»Where there is nothing, everything is possible. Where there is architecture, nothing (else) is possible.«

Rem Koolhaas

Blog Venice 2014

Roll up, roll up: it's Rem Time!

Rem-membering and Dismembering Architecture at the Biennale

  • Looking up in the “Ceiling” section of the “Elements” exhibition in the Central Pavilion. (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 1 / 30  Looking up in the “Ceiling” section of the “Elements” exhibition in the Central Pavilion. (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • The entrance to “Monditalia” in the Cordiere. Roll up! Roll up! It’s showtime! Luminaire structure designed by OMA with Swarovski. (Photo: Gilbert McCarragher) 2 / 30  The entrance to “Monditalia” in the Cordiere. Roll up! Roll up! It’s showtime! Luminaire structure designed by OMA with Swarovski. (Photo: Gilbert McCarragher)
  • So, let’s go back to basics... (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 3 / 30  So, let’s go back to basics... (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • “Radical Pedagogies” in the “Monditalia”. (Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 4 / 30  “Radical Pedagogies” in the “Monditalia”. (Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • A performance on one of the many stages. (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 5 / 30  A performance on one of the many stages. (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • “Legible Pompeii” by Lucia Allais, MOS, in the “Monditalia”. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 6 / 30  “Legible Pompeii” by Lucia Allais, MOS, in the “Monditalia”. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • The Architecture of Hedonism, Three Villas on the Island of Capri. Project by Martino Stierli, Hilar Stadler, Nils Nova, and Francesco Vezzoli. (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 7 / 30  The Architecture of Hedonism, Three Villas on the Island of Capri. Project by Martino Stierli, Hilar Stadler, Nils Nova, and Francesco Vezzoli. (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • The Central Pavilion awaits, full of elements... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 8 / 30  The Central Pavilion awaits, full of elements... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • A timber version of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-ino, outside the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. (Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 9 / 30  A timber version of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-ino, outside the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. (Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • So what element of architecture is a “Tillmans” exactly? (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 10 / 30  So what element of architecture is a “Tillmans” exactly? (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • Central space of “Elements” with a mashrabiya balcony in the background. (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 11 / 30  Central space of “Elements” with a mashrabiya balcony in the background. (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • A wall of product posters. (Photo: Italo Rondinella, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 12 / 30  A wall of product posters. (Photo: Italo Rondinella, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • You want windows...? (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 13 / 30  You want windows...? (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • ...we've got windows. (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 14 / 30  ...we've got windows. (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • You want walls? (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 15 / 30  You want walls? (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • ...we got walls... (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 16 / 30  ...we got walls... (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • “Door” – handles through history. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 17 / 30  “Door” – handles through history. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • “Stair”. (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 18 / 30  “Stair”. (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • Hanging out in the “Ramp” room in the Central Pavilion...  (Photo: Rob Wilson) 19 / 30  Hanging out in the “Ramp” room in the Central Pavilion...  (Photo: Rob Wilson)
  • “Escalator” and a fragment of an early one dating from 1902, from the Holloway Road tube stop in London. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 20 / 30  “Escalator” and a fragment of an early one dating from 1902, from the Holloway Road tube stop in London. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • ...“Fireplace”: with a typical OMA flow chart. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 21 / 30  ...“Fireplace”: with a typical OMA flow chart. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • “Floor” (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 22 / 30  “Floor” (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • Don’t touch the pretty shiny things. (Photo: Sophie Lovell) 23 / 30  Don’t touch the pretty shiny things. (Photo: Sophie Lovell)
  • The capsule used to liberate Chilean miners in 2010, in the “Elevators” room. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia) 24 / 30  The capsule used to liberate Chilean miners in 2010, in the “Elevators” room. (Photo: Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia)
  • Mmm. “Toilet” graphic. (Photo: Rob Wilson) 25 / 30  Mmm. “Toilet” graphic. (Photo: Rob Wilson)
  • Full size “Balcony” in the Central Pavilion... (Photo: Torsten Seidel) 26 / 30  Full size “Balcony” in the Central Pavilion... (Photo: Torsten Seidel)
  • ...and a reconstructed one: Hurrah for Hugo Chavez! (Photo: Sophie Lovell) 27 / 30  ...and a reconstructed one: Hurrah for Hugo Chavez! (Photo: Sophie Lovell)
  • and Hip! Hip!... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 28 / 30  and Hip! Hip!... (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • ...Hurrah! (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 29 / 30  ...Hurrah! (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)
  • ...for Rem. He is watching you. You cannot escape. (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer) 30 / 30  ...for Rem. He is watching you. You cannot escape. (Photo: Florian Heilmeyer)

The 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale opened last weekend, with Rem Koolhaas at the wheel, promising to take the focus back – back to the last hundred years and back to basics. uncube went along to see how his theme of Fundamentals, the elements of architecture, stacks up.

From the moment that Rem Koolhaas was appointed as Director of the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale – almost a full year earlier than the usual last minute appointment – the build up and anticipation to this year’s edition has been huge.

And since Koolhaas’ announcement of the title: Fundamentals (as in: back to...), with its focus on architecture itself and not architects, (this from the “reluctant” starchitect of starchitects), and additionally with his request for the national pavilions to respond to a common theme: Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014, this has promised to be a Biennale extraordinaire.

So with the weight of expectation and history already wrapped heavy around it, and contemporary architecture conspicuous by its absence, can this 14th Biennale really stack up?

Firstly to the national pavilions both on and off site. Challenged with a theme that poses the question of whether modernism/isation has just been a process of homogenisation of the national, most have responded creatively. Despite a smattering of rather straightforward timeline-oriented offerings, featuring potted histories of regional modernism, the pavilions exhibit a relatively coherent, compare-and-contrast, thread to their offerings. Over the coming days uncube will be featuring a selection of the editors’ favourite picks in detail.

Second, the two main exhibition spaces in the Arsenale and the Giardini under the jurisdiction of Koolhaas himself. The hand of Rem lies lighter on the former, the Monditalia exhibition situated in the vast 400 metre-long Cordiere building, the old rope works. This is traditionally the curatorial heart of the action, yet Koolhaas apparently originally intended to keep these huge halls closed. When the Biennale told him that this would be impossibile, even for his Rem-ness, he cleverly designated the theme there to Italy as a so-called “fundamental” country in architecture. This not only ensured happy hosts, but has also created a defined but rich canvas, (under the additional curatorial guidance of Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli) with 41 Italy-focused research projects on show. Fascinating contributions here range from Radical Pedagogies by Beatriz Colomina et al. to Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine’s documentation of Stefano Boeri’s conference hall, built but never inaugurated on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena.

The panoply of artists, curators, designers and others showing their projects, films and installations here demands a unifying framework to avoid collapse into chaos. Monditalia uses the nice structuring device of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of a Roman road map of Italy (bearing an uncanny resemblance to one of OMA’s signature flow charts), which turns the long country into an extruded strip running through the entire exhibition. The multitude of research projects is ordered from the South to the North of the country, so visitors enter Italy via Lampedusa, which is the theme of one of the first projects you encounter here. This show is an eclectic wunderkammer of ideas and topics from and around Italy, supplemented by architecture-heavy sequences, cut from 82 classic Italian films projected on screens hanging overhead from the high ceilings of the Cordiere.

This extensive use of film is one indicator of how the cultural, political and site-specific context of architecture has been richly extended in Monditalia through a collaboration for the first time with the other Venice Biennale and festival organisations of dance, music, theatre and film, each invited to programme and use a series of stages punctuating the whole installation. Through this the sense of site specificity, and of use and occupation, is nicely and practically underlined, giving a rounded sense of the cultural context of architecture.

So we can already testify that Koolhaas is a clever guy who is clearly in some ways more interested in the circumstances under which architecture is produced than in the architectural object itself. But he is also an architecture nerd and so we come to the part of the show where Koolhaas’ heart evidently beats faster, and his input, along with that of OMA/AMO, together with the Harvard Graduate School of Design research machine, more palpable: the Elements exhibition at the Central Pavilion in the Giardini.

The entrance to “Monditalia” in the Cordiere. Roll up! Roll up! It’s showtime! Luminaire structure designed by OMA with Swarovski. (Photo: Gilbert McCarragher)

Here the Fundamentals title is brought sharply into focus: the elements being those of architecture, from walls to doors, to floors, to balconies, to escalators, each given their own room and the OMA/AMO treatment – but in a way that always retains a sense of humour.

Whilst there are a lot of infographics and a slight sense of being inside a massive wall-mounted pop-up reference book (indeed each room has its own parallel catalogue), this is leavened by the visceral. The inclusion of exhibits ranging from plasterboard partition sections (wall) to banks of exposed servicing (ceiling), beautiful 19th century Indonesian hut models (roof), a capsule used to liberate Chilean miners in 2010 (elevator) and a remnant of a 1902 London Underground escalator (guess) make this an exhibition a rich and rewarding experience for the visitor.

The sense of immersion in the physical elements of building, of walking up Claude Parent-designed ramps and looking out of mashrabiya balconies, is further underlined in the accompanying handout. It is introduced with an essay by Koolhaas, detailing each of his first remembered sensory exposure to all these same building elements in the gradually expanding world of his own (just) post-war childhood – his own history, starting with a graphic image of a tiny Rem on his parents’ balcony, “exposed to the sun, naked, ...like a mini solar panel”.

This is a museum show and a museum of a show, and at times one can’t see the (architectural) wood for the trees. Indeed a recurring criticism has been that if architecture is a language, all that is given here is the vocab, not the grammar.

But there is also something refreshing about this. If seen from the perspective of the classic triad of Vitruvius: firmitas, utilitas, venustas (and their rough equivalents of structure/solidity, usefulness and beauty) all three going to compose perfect architecture, this Biennale is very much on the solidity and usefulness ticket (represented respectively by the Elements and the Monditalia exhibitions). The usual beauty parade of fab new buildings, so common to most architecture exhibitions – the venustas part – is relatively and refreshingly missing.

Though the overall show comes across as slightly over didactic, what also comes through is the sense of keen interest, excitement and underlying humour, that Koolhaas, however polemical, always seems to bring to bear, in his writing, exhibition-making... and even sometimes still to his architecture.

The 2014 Biennale seems to provide a pause for thought, a chance to look back, to where we've come from and what we are. A palate cleanser before the next hundred years kicks in...

– Rob Wilson, with Sophie Lovell and Florian Heilmeyer.


14th Venice Architecture Biennale

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×