Saturday, January 26, 2013

FUNDAMENTALS – the Venice Biennale 14th International Architecture Exhibition

China Central Television Headquarters, Beijing, by Rem Koolhaas & Ole Scheeren of OMA
(Venice, Italy) With the appointment of the dynamic Rem Koolhaas as curator, the Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition has dramatically changed its modus operandi as it looks forward to 2014. Originally created as an "imitation" of the Art Biennale, the Architecture section of Biennale is evolving into a major exhibition-research project conducted by the curator, and has become the most important event in the world for Architecture. The opening date has been moved up to June 7, 2014, and it will last as long as the Art Biennale, about six months, through November 23, 2014. Instead of the eight months that David Chipperfield, last year's director, had to prepare, Rem Koolhaas will have nearly a year and a half to organize his theme: FUNDAMENTALS

Paolo Baratta & Rem Koolhaas
President Paolo Baratta explained the evolution of the Architecture Biennale, and consequently the choice of Rem Koolhaas:

We are universally recognized as the most important event in the world for Architecture. We are the place where Architecture talks about itself and meets life and society at large. Over the past few years, our choices of curators and themes have been based on the awareness of the gap between the “spectacularization” of architecture on one hand, and the waning capacity of society to express its demands and needs on the other. Architects are called upon prevalently to create awe-inspiring buildings and the “ordinary” is going astray -- toward banality if not squalor: a modernity lived badly. We have made choices oriented towards addressing the issue of this gap.”

Smithsonian (Tung Walsh)
In a September 2012 article for The Smithsonian, Nicolai Ouroussoff asked: Why is Rem Koolhaas the World's Most Controversial Architect?

"...Koolhaas’ habit of shaking up established conventions has made him one of the most influential architects of his generation. A disproportionate number of the profession’s rising stars, including Winy Maas of the Dutch firm MVRDV and Bjarke Ingels of the Copenhagen-based BIG, did stints in his office. Architects dig through his books looking for ideas; students all over the world emulate him. The attraction lies, in part, in his ability to keep us off balance. Unlike other architects of his stature, such as Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, who have continued to refine their singular aesthetic visions over long careers, Koolhaas works like a conceptual artist—able to draw on a seemingly endless reservoir of ideas."

Yesterday, January 25, 2013, President Paolo Baratta and Director Rem Koolhass met with the representatives of 40 countries participating in the 14th Exhibition at Ca' Giustinian, Biennale Headquarters, to present the theme: FUNDAMENTALS. Paolo Baratta emphasized: "It is a theme, not a slogan."  

Koolhaas has stated: 

Fundamentals will be a Biennale about architecture, not architects. After several Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will focus on histories – on the inevitable elements of all architecture used by any architect, anywhere, anytime (the door, the floor, the ceiling etc.) and on the evolution of national architectures in the last 100 years. In three complementary manifestations – taking place in the Central Pavilion, the Arsenale, and the National Pavilions – this retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today.

In 1914, it made sense to talk about a “Chinese” architecture, a “Swiss” architecture, an “Indian” architecture. One hundred years later, under the influence of wars, diverse political regimes, different states of development, national and international architectural movements, individual talents, friendships, random personal trajectories and technological developments, architectures that were once specific and local have become interchangeable and global. National identity has seemingly been sacrificed to modernity.

US WWI Poster for saving stamps
Having the decisive advantage of starting work a year earlier than the Biennale’s typical schedule, we hope to use this extra time to introduce a degree of coordination and coherence among the National Pavilions. Ideally, we would want the represented countries to engage a single theme – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 – and to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favour of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language in a single repertoire of typologies.

Italy WWI - Give money to victory, victory is peace Italian Bank Discount
The First World War – the beginning of modern globalization – serves a starting point for the range of narratives. The transition to what seems like a universal architectural language is a more complex process than we typically recognize, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions and imperceptible ways of remaining “national.” In a time of ubiquitous google research and the flattening of cultural memory, it is crucial for the future of architecture to resurrect and expose these narratives.

Germany WWI - War Bonds help the guardians of your happiness
By telling the history of the last 100 years cumulatively, the exhibitions in the National Pavilions will generate a global overview of architecture’s evolution into a single, modern aesthetic, and at the same time uncover within globalization the survival of unique national features and mentalities that continue to exist and flourish even as international collaboration and exchange intensify…

WWI France - So that your children will no longer know the horrors of the war, subscribe to the National Loan
During the press conference, Koolhaas elaborated on the theme. He said he wanted each country to start with World War I and work forward to 2014 and examine what impact history and events had upon architecture, and how we have arrived at the state of globalized architecture we have today. 1914 was not just the beginning of World War I, it was also about the time that Louie Armstrong came on the scene and when Marcel Duchamp started creating his "readymade" art. Each country in the world has been wrestling with globalization in their own way. We used to have Swiss architecture, Italian architecture, Indian architecture. We used to have a majestic ceiling at the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo, and now we just have a ceiling. We used to have different types of doors; now we more or less have the same stuff, a boring, contemporary door. What happened? 

Second Stage Theatre, NYC
Koolhaas worked as a journalist and screenwriter before beginning architecture, and someone asked him whether he considered himself an architect, an historian or a sociologist. He said "I'm an amateur in many different professions, but I consider myself a professional writer. This allows me to talk about everything." I loved that answer because it is truly one of the beautiful things about being a writer -- you can be interested in a cornucopia of different topics, and it's okay.

Interior Seattle Public Library
Someone asked about the presence of the "star system" --  the so-called "starchitects," an elite club of top architects of which Rem Koolhaas is certainly a member. Koolhaas said that "we did not choose that term," and it was imposed upon them by lazy journalists. He said that it implies an architect that doesn't care, does whatever he wants and takes the money. He said "we are not like that," and that the top architects are more sincere and care deeply about what they do.

Another person asked about the word "nationalism," and did it make sense to emphasize different nations at  the Architecture Exhibition. Koolhaas said that the word "national" made sense because it is the way we are organized in the way of space. We all have our own national perspective, and it is interesting how different the reading of the same phenomenon can be. He elaborated by comparing it to "mentality," and how each of our mentalities have been deeply formed by our own individual cultures.

Personally, I think the theme is an exciting one, and the idea of the Venice Architecture Exhibition evolving into a research project will be of enormous benefit to the planet. How different do the years 1914 to 2014 look from the point of view of the United States as compared to Italy? Or Germany? Or China? Or Russia? Or France? Or Argentina? How did we arrive to the point of globalization where we are today? Koolhaas said that earlier in the day the representative from Romania said that Romania was not a modern country. Koolhaas said, "You have light bulbs, don't you? That makes you modern."

And yes, Rem Koolhass is totally cool.  

From Wikipedia:

Prada, Beverly Hills
Remment Lucas "Rem" Koolhaas (born 17 November 1944) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Koolhaas studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Koolhaas is the founding partner of OMA, and of its research-oriented counterpart AMO, currently based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. In 2005 he co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman.
In 2000 Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize. In 2008 Time put him in their top 100 of The World's Most Influential People.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. With the appointment of the dynamic Rem Koolhaas as curator, the Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition has dramatically changed its modus operandi as it looks forward to 2014. Originally created as an "imitation" of the Art Biennale, the Architecture section of Biennale is evolving into a major exhibition-research project conducted by the curator, and has become the most important event in the world for Architecture.

  2. Excellent post. I used to be checking continuously this weblog and I am impressed! Very useful information specially the closing section I handle such info much.

  3. Thank you for this informative post. Do you know the status of the Rem Koolhaas designed restoration of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi for Benetton? I wonder how the design review will proceed now that Mr. Koolhaas has been anointed the curator of the next Biennale, happening at the exact same time as this controversial project.

  4. Hi, JoAnn -

    Yes, the topic came up, but President Paolo Baratta said the focus was to be on the Architecture Biennale, not the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Rem Koolhaas then said the reason they didn't want to talk about it was not because it was a "painful" subject, but because they were in the middle of negotiations, and that he was optismistic about the outcome. After hearing Rem Koolhaas speak in person -- he came across as forthright, thoughtful, intelligent and honest -- I, too, am optimistic he will find a way to make it work. I am really looking forward to him pumping some fresh life into that very important corner of Venice, and would love to see more like-minded energy here in town.