Thursday, August 26, 2010

If Buildings Could Talk - The Architects are Here! - Venice Biennale 2010

(Venice, Italy) That outer-space object you see is a contemporary piece of functioning art, otherwise known as a "building." It is an enormous structure, the new Rolex Learning Center, which opened in February 2010, and was built on the campus of EPFL, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland.  Designed by the Japanese architects, SANAA, it is the subject of a 3D 12-minute film, "If Buildings Could Talk," by the German director Wim Wenders, which I saw yesterday at the preview for La Biennale's 12th International Architecture Festival, "People Meet in Architecture." Actually, the building herself is the star of the film, speaking English with a sensual female voice, a wonderful narrative about how a building is a living thing. I watched the film a couple of times before I realized that the architect who designed this leap into the future was this year's Director of Architecture herself, Kazuyo Sejima, together with Ryue Nishizawa -- they are the founders of the architectural studio known as SANAA. 

I had seen Kazuyo Sejima earlier at the press conference with Paolo Baratta, and she did not speak much. I wondered if it was because English was not her first language, or whether she did not communicate verbally with words. I later watched a video interview of Sejima and Nishizawa, and that is how she is, using her hands to write in the air, and trailing off in the middle of a sentence. But if she can manifest a building like the Rolex Learning Center into reality, I think Sejima can communicate with us Earthlings in whatever way she wants to. 

The first time I saw the film, I felt a powerful emotion. I felt... peace. I felt the tension slip out of me. I exhaled deeply, and felt my eyes grow moist. The knot I have been holding inside for far too long gently untangled. I must have watched the film four times, lulled by Megan Gay's voice and Thom Hanreich's music as the camera traveled slowly up and down, inside and out of the enormous continuous three-dimensional space. I was excited because one of the first stories I'd ever written as a child was about a house that could talk, and here was the concept on film -- except this structure was endless, more like a enclosed park than a building. The building was alive, and speaking. Wim Wenders had captured its soul. She (the building) said things like:

"One of my favorite things is to catch the light and help you feel it better. Make it more...visible... to you? I love the light, and forgive me if I sound immodest, but the light loves me, too."

"I am an intimate public space, and that's not a contradiction."

"You might think of the slopes that I have as waves -- waves frozen in time."

"I love books. I love to be a place for reading... to indulge in reading and forget about everything else around you..."

From Wim Wenders:

If Buildings Could Talk...
... some of them would sound like Shakespeare.
Others would speak like the Financial Times,
yet others would praise God, or Allah.
Some would just whisper,
some would loudly sing their own praises,
while others would modestly mumble a few words
and really have nothing to say.
Some are plain dead and don’t speak anymore...

Click HERE to read the rest of Wender's description.

I finally pulled myself away and went through the rest of Arsenale, and then went back and watched the film some more. I felt like I was witnessing something extraordinary; that some kind of breakthrough had been achieved. (That image is from Rolex's High Class Watch, which has a good article about the building.)

Then this morning I went to the press conference held by Wim Wenders, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, and listened to their creative process. They all seemed just as surprised by the result. Wenders said that he was pleased when he got the invitation to do an installation several months ago. He went to the building in Lausanne and got lost for about four days. (When you see the film, you will understand how it is possible to get lost for four days in that particular structure.) Wenders said it was more like a landscape than a building, with hills and valleys. One journalist asked if the building felt Japanese, and Wenders said, yes, speaking as a European, the building feels Japanese. That its utter simplicity leads to the greatest complexity. When he said that, I thought -- that's what I'm feeling. That beautiful, particular kind of floating Japanese energy, so serene and peaceful, a contemporary structure that can only be produced by a culture whose foundation stretches back to antiquity. It is as if SANAA lifted up an enormous cloud composed of the finest elements of Japan and placed it gently into Switzerland. And that Rolex sponsored such an innovative learning center exemplifies the highest level of cultural exchange between business and humanity, and makes me want to start wearing a watch. To see a short two-dimensional film from The Rolex Center website, click here:

Wim Wenders said if it were up to him, he would still be in there shooting different angles. He said that it has always been difficult to figure out a way for architecture to be placed into a narrative. As a novelist, I found that problem fascinating -- I had never thought about it before. After seeing Wender's film, I think it would be really exciting to experiment in more collaborations between architects and storytellers.

Wenders said that he should change the title of the installation from "If Buildings Could Talk" to "Now that Buildings Can Talk."

Ciao from the 12th Mostra Internazionale di Architettura,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog

P.S. This year there is even an app for your iPad called iBiennale, which I think is a very cool idea:

1 comment:

  1. That outer-space object you see is a contemporary piece of functioning art, otherwise known as a "building." It is an enormous structure, the new Rolex Learning Center, which opened in February 2010, and was built on the campus of EPFL, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland.