Sensing Architecture, Venice 2010
Marios Christodoulides, Architect
A comparison between 2008 and 2010 appears to be inevitable considering the formally intriguing, even if flamboyant(1) at times architecture on display three years ago to the seemingly stark pavilions on display last year(2). The exuberance of 2008, most of it recycled from the bubbly seventies, was officially over. Interestingly enough Coop Himmelblau’s visionary and optimistic apparatus(3) has been replaced by a Transsolar’s and Tetsuo Kondo’s Architects ‘real’ cloud(4), suffocating, visually obtrusive and as contradictory as a bright future might appear. As Belgium’s pavilion proclaimed three years ago the party was indeed over!(5) One could not comprehend how true that was at the time. In retrospect, one can only applaud their vision. Besides Sander’s movie of Sejima and Nishisawa’s uncanny rides on segways through their building in Lausanne(6) at what appeared to be breakneck speeds (very good Mr. director but spare me the building’s loud thinking!) nobody else appeared to be having a jolly good time.
In Russia, the vast wastelands of disused factories in small cities that can’t support the programmatic recycling of such spaces, coupled with the utopian vision of what these places could become(7), comes in contrast to the optimistic vision across the street in the Gardini of Dutch architects and their successful efforts to revive abandoned buildings within the their cities(8). Further down the street, the Belgians recycled ‘inhabited’ objects(9), maybe not in the conventional sense where a subsequent useful purpose is anticipated, but just by putting them on display. Thus, one had no choice but to become empathetic with the absent users, signifying the importance of their role in creating a livable environment.
Some planned(10), other not so(11), conversations about how to make cities livable were in abundance. Continued live conversations in the Arsenale(12) by architects and others became part of a recorded archive to be shared with each visitor(13) so that the conversation that began here could gain enough momentum to be carried somewhere else.
BIG’s recipe for a ‘better’ Copenhagen impresses at the Danish pavilion(14) when it attempts to reevaluate Rasmussen’s finger plan and complement it with the ‘loop city’, an attempt to maximize connectivity in the metropolitan region by stringing together a number of highly differentiated urban nodes. Contradicting the European ‘grand plan’ for the city, Japan(15) narrows in on the ‘bit’ city where small plots of land are transformed independently and at whim with notions of permanence and grandiosity appearing elusive. A reminder of the importance of intimacy and personal space in a metropolitan city.
Perceptions of space and the ideas of context, memory and meaning were intertwined as one meandered through some fishing shacks in the Arsenale. These were literally transported as time and space machines from the fisherman’s seashore in Bahrain and dropped in Venice.(16) Instinctive contraptions, devoid of any architect’s touch, their roughness indicative of the fisherman-turned-craftsman’s humble response to site, climate and purpose. Videoed interviews ‘on site’(17) of their daily inhabitants enlightened us of the importance of Bahrain’s transcending coastal culture in their lives and their concern for its fast approaching decline. This was Bahrain’s first participation at the Biennale and their admired simplicity and clarity of purpose was awarded with the Golden lion.
Water, smell, music, smoke, light, darkness, speech, hearing, touch, feel, memory(18), meaning were all present in Venice, both in conjunction and alone. The first Biennale with a female curator seemed to be a humble endeavor, inviting all the senses to participate(19) in the definition of place(20). You just had to look more carefully.