As we all know, political correctness is destroying the link between our minds and our soul and one of the main vehicles for doing this happens to be art and architecture. This is evident at the latest Venice Biennale of Architecture where crusading curator (and winner of this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize) Chilean Alejandro Aravena has marshalled projects from eighty eight participants plus sixty-five national pavilions along the lines of trying to convince the world that architecture is an instrument for political action and even more, than architects still have a place in our building-saturated societies. In the process he appears to have pushed the profession to the absolute horizon of its social potential.
The title of the show is heroic and somehow kitsch: ‘Reporting from the Front’. The installations at the Arsenale and the Central Pavilion have been transformed into a stage where all kinds of disparate socio-political diagnoses are displayed. From the housing shortage in Portugal to the water scarcity in Sub-Saharan Africa, architects seem concerned about ‘the world’. Continuing a trend set by 2014 curator Rem Koolhaas, Aravena has given his theme as a mandate to the country by country delegations, whose individuals pavilions are devoted to similarly weighty matters of state in their respective homelands.
Patrik Schumacher, longtime partner of Zaha Hadid, has, however, been the most vocal critic of what he’s called Aravena’s ‘gesture politics’. ‘Of course there are issues of concern’, he said in a recent interview, ‘but these are not the issues that concern the architects’ and he is absolutely right. Aravena’s obsession for injecting a political purpose to the profession talks more about how difficult it is for architects to justify their place in society than anything else.
The pointlessness of architecture, as a folly, has been displayed for years at the Serpentine Summer Pavillion, to give just an example. At the Biennale, there was another example of that pointless collapse between art installation and architecture with the massive parabola that was awarded the Golden Lion. Fashioned entirely of bricks and mortar, the work of Paraguayan studio Gabinete de Arquitectura, led by Solano Benítez. The piece functions as a triumphal arch of sorts and, for some reason, won the Biennale’s top honour. This confusion between art and architecture was also evident at the Uruguay Pavilion, under the direction of Marcelo Danza, with a nearly empty room –save for a hole in the ground and a sketch on the wall. Towards the door, behind a curtain, there’s a closet filled with garbage from the Biennale (champagne flutes, hors d’oeuvre trays, printed matter, a shoe). These are gifts from visitors who have been invited to steal from other pavilions and bring the booty to the Uruguayans before they take it (the garbage) to Montevideo (sic). My cat used to do that with the neighbouring gardens. Helas…
Over in the Arsenale, Russian architect Alexander Brodsky’s Shed (2016) is composed entirely of recycled components, a temporary structure that bespeaks of its ephemerality with a cockeyed envelope that looks like it’s about to topple over. The building, however, is an architectural folly, an essay on the affective possibilities of the reuse of materials. The Aravena-designed anteroom of the Arsenale, which features a ceiling of tinsel-like fixtures made from scraps left in the wake of last year’s art biennale. Steps aways, the Droneport Prototype Shell (2016) produced by the Norman Foster Foundation with Redine-EPFL and Ochsendorf DeJong & Block, proposes a network of clay brick canopies as infrastructural nodes to help distribute food and medicine in the African interior. Of course, all that same studio dynamited a whole mountain to make room for Hong Kong airport. Double standards?
These days, art and architecture are more about ‘the pitch’ than about the actual building. In fact, Aravena had the unprecedented honour of being awarded the Pritzker Prize and being the director of the Biennale the same year mainly for his pitch around his Santiago ‘half-a-good-house’ projects which are semistructures that furnish low income occupants with the rudiments of a home they can then finish themselves.
But these days there is another Biennale happening, the Design one in Istambul where a round table on forensic architecture takes place with Eyal Weizman, Paulo Tavares, Mauricio Corbalan, Pio Torroja, Samaneh Moafi, Christina Varvia, Nabil Ahmed, Sophie Springer in collaboration with FiBGAR: Baltasar Garzon y Manuel Vergaras. Forensic architecture is a fascinating answer to the astonished politically correct confusion and banal immobility of the architectural profession (as seen at the Venice Biennale). Weizman for example, leads a research agency in Goldsmith, University of London, that undertakes advanced architectural and media research on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organisations, as well as political and environmental justice groups. It aims at the production and presentation of ‘architectural evidence’. I am sorry to say but this year, architecture is not being discussed at the Venice Biennale but avoided. J A T