Common Ground The Venice Architecture Biennale 2012 – Review

London Gallerist Joanne Shurvell takes a look at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Britain’s David Chipperfield  – ArtLyst exclusive report.

The world’s most impressive showcase of architecture opened last week in Venice and runs until 25 November.  Common Ground, the 13th international Architecture Biennale, is, as the title suggests, about collaboration between architects and with the general public.  Curated by British architect David Chipperfield who says he encouraged participants ‘to react against the prevalent professional and cultural tendencies of our time that place such emphasis on individual and isolated actions. I was inspired to direct this Biennale towards concerns of continuity, context and memory, towards shared influences and expectations, and to address the apparent lack of understanding that exists between the profession and society.’

Like the Art Biennale, the architecture exhibition sprawls from the Central Pavilion in the Giardini to the Arsenale and includes contributions from 119 participants.  In addition there are 55 national participants in the Giardini and collateral events around the city.  With that in mind, we’ve selected some of the standout projects and events.

Of the country pavilions in the Giardini, our favourites included the Japanese, British, Russian,  Brazilian, and Spanish contributions.

The Japanese Pavilion was the deserved winner of the Golden Lion for best national participant.  Toyo Ito collaborated with Naoya Hatakeyama, Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata on Architecture possible here? Home-for-all. They captured the spirit of the Common Ground theme with a clever presentation of creative housing concepts for an area devastated by the Tsunami.

The Japanese Pavilion was the deserved winner of the Golden Lion for best national participant.

Vanessa Norwood, the co-curator of British Pavilion’s Venice Takeaway exhibition feels that it was a brave decision not to show British architecture this year.  Instead, ten British architecture teams visited ten countries to find interesting and inspiring projects which the UK can learn from. Hundreds of miniature identical models were showcased by Aberrant Architecture who discovered an obscure Oscar Niemeyer building in Rio that was a CIEP (an integrated centre of public education). They found that there are 508 of these standardised and prefabricated primary schools throughout the city and propose that standardising school design in the UK will reduce costs in the current climate of austerity.

Some might consider the Russian Pavilion a tad ostentatious with its three rooms tiled floor to ceiling in QR codes but we found it both fun and quite beautiful.  Visitors are given an ipad on arrival which when pointed at any of the tiles lead to webpages on a project to build Skolkovo, a high-tech city outside of Moscow. In contrast, the lower floor of the pavilion is a darkened room with hundreds of illuminated peepholes showing secret cold-war towns created for scientific research.

Detail of the Russian Pavilion

The Brazilian pavilion is split in two – Riposatevi (rest) offers hammocks for visitors to relax in and guitars to strum.  This reinstallation of Brasilia planner Lucio Costa’s 1964 Milan Trienniale exhibit  is accompanied by his quote ‘the same people who rest in hammocks can, whenever necessary, build a new capital in three years’ time’. The other part of the Pavilion displays Marcio Kogan’s fantastic wall of peepholes, allowing visitors to view videos filmed in a house in Sao Paolo designed by Kogan. A voyeur’s delight, videos include a woman in a rather comical position with her personal trainer, a couple on a bed, and a woman in a bathtub.

The Spanish pavilion with its contributions from seven architecture studios, also has a playful element with a trampoline for visitors to bounce on. Elsewhere, Between Air, a living hydroponic installation is dramatically suspended from the ceiling.


Detail of The Spanish pavilion

Over in the Arsenale, the Brits are on good form. The first room offers a powerful start to the exhibition. Norman Foster’s moving images on a carpeted floor feature the big names of the architectural world while the surrounding floor to ceiling screens show old and new monuments, political protests, beaches, slums, natural disasters around the world.

Another highlight is Zaha Hadid’s striking installation—a huge pleated sculpture in aluminium.

Urban-Think Tank and Justin McGuirk have created a pop-up Venezuelan restaurant with colourful illuminated signs and the opportunity to stop for a refreshing beverage. On the walls are photos of a Caracas office tower occupied by squatters.

Urban-Think Tank and Justin McGuirk created a pop-up Venezuelan restaurant

Collateral events and exhibitions are dotted around Venice as well and some are definitely worth seeing. The Taiwanese exhibition on the Grand Canal is excellent.  A large corrugated cardboard construction of a typical Taiwanese apartment with ceiling hangings meant to look like glass noodles make for a powerful walk-in installation.

And we finished our visit to the biennale with a short vaporetto ride to Guidecca Island to see La Casa dei Tre Oci  (house of three eyes) owned and recently reopened by Fondazione di Venezia to show contemporary art.  The current show, The Way of Enthusiasts, is a Russian group show looking at failed architectural experiments.

Words: Joanne Shurvell Photos Paul Allen Top Photo Courtesy: VAB


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