Highlights from the Venice Architecture Biennale 2014
What exactly is a Biennale (say: “bee-an-al-lei”)? It’s an enormous exhibition that takes place every two years with the scale and impact of a vintage World’s Fair. The event features a main show and subsidiary work from a huge array of creatives – typically focused on art or design. The Venice Biennale is the most famous in the world and one of the first, dating back to 1895.
Venice takes their Biennales very seriously. So much so that the city dedicated an entire park to the event, utilizing a piece of land that had, at the time of the original Biennale, needed a serious restructure — called The Giardini, as well as another plaza, The Arsenale. These two locations house dozens of pavilions. Other academic and creative organizations throughout the city also create their own exhibits and events themed around the Biennale.
What I got to witness was the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, which happens during the Contemporary Art Biennale’s off years. This year’s theme is “Fundamentals,” and the main event in the Central Pavilion is called “Elements of Architecture,” curated by the elusive architectural giant Rem Koolhaas. This main display is supported by unique exhibitions in the National Pavilions, spread among both Giardini and Arsenale.
Below, I’ve selected pictures both from the main event and some of the National Pavilions, to give you a sense of the sheer overwhelming creativity on display.
Elements of Architecture
The Elements of Architecture
The Elements of Architecture
Koolhaas’ exhibit focuses on the history and development of the elements that create architecture: the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the roof, the door, the window, the façade, the balcony, the corridor, the fireplace, the toilet, the stair, the escalator, the elevator, the ramp. The exhibit is adapted from a book of the same name, currently being developed by the architect. See Koolhaas’ interview for more details.
Belgium presents a strikingly white exhibition discussing the concept of the interior, drawn from the curator’s visits to 260 homes around the country.
Republic of Korea
Winner of this year’s Golden Lion (the prize given out for the year’s best pavilion), Korea’s pavilion explores the role of architecture in differentiating the North and South, bringing the two together in a beautiful and rich space, with far too much material to be reviewed in just one visit.
Canada’s dramatic and contemporary exhibit uses black and white and strategically placed light to explore the modernization of architecture in the Inuit communities of Nunavut, Canada. It won a Special Mention at the Biennale.
Nordic (Norway, Finland, Sweden)
In a trend that’s present throughout the Biennale, this exhibit focuses on the juxtaposition of unexpected items. In this case, the Nordic architecture built in East Africa during the 1960s and 1970s, and how this reflects modernization in both locations.
The US took this Biennale’s challenge to another level, creating a new architectural firm based in the pavilion itself, with the challenge of rethinking one thousand of America’s architectural projects, focusing on the exportation of architecture to other countries.
Show: A Clockwork Jerusalem
This exhibition on innovative post-WWII public housing captures the kitschy pop culture design definitive of the movie it references. It’s particularly of note to designers in the way the curators use color and font to get their ideas across.
Serbia’s curators focused on the aspect of time, selecting a project from each year in the architectural history of Serbia from 1914 – 2014. They highlight the collection by using the natural light in the center of the pavilion space to create an inner brightly lit cocoon, which is surrounded by an extreme black outer shell of the pavilion, used to display a film component of the project.
Show: Bungalow Germania
Germany has proved to be masterful at taking their visitors in a travel through time by reconstructing the Chancellor’s Bungalow, which was originally built in 1964, inside their pavilion. The idea is juxtaposition, taking an old and politically charged space and putting it into a new context.
Show: Site Under Construction
Romania focuses on industrial architecture as a creator of modernity, showing the meaning formed between the post-war industrialization and subsequent abandonment of post-industrial sites.
Empowerment of Aesthetics focuses on architecture and it’s relationship to art, literature and science, and how that relationship helped develop Danish modernity. The exhibit is delightfully tactile, allowing the visitor to not just to see, but hear, touch, and even smell aspects of the show.
Show: In the real world
Japan’s exhibit is an eclectic array of materials strategically thrown together in a small space, creating a labyrinth of building materials, images, and architectural models of post WWII, specifically focusing on the 1970s.
Show: Plenum. Places of Power
Austrian curators created over 200 national parliament buildings from all over the world, painted in white and displayed from above lining the walls in a grid formation along the pavilion. The exhibit strives to explore questions surrounding the representation of national identity and politics through the architecture of these essential governmental constructions.
Show: Építés (Building)
The Hungarian pavilion is deliciously interactive, which is appropriate considering it’s subject is communal building. The highlight of the exhibit is the collection of wooden clothes pins that the visitors can draw on in marker, leaving a message or their names for the exhibits future visitors. Hundreds if not thousands of these clothespins line rooms of the exhibition hall, creating an awesome collaborative work.
Greece’s exploration of tourism’s immense effect on the country’s society takes place in two ways. The first is the past of tourism architecture which takes the form of images wallpapering the pavilion. The second is the future, a large collection of beautifully executed scale models of proposed island constructions, by 15 architects specifically for this exhibition.
The Swiss exhibit explores the work of Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price in the digital age of limitless information.
Finland has created a two-part exhibit, the highlight of which is an installation of a set of huts that the visitor can explore, referencing the concept of a cultural translation: one a Finish log cabin made of spruce and the other a Chinese take using bamboo.
Another concept focused on the interior as an oft-overlooked, but critically important, piece of architecture, Spain has taken and displayed the interiors of twelve recently constructed buildings to research the interaction between life and culture and these inside spaces.
Israel uses four large machines to trace the development of the country’s city space into large sandboxes, taking a perspective on the successes and failures of the spaces that aren’t quite urban and not quite suburban (thus, ubruban) in order to try and inspire different and improved tactics of city planning for the future.
Another recipient of Special Mention, Russia’s pavilion is constructed as an immense expo, ‘selling’ the major movements in contemporary and recent historical Russian architecture in a satirical tone.
Through the pairing of large scale models and video footage in a large, but dark and very museum-like space, France explores it’s role in shaping modernity architecturally and culturally in the last century, and how the goals of that modernity have not always been accomplished as projected. This exhibit is another winner of Special Mention this year.
The Dutch curators encourage a rethinking of the idea of an open society through the exploration of the work of architect Jaap Bakema.
The Venice Architecture Biennale runs through November 23rd, so if you’re able to get to Italy in that time, it’s well worth the trip!
Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she’s not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She’s all about having new experiences as often as possible!