12th June 2014
Biennale Architecture Venice 2014 - The "new" goes nowhere : "Fundamentals" by Rem Koolhass
by Rem Koolhass
by Rem Koolhass
The new goes nowhere and the old goes backwards
in Biennale - Architecture, Venice 2014
in Biennale - Architecture, Venice 2014
There is no room nowadays for new revolutions, and it would be crucial to turn the discipline into the right direction
The picture right under the title portrays Rem Koolhass, superintendent at Biennale Architecture 2014, illustrating the architectural-symbol of the 20th century: the German Pavilion (Barcelona) of the Berkbund designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1928. He can be seen right up here in his last move to the city of Venice (in his very own rendering, not really keeping up with the pace of his works), that is to say the renovation project of Louis Vuitton at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, with an additional raising storey, luckily not approved by the Superintendence of Venice. The project was recently re-proposed by Benetton with a few changes, always by Koolhass, proposing the realization of a new department store named "Magazzino la Rinascente". The project involves an additional storey with direct access to the covered terrace for the public. The project is to take place right next to the Rialto Bridge: it seems like the author is willing to be reckoned among the many attackers of this wonderful city. It is sadly inescapable that the renovation and modernization process of the Old Town in Venice will eventually damage its look. Many advocated for a more "internal" process, which is not happening.
This year Biennale Architecture was meant to be different, so its superintendent ignited a furious debate on the role of architecture today, which is at the same time well up on the chart (thanks to Archistars) and neglect (have your ever heard of any worldly problems being solved by the mere contribution of architecture?). Rem Koolhass, the dutch architect who was in charge of the themes of this exhibition, didn't really make the most of the Biennale. The most interesting set-ups were the ones made by the single countries, inside their stands (including the Italian one by Cino Zucchi). We believe that Koolhass gave his best shot with his former works all around the world, and was a bit a of a let down as far as this Biennale is concerned.
Biennale Architecture, as widely disclosed by the media, was meant to be radically different this year, changing its guise thoroughly compared to last year's: Rem Koolhass was chosen to change the exhibition radically, as it should be expected from such an erratic personality (he is the author of Delirius New York and Chief of the OMA, Office for Modern Architecture).
The change Koolhass was about to bring to this year's Biennale was highly unpredictable and turned out to be an empty and disappointing one. The comparison between personal styles of the most eminent architects and the languages of the so-called Archistars was eliminated.The resulting vacuum in the expectations of the public should at least have been replaced not with a philosophical debate on such stunning choice, but rather with a return to the past and an analysis of its focal points.
Maison Domino (photo E. Mercatali), symbol of the Exhibition as a return to the early stages of modern architectural revolution, is represented above in a draft by Le Corbusier on contact paper and a model on a 1.1 scale, realized in wood for the 14th edition of Biennale Architecture. The structure was made possible by new materials and distributive flexibilities, allowing a new idea of inhabiting and the experimentation of modern varieties. The doubt remains that a realization in reinforced concrete would have much better highlighted not only the theoretical bases of modern architecture and their advantage (discussed in the book "Vers un Architecture") but also the bases of the speculative architecture which would soon devastate the outskirts of many cities worldwide. The bival icon was chosen by Koolhass as symbol of a Biennale where discussion is the main topic.
The change proposed by Koolhass in Biennale 2014, lasting until the first half on november, eliminates personal styles not in favor of the bases of architecture, nor of existential questions about the discipline itself, but rather in favor of an uncritical use of its components, a cynic epistemology considered useful for a "here and now" architecture.
The result is one of general disorientation, both in the exhibition at Padiglione Centrale in Giardini and Arsenale (personally developed by provocative Koolhass), the one at Padiglione Italia developed by Cino Zucchi and those at Padiglioni Esteri, realized by each single country under Koolhass directions. The central idea remains a return to the past of architecture and the main passages defining its modernity: from the failed attempts to define its rules at the International Congresses of Modern Architecture, embodied by the Masters' thought (Mies and Le Corbusier, see Maison Domino wooden model on a 1:1 scale, 1914) to the idea that any project could derive merely from elements written in manuals and catalogues.
Maison Domino, symbol of the Exhibition as a return to modern problems of architecture, is represented above in a draft by Le Corbusier on contact paper and a model on a 1.1 scale, realized in wood for the 14th edition of Biennale Architecture.
The doubt remains that a realization in reinforced concrete would have much better highlighted not only the theoretical bases of modern architecture and their advantage (discussed in the book "Vers un Architecture") but also the bases of the speculative architecture which would soon devastate the outskirts of many cities worldwide.
Staircases, cladding systems for facades, urinals, doors and handles implement the true meaning of the exhibition: The Architect's Manual, a complete collection of the best expressions of production in different epochs and cultures.
The manual of the "Fundamentals" and the spirit it was animated by at the early stages of modernity is what Koolhass proposes as a return to fundamentals. It is not clear whether he does it ironically, considering them an extreme attempt to found the theory of assembling on mere production structures, or as a purification of the revolutionary, utopian principle of a total separation from them.
Staircases, cladding systems for facades, urinals, doors and handles implement the true meaning of the exhibition: The Architect's Manual, a complete collection of the best expressions of production in different epochs and cultures. what does the architectural intervention need, starting from these "basic lists"? How do we conceptualize the choice of this or that detail in the assembling process? What meaning derives not from the product itself, but from the way it is juxtaposed? We are over the "ready-made", but the sense of the operation is still unclear. Isn't a direct comparison of results more interesting than a comparison of details, especially if they become completely decontextualized? That's what Cino Zucchi does at Padiglione Italia, where over 60 Italian and Milanese works are exhibited.
Entrance of Padiglione Italia and the funnel leading to Cino Zucchi's "Innesti": the metal Archimbuto.
Entrance of Padiglione Italia and funnel leading to Cino Zucchi's "Innesti". The metal Archimbuto symbolizes the way a project is seen and created with the eyes and tools of history. The path starts with the projects for the facade of Milan Cathedral and ends with the works of architects such as Vender, Gardella, Caccia Dominioni, BBPR, who gave birth to a new form of modernity through a particular view of history. It is certainly the part of the exhibition which most differs from the idea imposed by Koolhass and also the most interesting one, although the less original. On the newspaper "Il Sole 24 Ore", Gabriele Neri highlighted that the common element between Koolhass and Zucchi was the structure of the seating areas along the paths: the former, at Corderie dell'Arsenale, placed various terraces and stages along Monditalia, as if they were small Italian squares where to enjoy theatre, music, movies and dance; the latter placed a long snake-shape bench at Padiglione Italia and tese delle Vergini, where to recover between a city and another.
Some images of the Italian "Fundamentals" in Monditalia, set up by Rem Koolhass at Corderie dell'Arsenale.
The topic of Italian "Fundamentals", set up with "Monditalia" at Corderie dell'Arsenale, includes 41 small contributions ranging from colonial architecture in Libya to cinematography in Cinecittà, from clubs of the Adriatic Shore to the building process after the earthquake in the Italian region Aquila, from Zingonia's utopia to Berlusconi's dream of Milano 2, all united by a geographical map of the V Century.
The foreign pavilions adapt to the exhibition's theme, with some variations: above, France (the house of "Mon Oncle" - Jacques Tati: La Modernitè: Promesse ou Menace? - research on the relationship between architecture and society, through cultural models of the mid 20th Century, including Jacques Tati and Jean Prouvè); Great Britain (Great Britain-A: Clockwork Jerusalem. Photo By Andrea Avezzù); Finland (Finland (Pavilion Alvar Aalto): Re-Creation, Photo By Andrea Avezzù; Japan (the Japanese pavilion of this Biennale colorfully shows the country's personal interpretation of Modern, proving that the observation of the real world, associated with an energetic crisis, can regenerate thoughts and ideas. An inspiration for the stagnant cultural situation in Italy); Turkey "Place of Memory", research on the perception of some symbolic places of Turkey.
The S. Marco's tower from the island of S. Giorgio Maggiore (photo by Enrico Mercatali)
Venice, 7th June 2014
(Versione inglese aggiornata il 27 luglio 2014,
traduzione dall'italiano di Penelope Mirotti)