Venice architecture biennale 2014

PORT MAGAZINE (online) 9 June 2014

Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014‘ is the theme proposed by curator Rem Koolhaas to the 65 countries participating at the recently opened Fundamentals: Venice Architecture Biennale.

The Dutch architect has unified the research of participants around a unique topic – his first major change since taking on the role – to generate and broaden debate around key moments from a century of modernisation.

Each country has analyzed how cultures and political environments have transformed a generic modernity into a something more specific. At a time when globalisation seemingly ironing out any kind of national identity, the exhibition finds new ways to represent how “vernacularism” could add new values and solid roots to national architecture debates.

I spoke with the curators of the Israeli and US pavilions and Vicky Richardson, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion, about ‘modernism interpretation’.

ISRAEL- Curator Roy Brand_The Urburb

How are you interpreting modernism?

We were thinking about the 100 years of modernism in Israel, and in essence, most of the Israel was built in these100 years, based in something very ancient. We constructed these machines – we called them sand printers – that carve and sketch images and then erase them, then sketch a new one and then erase theme again. So the pavilion is covered with sand and there are four machines that carve scenarios from 100 years of modernism in Israel. You can see how the country how was constructed in terms of cities, neighborhoods and building.

They tell different stories of modernisation and how it progressed and evolved in Israel, but the installation itself is quite simple – what the machine is doing is automatic and mechanic of course. That is one of the most evident aspects of modernism: machinal and automatic production that id repetitious and generic.

How do you think this exhibition could influence the contemporary architecture panorama?

It depends on what you want to take from it. One thing we could say is that we are over modernity, we are somewhere else perhaps, in an other era, so we can now reflect on the history of modernity – which is now our history – and evolve from there.

We want to work with the principals of modernity and see what worked and what didn’t.

USA_ Curator Eva Franch i Gilabert_officeus

How are you interpreting modernism?

The project of modernity, for us, is understood through the lens of the office. The invention of the office as a corporate model is a very American thing: from Albert Kahn, as an individual, that constructing an entire empire of production of architecture through the Taylorism, to offices today like Gensler that take from that. We are trying To understand how to create offices, that don’t necessary comply or adopt the model of production that has been present over the last 100 years, by introducing experimentation and research and desire, whilst remaining in the same parameters of speed, efficiency and economy.

The US builds and exports using architectural principle that arenot necessaryconsidered American, but the protocols and processes are extremely American (with regards of codes to rules and regulations). We are trying to see is how can we learn from those mechanisms.

How do you think this exhibition could influence the contemporary architecture panorama?

It’s evident that we need new terms, new lenses to examine what we are doing. The 25 weeks of research will allow us to look at architecture differently.
We don’t have an answer now, but one is going to be generated over the next six months.
We aim to resonate not only with firms, but also with schools and cultural institutions.

UK_Commissioner Vicky Richardson_A Clockwork Jerusalem

How are you interpreting modernism?

For UK it was a really interesting question, because the subject of modernism really divides opinion in Britain.

There is this sort of myth that British public hate modern architecture and that there is big backlash against modernism. It’s a really political and emotional question. We wanted to take the chance with this brief. As a research project it is fantastic also because it provides an opportunity to present an alternative history of British modernity.

We staged a competition, which had over 50 entries. The most provocative and imaginative was A Clockwork Jerusalem by FAT Architecture.

How do you think this exhibition could influence the contemporary architecture panorama?

It can make us ask the right questions and try to help us understand the contemporary condition in a new way. We have reached a a bit of a block in British architecture – maybe internationally as well – we have lost a lot of confidence in the ability of architects and planners to really come up with imaginative and ambitious ideas. We know that we need to plan more housing, we know that we need new towns and urban developments, but everybody has a terrible fear of doing things.
Nobody wants to upset the environmentalists or the landowners or the people whose lives are going to be disrupted by developments . I think that an exhibition like this can really make us look at how we can build and move forward, and the role of the architect.

Fundamentals – Venice Architecture Biennale  until November 23