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Reporting from the Front: Venice Architecture Biennale

The theme for this year’s Biennale, ‘Reporting From the Front’, set by Creative Director Alejandro Aravena, sought projects that tackled issues like segregation, inequalities, peripheries, natural and social disasters, housing shortages, migration, informality and communities. Hahna Busch reports from the front.

Reporting from the Front: Venice Architecture Biennale


May 31st, 2016

The Venice Architecture Biennale is a monumental event: a platform for countries to bring their local talent in to an international arena, as well as a space for independent architects, designers, institutions and companies to explore the issues facing the industry. Given the extensive amount of content converging in one place, the resulting experience is somewhere between world fair, trade show, and provocation for those working in and around the architectural environment.

What stood out across the Biennale were the exhibitions that spoke to visitors from both an architectural and a non-architectural background, telling engaging stories, creating immersive experiences and presenting innovative ideas in an accessible way. These moments allowed the audience to stop and linger, be drawn into the experience and walk away with a new perspective on architecture. And this is what the Biennale should be about – allowing the general public insight into the complex world of architecture, starting a dialogue between architects and non-architects, and making it implicitly clear the ways in which architecture can positively shape the world around us.

Other than Australia’s immensely well-received exhibition, The Pool, which went above and beyond achieving this engagement of both architects and non-architects, here are some other highlights from across the Biennale that found ways to draw in audiences and start conversations about architecture:

Zaha Hadid Palazzo Franchetti
Presented as a retrospective of the work of illustrious late architect Zaha Hadid, and a celebration of her extensive talents, the Zaha Hadid exhibition packs nearly 40 years of work into a few small rooms at the ornate Palazzo Franchetti. Complied by her studio Zaha Hadid Design, and Fondazione Berengo, the exhibition examines the Iraqi-British designer’s early career, recent works, works in progress, and milestones in her career, as well as extensive collaborations and products of intensive research and design.

The depth and breadth of content makes for an overwhelming and emotional experience, in realisation that the industry has lost such creative talent. You do not need to be an architect to see how ground breaking and pioneering Zaha Hadid was, not only as an architect but as an artist, designer, sculptor, thinker and great producer of ideas and creative material. The content is rich and dense, and in striking contrast with the lavish background of the Palazzo, commending her contribution to the built environment around us and leaving the audience so glad that her legacy will live on the projects still to be constructed.

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

New Zealand: Future Islands Palazzo Bollani
Led by Creative Director Charles Walker, New Zealand’s Future Islands explores the opportunities available to architects working in one of the world’s smallest, most open and diverse societies. The space is filled with dozens of island-like floating forms, upon which have been built miniature models representing 50 realised and speculative projects from established, emerging and student architects. A companion book profiling these projects gives further depth to the concept.

Using the metaphor of the island as a site of possibility, the beauty, simplicity and unburdened nature of the exhibition design allows audiences to navigate their way around and get lost amongst the floating forms, drawing them into the miniature worlds created. It is a stunning and unified way of exhibiting a vast array of projects, and there is a charm and honesty to the space that speaks directly to the qualities of New Zealand.

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live
Images of Future Islands: David St George

Spanish Pavilion: Unfinished Giardini
Awarded the Golden Lion for best national participant, the Spanish exhibition, Unfinished, curated by architects Iñaqui Carnicero and Carlos Quintáns, presents a photographic series of answers to the problems arising in Spain after the building boom. Concepts such as reassignment, adaptability and reappropriation show how architecture can subvert the past condition into a positive contemporary action. The award was received for “the concise curation of projects showing how creativity and commitment can transcend material constraints”.

Exhibiting a stunning series of photographs alongside delicate architectural drawings, displayed in simple timber frames and on metal structures, the exhibition immediately strikes for its minimalist design that discreetly celebrates materiality and the unfinished concept, but allows the beauty of the content to shine. The absorbing images are an accessible and engaging window into the built landscape throughout Spain and invite audiences to consider incomplete buildings in a different light.

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

A World of Fragile Parts Arsenale
A collaboration between the Biennale and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, A World of Fragile Parts examines the concept of the copy as a way to document and maintain our material heritage. Setting up the audience to think more deeply about the role of the copy, and posing questions around the ethics of copies, the exhibition displays duplicates of artefacts made in a range of materials, and shows the techniques used to make them, including plaster casts, electrotypes, photographs and contemporary techniques.

It is an exhibition designed for the many, relevant to industry while fascinating to the public. By setting up the audience to question and challenge their understanding of the copy, and contextualising the way copies have been able to preserve iconic cultural heritage, the exhibition brings the complex world of conservation to a publically accessible stage. From the perspective of architects and designers, who have a tendency to protect authenticity and to avoid the replica, seeing the need for the copy presented in this context will raise many questions and shape future approaches to conservation.

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

British Pavilion: Home Economics Giardini
Home Economics, the British pavilion’s exhibition curated by Jack Self, Shumi Bose and Finn Williams, explores five concepts for British domestic life, presented in a time-based series of full scale installations. Starting with a room for hours, then days, months, years and decades, each proposition suggests a different model for housing that can alleviate the pressures on the housing crisis being experienced across the country. These concepts include solutions for communal living, connectivity, domestic labour, controlling the speculative property market and removal of predictable function.

The concept is rich with underlying meaning, which contrasts the beautiful simplicity of the exhibition design, so it pays to absorb the exhibition guide before venturing into the space. With this understanding, the meaning of the installations really shine, and allow for the full scale, liveable spaces to be better experienced. While the concept has been constructed as a brief for architects, the reality of the spaces is made for the public, with the opportunity for some of these ideas to be realised in the near future and impact the struggling housing market.

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

Conflicts of an Urban Age Arsenale
A collaboration between the Biennale and LSE Cities, Conflicts of an Urban Age presents insights into the major trends and conflicts experienced in growing metropolises and the urban realm. Exploring many major cities across the world, charting the changes and growth over the last 25 years, and looking at the social and environmental consequences for the people of these cities, the exhibition highlights the fragility of the built environment and examines some solutions for tackling these conflicts.

This is an exhibition that should hit home for the city planners, placemakers, developers and governments, but also for architects who need to realise their role in the bigger scheme of things, as well as to the public who live and breathe these places. While very content heavy, the information has been presented cleverly through animated graphics and alongside jaw-dropping photographs of urban sprawl, making for an informative and engaging experience. For visitors who are familiar with the cities profiled, it is a revelation to realise the way the built environment has transformed in such a short period of time, and highlights the balancing act between the social and physical fabric of cities.

Architecture Biennale 2016

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