Venice Architecture Biennale 2008

Location : Venice, Italy
Schedule     : Summer 2008

Cyprus took part for the first time in the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006 with 10 teams and the topic “Porous Borders”. The challenge at hand was the negation of the buffer zone within the walled city of Nicosia: How could we as Architects re-establish the porosity of an impenetrable and literally ‘dead’ space? The participating architects were asked to interpret a slice of Nicosia that even though it is identifiable by its materiality, it is simultaneously negated through its complete isolation, abandonment and prohibition. In the process of creation we worked abstractly to redefine the buffer zone as a porous and penetrable border (όριο) after realizing that the traditional architectural elements of the space had lost their conventional interpretations.

Fast forward to 2008 and the current Architecture Biennale. The general theme of the 11th Architecture Biennale set by Curator Aaron Betsky is titled “Out There: Architecture Beyond Building”. Cyprus will claim its presence in the event with the thematic title IN CYPRUS RELAX—AS ARCHITECTS REINTERPRET. The theme attempts to initiate an investigation of Cyprus role in the global scene as a place of relaxation and the question as to how architects can reinterpret that reality in an inventive way. The pursuit of inventive architecture has been encouraged in the call for proposals for the 11th Architecture Biennale.

One can assume that being inventive in a place like Cyprus has its limitations, stemming not so much from the potential of its architects but the limited influence that Cyprus can have on the global market of inventive architectural thought. Cyprus, historically a place of trading and a crossroads of nomads, has never possessed the steam power to steer or influence the direction of architectural thinking. Original architectural thought usually reaches places such as Cyprus with a time delay, where it is usually recycled, albeit in a graceful manner. These realities are visible even today, where information technologies have helped to shrink distances and complement geographical centers with virtual ones. Launching an international virtual competition with a theoretical framework to guide participants has helped in some way for Cyprus to begin to claim its place on the map of original architectural thought. Hundred and seven participants from 29 countries have helped in achieving that goal and established a framework upon which the conversation and exchange of ideas can begin. These together with the 8 submissions from Cyprus that were selected from the 23 can help to relocate that conversation on the stage of the 11th Architecture Biennale where Cyprus has the potential to claim its place as an equal peer among the other participating nations.

IN CYPRUS RELAX—AS ARCHITECTS REINTERPRET is a theme that slightly agitates if we consider that the previous Biennale participation was clearly ‘political’ in a way that is more familiar to us in how we have become accustomed to converse about Cyprus. The theoretical framework established by the curators most likely raises the instinctive reaction that there’s more going on here in Cyprus than just relaxation.

Some of that ‘more’ can be attributed to the political situation which has been at the forefront of conversations even before the establishment of the state in 1960. ‘Relaxing’ as a nation and projecting that image abroad can only arouse a feeling of guilt, especially since the political situation has forced upon us an educational system that constantly reminds us not only to be alert, but to constantly ‘fight’ since our extinction is unavoidable, unless we are constantly aware. Accepting the possibility that as human beings we have the potential to exist in a state (of mind) of relaxation almost begins to undermine the whole premise of our existence as a nation. It is only ironic that ‘selling’ relaxation is our major source of income.

‘Relaxing’ can also arouse a feeling of discomfort, since it might be implied that for a country to project such an image it would have to put aside any cultural heritage they poses as a nation. Of course cultural heritage and the identity of a nation are intertwined, and a nation such as Cyprus, with its recent turbulent history is still in the process of clearly articulating the two and how they can contribute in the definition of the nation. Until that goal is complete a nation cannot ‘relax’ unless we begin to reevaluate the assumed contradiction between ‘relaxing’ and ‘being culturally creative’ and define ways through which both can coexist. Maybe when we achieve that it will be plausible to redefine the recipe of ‘the nation’ and integrate ‘relaxing’ as one of our virtues. Consequently the constructive architectural dialogue and critique can begin, something for which we are in desperate need as an architectural community.

Marios Christodoulides