Cristiano Luchetti who is Assistant Professor at the College of Architecture, Art and Design, American University of Sharjah gives his thoughts on the Venice Biennale
First the numbers. 88 participants from 37 different countries, 62 national participations, and infinite collateral events.
Thousands of invited guests for the two days of vernissage (welcome) and way more visitors expected throughout the summer until the closing date, November 27th
The 15th edition of the international architecture exhibition in Venice, the most important architectural event in the world, opened its doors with the suggestive title: “Reporting from the front”.
Every edition is strongly characterised by its curator and this year is no exception. Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, fresh winner of the Pritzker Prize, examined the challenges that humanity is currently facing.
Here are some key topics examined: quality of life, inequalities, segregation, insecurity, peripheries, migration, informality, pollution, natural disasters, and sustainability.
In order to assemble the exhibition the curator contacted architects who were already known to work on these issues. He asked their contribution while not ignoring other projects which were voluntarily submitted by lesser-known architectural firms.
The real theme of this edition lies in the question: Is still architecture capable of contributing to the improvement of humanity’s living conditions? I think that in order to answer that we cannot avoid mentioning the relationship between the concept of humanism (a school of thought that enhances the value and dignity of human beings) and its application to architecture in the global contemporary society.
In its most spectacular expressions, usually designed by the so called archistars, architecture is obviously dominated by the capitalist market which is not always interested in the needs of the largest portion of Earth’s population.
Urban “icon” buildings gather value and attract interest. They are defining metropolitan scenarios and visually characterising the landscape of global metropoleis often subject to instant urban growth with consequent risk of sameness and loss of identity.
There is no doubt that a fundamental role, in this search for the spectacular, is entrusted to modern technology that allows spatial and formal researches until now inaccessible.
Thus, technology is no longer the means to achieve the improvement of living conditions but it became the ultimate goal of our research. It turned from being a tool to achieve results to an ontological end in itself.
A confirmation of this assertion comes from some of the latest digital experiments in architecture where the obsessive geometric/structural investigation often seems to replace a theoretical content still engendered by the search for solutions to human problems as generative force of architectural research.
Therefore, considering these assumptions, it seems that the human being is no longer the primary subject to which architecture is looking at.
Well, no. This year, the biennial demonstrates exactly the opposite. In the two traditional venues, Giardini and Arsenale, and in countless other locations scattered around Venice, the exhibited projects all have a common goal: the intention to act as a solution to problems that affect social and environmental issues.
From large scale urban redevelopment proposals to daring structural experiments derived from the rediscovery of ancient building techniques, the common thread is the search for innovative, often sustainable, solutions for the common good, frequently using a low-impact approach.
The notion of a “stable and permanent” city is ultimately challenged. The city is intended as an ephemeral body. Thus, the architectural analysis tends to focus on temporary settlements such as those of religious nature which are capable of forming temporary communities but can attract millions of dwellers.
An example is Kumbh Mela, the Indian location believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth which, every 12 years, hosts 100 million people in 55 days. Or like more playful and party oriented instant cities such as “Burning Man” just to name one of the most famous. A city that every year is formed and exists only for eight days in the Nevada desert.
Moreover, Architects observe desert settlements or those in the Amazonian jungle that establish a special relationship with the predominant nature. There is an attempt to understand the effects that the economic crisis has had on countries like Spain (whose pavilion won the Golden Lion for best national participation) where the fast development bankrolled by the speculative bubble achieved a high number of unfinished buildings – many have been abandoned.
The notion of a city is related to a growing organism strictly regulated or illegally informal but in constant mutation and expansion.
We already knew that but new, perhaps, is an awareness of the ephemeral and informal territory, the chaotic volumetric growth, the urban emergency caused by massive migrations, to be able to define the field of research in which architecture rediscovers its original mission of giving shape and space to the most pressing issues of contemporary living.
Among many, I found very interesting the exhibition in the Korean pavilion titled “play the FAR game “. It shows a cityscape of remarkable density, in problematic expansion, where architects do a slalom between the market’s needs to make valuable every square metre and the rigid and restrictive building regulations. Yet, they successfully maintain a high quality of work.
In this urban density, very important become the often forgotten interstitial spaces. They are spaces “in between”, sometime resulting from the wounds made to the urban fabric by road infrastructures and causing spaces without a defined urban sense.
It is here that the urban land faces the challenge of its incipient scarcity due to a constantly growing phenomenon of mass urbanisation. Hence, scarcity is a force to promote innovative solutions.
For example, the Iranian VAV Studio that made the embargo imposed by the United States and its consequent lack of imports the reason to design projects based on local materials and construction techniques.
The architecture on display is meaningful, effective, practical, and sustainable. This year the Biennial surely challenges banality, mediocrity, and ugliness and attempts to respond, in a supportive way, to the spatial and functional needs of a constantly changing global society, being attentive to the challenges that humanity is facing and will face in the future.