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Common Ground

September 4, 2012

Biennale di Architettura 2012 © Andrea Giannone

I haven’t been at the opening of the Biennale di architettura last week, I simply could not make it, but I look forward visiting it before November 25th. Well noted, having seen a couple of  them before I have no great expectations about such an event. I just like to be there because it’s in a beautiful place, you happen to meet old friend and colleagues and – if you are lucky and willing to do so – you might even discover good projects and architects you don’t know.

Being David Chipperfield curator and the exhibition’s purpose to investigate some kind of  “Common Ground” between architects and/or between architecture and the rest of the world, my expectation this time are slightly above the average zero level, however I would really not expect a Biennale to change things that matter.

It may even be true that “the architects are playing on a sinking gondola like erstwhile the orchestra on the Titanic playing their last song, while outside in the real world our leaky trade is sinking into powerlessness and irrelevance. This is because politicians and project managers, investors and bureaucrats have been deciding on our built environment for a long time now. Not the architects.” (Wolf D. Prix) So what? Has the Biennale something to do with it?

Biennale di Architettura 2012 © Andrea Giannone

For the same reasons I would avoid proclamations such as urging “the profession to turn away from iconic one-off projects like opera houses, theatres and museums, and address “the 99.99% of the rest of the world which architects are not dealing with” before they’re relegated to being “urban decorators” (David Chipperfield in conversation with Marcus Fairs for Dezeen). Who cares about these nice words, especially today as large portions of our old continent are rapidly sinking? Not to talk about the emerging world powers, were entire cultural assets are being erased forever (as Wang Shu is reporting from China). What can an architecture exhibition do for it?

Even if it may be the most important one in the world, the Biennale di Architettura is nothing but a large exhibition. I don’t see the point of  harsh and radical criticism, by engaged critics (“the worst Biennale ever” Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi), serious institutions (“far from reality and self-referential” Leopoldo Freyrie, President of the Italian Architects’ Council CNAPPC) and famous architects ( “a compromise that cannot get any worse” Wolf D. Prix Coop Himmelblau).

More balanced is, as usual,  Fulvio Irace, but he is also curator of an exhibition in the Italian Pavillion. His review suggests a peculiar way to enjoy the Biennale – beginning from Alvaro Siza’s Pavillion at the Giardini delle Vergini – focusing on some conceptual differences between this one and the former ones. Only at the end of his article he notes that “despite the wish to be burial of the archistar, the 13° Biennale has closed his eyes in front of some frankly embarrassing tombstones” (Sole24ore 2nd September 2012, editor’s translation).

Biennale di Architettura 2012 © Andrea Giannone

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 14, 2012 10:25 pm

    Travel to Shanghai for its biennale, and you may find more shows than you had bargained for. As well as Hyper Design, the city’s sixth biennale, housed in the Shanghai Art Museum, there are a host of other group exhibitions – some calling themselves “biennales” too – to investigate: Crossovers: Beyond Art and Design at the Contrasts Gallery; Entry Gate: Chinese Aesthetics of Heterogeneity at the Museum of Contemporary Art; the Second Shanghai Duolun Exhibition of Young Artists at the Duolon Museum of Modern Art; and another show organised by young artists that calls itself “the alternative biennale”.

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