The largest architecture fair in the world today happens to also be of the most important in recent history. Entitled Fundamentals, the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture has been curated this year by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. At the ripe age of 69, Koolhaas has selected a vastly encompassing theme, “Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014,” to be tackled, through the construction of thematic pavilions by each participating nation.
Regarding this Biennale, Koolhaas stated, “[It] will be a Biennale about architecture, not architects,”— an idea in opposition to the name-brand glorification that frequently occurs in the field.
Another statement made by Koolhaas resonates further and deeper: “[This Biennale is] the end of my career, the end of my hegemony, the end of my mythology, the end of everything, the end of architecture.” For Koolhaas, this marks the end of 40 years of architectural breakthroughs and their oft-resultant controversies. In his constant refusal of established conventions, Koolhaas is one of the few architects who can create a building that manages to be referred to as a masterpiece by some and propaganda by others (see our article on his China Central Television building, constructed in 2012).
Even curating the entire Biennale did not prevent Koolhaas from constructing a piece for the occasion, either. The Dutch architect collaborated with Austrian jewel producer Swarvoski to create the door to the Monditalia exhibition at the Biennale, a spectacle of golden lights accompanied by fantastical silver crystals, all intertwined in the shape of classical Venetian palazzos. In front of the heavily adorned doors are renderings of Catholic iconography on white walls, a nod to the religious history of Venice. As if to signify an explosive end to his career, Koolhaas produces a vibrant, unforgettable entrance to this Biennale exhibition.
[Photo via DomusWeb]
The Korean pavilion, entitled “Crow's Eye View: The Korean Peninsula,” and curated by abstract architect Minsuk Cho, has been basking in the spotlight at the Biennale, after receiving the Golden Lion award for best national participation. And rightfully so: the pavilion ambitiously aims to demonstrate the cultural possibilities of the unification of North and South Korean architecture. While it doesn’t seem like unification will happen anytime soon, the visual result is at once enticing and poignant.
The Silver Lion (or runner-up) award went to Chile’s “Monolith Controversies” designed by architects Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola. This pavilion focuses solely on “the concrete wall”, a fundamental component of modern architecture and its relationship to different social and political contexts (particularly in the case of Chile and the Soviet Union’s intermingled history).
For their pavillion, Canada combined indigenous culture with modernity in “Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15.” Curated by architecture team Lateral Office, alongside France and Russia, Canada was awarded a special mention by the Biennale judges. This pavilion displays the housing utilized by the indigenous people living in Nunavut, a recently annexed northern territory of Canada currently celebrating its 15th birthday. To complement these models, the pavilion also presents architectural models for future infrastructure to be made for those living in the north, ranging from housing to educational to cultural infrastructure buildings.
"Modernity: Promise or Menace?” is the name of the French pavilion, curated by architect Jean-Louis Cohen. Utilizing irony in diverse forms, such as skyscraper designs from 1934 that later became the sites of prison camps, and through the display of ‘ultra-modern’ and ultra-unfulfilled architectural models. An opposition to most of the other projects in the exhibition, this pavilion presents itself as a less accepting and more inquisitive study on the theme of modernity.
The final pavilion awarded a special mention by the biennale was Russia’s “Fair Enough: Russia’s Past Our Present,” curated by architects from the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design. The pavilion is lined with different booths and tour guides, each of which showcases different elements of modern Russian culture. Distributing different related pamphlets and materials, as the exhibition continues past the first week, the booths will slowly become unmanned, until it is up for the viewer to peruse the materials at their own leisure, and draw their own conclusions. It's a strong message on the subject of propaganda, to say the least.
So how do you feel about these award-winning showings at the Biennale? Are they next level innovations or tired concepts? Tell us in the comments below.