Venice Biennale: an exhausting, beautiful attempt to relinquish architecture

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Venice Biennale: an exhausting, beautiful attempt to relinquish architecture
Venice’s Arsenale holds a curated display from the 15th International Architecture Exhibition / ™ © Bas Boerman, CC BY-NC
Venice Biennale: an exhausting, beautiful attempt to relinquish architecture
Venice’s Arsenale holds a curated display from the 15th International Architecture Exhibition / ™ © Bas Boerman, CC BY-NC

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition theme, “Reporting From the Front”, brings social consciousness in architecture to the forefront, responding to a turbulent time when many countries are suffering economic unrest, an ongoing refugee crisis and political discord.

The centrepiece of the event is a curated exhibition in Venice’s Arsenale, a 13th century former shipyard, showcasing 88 participants from 37 different countries. In addition, there are 62 individually curated national pavilions mostly located around the nearby Giardini, and a range of off-site events and exhibitions. The overall production takes over the entire water city, turning Venice into a hub of cultural production, discussion and discovery.

At the main entry to the Arsenale, a large sign painted on the wall explains that “the introductory rooms of the Biennale Architettura 2016 were built with the 100 tons of waste material generated by the dismantling of the previous Biennale”.

The vast reception space of the Arsenale is filled with a curtain of standard metal studs hanging from above. It makes noticeable light patterns on the surfaces below, surrounded by walls made of stacked plasterboard. The plasterboard, piled at a range of depths, produces a changing surface with varied openings.

Arriving at the actual entry to the exhibition, one questions if the next curator will reuse the materials required for Aravena’s exhibition?

But beyond the visual propaganda that seems to be populating the 300 meter-long Arsenale (and beautiful and intelligent propaganda it is) one might question where the architecture resides. It appears that the curator has made an attempt to relinquish architecture (the building form) in order to visualise social and political issues.

Signage reading “Does permanence matter?” or “Is it possible to create a public space within a private commission?” further reduces architecture to slogans and one-liners. […]

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