A daily bulletin of news & opinion

27 August 2010

The 12th International Architecture Biennale in Venice has this year been curated for the first time by a woman, and for the first time for a while, by an architect.

Kazuyo Sejima, one half of Japanese practice SANAA, is fast beginning to rival Zaha as architecture’s first lady. Her choice of theme “People meet in Architecture” was praised for addressing one of the frequent criticisms of former biennales – that too much on show was too removed from reality. “When they asked me to curate it, I didn’t think it would be possible,” Sejima said. “I’m thrilled it has come together. I chose this theme because I want the architects I invited to think about how people respond to architecture and space.”

Most of the biennale is divided between the verdant Giardini (or gardens) where 30 countries have permanent pavilions and the gargantuan, cavernous Arsenale – a former shipyard with original brick and beams intact. After a day spent tearing through both, this is what people are talking about:

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has been awarded the Golden Lion for his lifetime contribution to architecture and this year he is everywhere. His main show is a fascinating, thought-provoking exhibition about preservation. Twelve per cent of the world’s land mass is being protected, too much in Koolhaas’s opinion. He also unveiled a new project to turn a 13th-century building next to the Rialto, recently acquired by the Benetton family, into a luxury department store. “This is a perfect example of how preservation and development can work together,” Koolhaas said.

Architecture and craft is a hot topic. Studio Mumbai has a quietly magnificent exhibition in the Arsenale showing the various traditional Indian techniques of craft used in architecture, with piles of materials, paint and tools neatly laid out. Amateur Architecture from China, also in the Arsenale, is showing a traditional Chinese construction technique in the form of a giant, lattice wooden dome. The technique is so simple people with no architectural training can build it and dismantle it.

The Future of the City is a subject being tackled in various guises. German architect Jürgen Mayer H triumphed yesterday in a competition sponsored by Audi to design a blueprint for a city in 2030. “He combined technology with humanity, architecture with mobility,” said head juror Saskia Sassen, Columbia’s professor of Sociology.

And if there’s an overall theme thus far at the biennale, it’s problem solving. The mood is celebratory amongst critics. Finally here’s a biennale that is addressing real issues at stake in the architecture world, not simply an excuse for some creative muscle flexing and a glass of prosecco. Though of course there’s still plenty of the latter to be found.


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