice blog Sam Jacob
I’m in a large crowd watching the launch of the Australian pavilion. It’s one the pavilions that everyone seems to be talking about here, firstly because they’ve created a swimming pool inside their pavilion, and secondly, because the multiple golden medal-winning Olympian has been involved and will be making a speech at the opening. When he comes on, Thorpe talks really interestingly about swimming as the only sport you begin simply in order to survive, and how important that is in Australia – but also, for him personally, how the water was a place of work, where he spent most of his life.
The crowd is so large I have to return later in the day to get inside, but it’s well worth it – a (much needed) moment of tranquility and calm as I sit on a bench watching the water reflect the light coming from outside. While the pavilion has come from a particularly Australian understanding of water and pools, in Venice its meaning is universal.
Boats buzzing past the hotel room window, 4m high ceilings and 400 year old roof old beams are always a good way to start the day.
First stop yesterday: Palazzo Mora in full pre-opening adrenalin-fuelled glory. Jakob+MacFarlane, Maki and huge array of exhibitors showing at Time Space Existence. Last night the team scoped the Giardini & Arsenale previews while I took in the preview of Zaha Hadid exhibition at Palazzo Cavallo-Franchetti. Colossal retrospective of original drawings, models and paintings from 1980 to the present. Followed by a beautiful dinner in the garden and very moving solo performance by Bolshoi prima ballerina Anna Tikhomirova. All a wonderful tribute to Zaha, her legacy and generosity.
Enjoyed a memorable feast with with Wolf Prix, Greg Lynn, Jill Ritblatt, Julia Peyton-Jones and at least 100 other cultural luminaries. Wolf Prix actually remembered the last time I met him - August 1985 in Vienna. Lured by steel tubes exploding from a backstreet shopfront, I stole into the Roter Angel Bar just as it was getting its final coat of paint. There was Wolf Prix with his white t- shirt, paintbrush in hand. Memorable moment for a 4th yr student on my way to Rome.
Gearing up for today’s round of previews, ABA’s City (e) State launch & a late night at the British Pavilion!
Drinks; Dinner; Distributing Extraordinary; & is the front here?
Last night our ever expanding party of fellow travellers was joined for Aperol Aperitifs by Mr and Mrs Coffey, Alex Rae, Paul Karakusevic and Martyn and Rob Evans. Being with critical friends I took the opportunity to distribute printer’s proofs of our new pamphlet ‘Extra Ordinary’. Pointing out that the future value was in the fact that as yet to be tweaked proofs these will be collectors items, assuming they were not lost or discarded (to help avoid the latter we designed them to be pocket sized!).
Venice blog Simon Allford 1
Dinner was refined four courses of Venetian and very good for that. Conversation moved back and forth from London to Venice and beyond. In the former the debate focused on the Tate Modern Extension. Striking form, complex concrete, impossible brickwork and delightful public promenade. But what of the galleries in between? Have Herzog de Meuron challenged the tyranny of the white box? I look forward to all being revealed at the opening when I can make my own decision.
Back to Venice I remain uneasy with the idea of ‘Reporting from the Front’. The projects are not in war zones. There is a common thread however of poverty, local ethnicity as a design vernacular and warm climates. The latter is key as all these projects are liberated from regulation and the tyranny of the cold bridge! Is this focus on lightweight and recyclable creating the favellas of the future from the ruins of the present? Is there an aesthetic of Architecture Povera emerging?
The undoubted upside was the craft of making architecture is being celebrated and at 1:1. Which in a world where a cgi has the same impact as a building can only be a good thing.
Venice blog Simon Allford 4
Wednesday I gathered with members of the Danish Arts Foundation and the curators for a ‘sneak peek’ of the Danish Pavilion. This ‘wunderkammer’ explores the ‘Art of Many’ with over 130 different models. It is an exciting and immersive experience and I look forward to hearing colleagues’ responses starting at today’s official preview.
Later that evening, as at Biennale’s past, The Dark Side Club brought together a group of architects for dinner and salon-style conversation in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Francine Houben of Mecanoo, Patrick Schumacher of Zaha Hadid, Benedetta Tagliabue of Miralles Tagliabue joined me, Matteo Cainer and others for a robust debate curated/moderated by Friedrich Ludewig of ACME entitled ‘Front, Front, Front,’ in which we explored the shifting role of the architect, how we speak truth to power and if there is a need for new strategies to communicate architecture.
Venice blog Kim Nielsen
Zaha Hadid exhibition in Palazzo Franchetti is an absolute delight and a true match for Venice. The paintings and models of her work on show exude the confidence, optimism and joy that you see around you walking around Venice. This is a rare feat for a Biennale exhibition. Zaha Hadid’s team have also understood perfectly how to make use of the Palazzo’s Gothic Venetian architecture and play with it for dramatic effect. The grandeur of the rooms and the splendour of the vast chandeliers that hang above them remind me of Zaha’s own glamour. Leaving the exhibition sets a high standard for the Giardini and Arsenale. Looking forward to it all and enjoying seeing the architects descend on Venice in their black suits and cloth bags.
Venice blog Laura Ileniomi
There are many stories in Venice. One particular common tale is of the bar that is open late. Every night it seems there are new reports of a place ‘just round the corner’ or ’near that square’. Yet that elusive post Garibaldi bar remains just that, a story.
Last night touching base: everyone rendezvouing with Airbnb hosts, working out who is here, quizzing the celebrity snap chatting architect critics ‘what’s good’ while those who have been installing over the last two weeks look delighted that that particular form of cabin fever is over.
Today, well it’s time to see it all. Arsenale for me first…. and then an afternoon of openings before the search for that mythical bar begins in earnest again….
Delayed Entry: Losing Myself: Lunch: A design failing & another succeeding
This morning was a battle with The Biennale Guards (despite much prior agreement) to get into the Arsenale Preview. We won in the end with much help of Caro and the team supporting Niall and Yeoyria in the Irish Pavilion. First impressions of the long walk was there was the usual mix of the well considered and connected and the deeply introverted and impenetrable.
The conclusion of the long walk was ‘Losing Myself’, the Irish Pavilion by the above protagonists. This is a great exhibit: self critical; stimulating; a complex reflection on their prior architecture for dementia that was beautifully communicated as a multiple suite of connections between the idea of the plan and the realities of everyday life. A brilliantly simple and beautiful exhibit and a perfect stop to the long vista.
We were joined, for a lunch of spider crab gnocchi, at Il Nuevo Galeon, by AJ columnist Paul Finch. There we reflected on Brexit, the Biennale and the Eurovsion Song Contest. If Australia, Russia and Israel can be in the latter was does this say for the current limits of EU Empire’s ambitions?!
The theme of the temporary, the permanent and the role of the design in both was most brilliantly summarised by the scaffolded ramps that destroy the architecture of Venice’s Bridges inelegantly solving the problem of access for all. Here is a design problem crying out for a solution. The challenge to all is to come up with a solution as brilliantly economic as the same restaurant’s mobile, lightweight pop up ice bags!
Venice blog Simon Allford 5
Arrival in Venice. The LGW to Venice was rammed with the London architectural community… sat in Aircraft 1 Charlie (Easyjet first class adjacent to toilet) I had a number of conversations regarding the upcoming events, debates, lunches and dinners with a number of them. The Biennale is a wonderful opportunity to engage with other members of the design community. It’s a different vibe to MIPIM - altogether more elegant, cerebral and relaxed… summed up by David Mikhail queuing for the toilet with his son Ridley. Family time for all. Dinner this evening with Stirling Prize winners, developers and PR to swap ideas for the next two days. Water taxi to the Monaco past St Marks - if there was ever a place to feel urbanity, history, idea, construction, composition, material, climate change, light, threshold this is it. Stepping onto the Monaco terrace - brain engaged - time to think.
Venice blog Simon Allford 7
Yes. Made it to Venice via Glasgow, Preston, pulling an all nighter via some Argentinean Steak, Victoria Park and Mile End. I’ve not slept for 36 hours and in my mildly hallucigenic state I have ended up mainly trying to find tenuous ways to compare Venice with Blackpool. Blackpool has a tower. I think I saw a tower here somewhere. I’m not a gin drinker but after my third gin and tonic I’m starting to acquire the taste for it which is great news. Currently listening to Prince in the Architecture Foundation Palazzo while deciding what to go see first tonight. As someone who works predominately with marginalised communities in Glasgow I’m really looking forward to seeing how the theme ‘reporting from the front’ is tackled but I’ve also been offered tickets to a cocktail party so I might report from that first….
Leaving London’s slate grey skies behind after the kind of week that seems almost insurmountable. Our installation ‘One Thing After Another’ opened last night for Clerkenwell Design Week at Sto Werkstat with what one might describe as a ‘Venice warm up’ that ensures we hit the calle both running and nursing a somewhat sore head.
An early morning interview for a potentially amazing job and now heading through suburban South London on the somewhat optimistically named Gatwick ‘Express’.
Sam Jacob Studio’s Eddie Blake took the early morning flight with the last piece of our Biennale installation in his rucksack - continuing a long running tradition of last minute hand luggage art shipment. The x-ray machines at Gatwick North Terminal must have seen a thing or two in their time.
Arrived yesterday at the delightfully discrete Hotel Monaco by a strange combination of plane, car and boat. All was resolved over a lazy lunch with Messrs Monaghan, Larkin and Corcoran, on our waterfront terrace. A luxurious place to start my ‘reporting from the front’! In between emails and calls we shot over to Murano to see a master craftsman who is making glass for our new Milanese designer friends introduced to us by Carolyn Larkin. On our meander back we skirted St Marks taking in the relentless banality of its endless facades - no rhythms here to appease the planners, but it’s worked for a few hundred years. The Olivetti Showroom reminded me to keep looking down (at the Tutti Frutti Terrazzo) as well as up. Dinner, at our favourite fish restaurant, Corte Sconte, was marked by Negroni, a still, scrumpy-like, Prosecco (that was not liked) and an impromptu debate over coffee. This was choreographed by the creators of the Turkish Pavilion and focused on their concerns about the divide between their ideas, their representation as an object and their PR. I concluded that it was their problem!
Off this morning to discover what Arevana’s strap line ‘Reporting from the Front’ actually generates. I anticipate a form of ‘Architecture Povera’ - consistent with Aravena’s half-houses. I have always been suspicious of these as the frame and expanses of blank spine wall mean it would clearly have been cheaper to build the whole house than the half! But perhaps I am missing the point and it is about an architecture that engages the user?