It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!
Disappointing Venice Biennale:
As the Biennale, which brings together the cream of architecture every 2 yrs, opened, a huge Norwegian cruise ship pulled into Venice capable of swallowing up the whole of the city up given its size. The author suggests it symbolises the Biennale: a great Mostra (monster) with neither head nor tail.
Festival director Richard Burdett, protégé of Richard Rogers who by more than mere chance won this years Lion dOr for his career (Centre Pompidou to Lloyds of London), had firstly chosen the theme Meta-cities, a catch-all formula that he later modified to City: Architecture and Society.
Its now three or four times that the Mostra has been allowed to get lost in these muddy concepts. This year the shipwreck is complete, at least as regards the official part, housed at the Arsenal. Burdett has chosen at least 17 megalopolises, from Barcelona to Shanghai, Bombay to Bogota, weighing each account of them down with wearisome demographic data, very much in the vein of conventional accounts of the problems of urban life in the world.
High Society Carnival:
The uselessness of this attempt at pedagogy leads nowhere since it doesnt draw any conclusions either on what are and will become cities OR the urban and architectural responses they evoke, even less again what could happen to society (read men and women) who occupy them, frequently not very happily.
Instead, the mission to illustrate and examine these things has devolved to the ateliers set up around the exhibition, where the festival director has brought together several big names of an intelligentsia who tend to harp on from year to year in the same Venetian framework: Fuksas, Herzog, Koolhaas, Hadid, Piano, Roigers, Bohigas. Happily, France remains a country totally excluded from Burdetts preoccupations; none of our usual crowd of thinkers have been brought into this high-society carnival of commonplace urban thinkers.
After a long and rambling detour extolling the virtues of stone, the order of the exhibition at the Arsenal finally leads one (pleasant surprise!) to Chinas pavilion. The Chinese who well understand with what fear and overwhelmment Western architects face the colossal task of urban development there, have done as they did four years ago with the Commune Village in playing a card which is unexpected (and also unusual for this expo): that of an insistence on quality.
The architect Wang Shu, who builds and teaches mainly at Huahngzhou, has presented an exhibition inspired by the roofs of his works, which structures are themselves inspired by classical Chinese forms and are frequently covered with traditional tiles.
China, phobically imagined as both marketplace and object of study, is beginning to invade the national pavilions in the Gardens of the Biennale. Beginning with the former Italian pavilion whose spaces have been randomly distributed by the festival director to his private circle of clients, a small group but whose work is sometimes as vivid and lucid as the Arsenal show is naïve and uninspired.
Its here that one would like to see the work or thoughts of a French person while Burdetts clients complacently trot out in atrociously schematic fashion the supposed thoughts of Deleuze, Virilio, Derrida. But the work of the Berlage Institute (Netherlands) stands out, esp. on the urban communities that pop up spontaneously, especially in China.
If several pavilions concentrate rather prolongedly on the same theme, the Danish are exhibiting a whole collection of work on the problematics of the development of Chinese villages, in partnership with teams from Peking, Shanghai, Chongqing and Xian Universities.
And one can also discover in the detours of the Venetian alleyways that Hong Kong and Singapore are now capable of championing discourses opposed to the heritage-destructive approaches that they had been following, approaches most of Chinas towns are now following.
When the theme of a Biennale is as vague as this one, each country can interpret it as they wish. Perhaps it was only Spain and the US who followed the imperative to bring together city, architecture and society. One in having recourse to the double feminine of the male architect [?], the other in examining with a certain skill the consequences of Cyclone Katrina - with less emotion than after S11, but at least with a genuine humility.
The 10th Architectural Biennale of Venice: The Arsenal and Gardens of the Biennale. To 19th November.
First publ. in the 10-9-06 edition of Le Monde.