The Road that Crossed the Ocean
Director Biennale Architecture 1980 and 1982
11st September 2010, 2:00 p.m.
Paolo Portoghesi, the first director of the independent Architecture sector, from 1979 to 1982, tells the story of the Teatro del Mondo and the Via Novissima, built for the First International Architecture Exhibition in 1980, entitled “The Presence of the Past”.
Capturing in embryo what is taking place in the field of art: this, to me, is the specific mission of the Biennale di Venezia, an institution to which I enthusiastically dedicated eleven years of my life, from 1979, when I was appointed director of the Architecture sector, to 1992, when I ended my second mandate as president, remaining true to this principle.
The Via Novissima was conceived at the end of 1979 as a way to avoid the dominating formula for architecture exhibitions, unsuitable for layman audiences, which relied on the display of photographs and models, neglecting the perception of space, the fundamental matrix of every work of architecture with a capital A. The success of the Teatro del Mondo, favourably received by the Venetians and published in hundreds of magazines, encouraged me to proceed along the path of exhibiting not only ideas, but actual three-dimensional architecture. Furthermore, a fair in Berlin, in Alexander Platz before it was rebuilt, featuring pavilions that imitated the houses in a small town, suggested how to fulfill my dream. We asked twenty architects from every part of the world to design the façades of small human-scale houses, to align in the recently occupied space of the Corderie dell’Arsenale, a gallery almost three hundred meters long that the Ministry of Defense and the Admiralty of Venice gave in concession to the Biennale, thanks to my personal intercession, freeing it from the bulky World War I residues that it was filled with.
Among the twenty architects, chosen from upcoming international talents - Venturi, Gehry, Koolhsas, Hollein, Isozaki, Graves, Stern, Krier, Bofill, Ungers, Dardi, Purini, Anselmi, Gordon-Smith, Moore, Tygerman, Greenberg, Scolari, Kleihues and Portzamparc – many became the protagonists of what happened in architecture in recent decades. The defection of Portzamparc forced me to replace the author of the twentieth façade, which I personally designed with Francesco Cellini and Claudio d’Amato. Along with the architects of Via Novissima, the protagonist of the event was Aldo Rossi with the Teatro del Mondo, which was used to show his projects during the Exhibition, and the four towers built in the campo in front of the great entrance to the space of the Corderie.
The Via Novissima was preceded by exhibition-tributes to the three masters of architecture Philip Johnson, Mario Ridolfi and Ignazio Gardella, and followed by a pavilion entrusted to critics Charles Jencks and Christian Norberg Schulz. An adjoining space held the exhibition “The Banal Object” curated by Alessandro Mendini. On the top floor of the Corderie, in addition to a retrospective tribute to Ernesto Basile, there was an exhibition of the works of 50 young architects, each of which was asked to produce a symbolic self-portrait. This section too featured, for the first time, names that would play an important role in the architecture of coming decades. The exhibition later traveled to Paris for the Festival d’Automne, in the ancient hospital of La Salpetrière, with the addition, this time, of the façade by Portzamparc and, was later taken to San Francisco, in the pavilion at Fort Mason, thanks to the generous support of a local association of the Friends of the Biennale, chaired at the time by Virginia Westhover.
The meeting on September 11, accompanied by a small exhibition, will serve to take stock, thirty years later, of the cultural significance of an event that deemed it relevant to bring together a group of architects, to meet head-on within the scenario of the city in one of the great archetypes of the earth’s anthropization: the street, as the matrix of urban space. During the meeting, there will be a re-evocation of the ample debate that followed the exhibition on post-Modernism, with the participation of leading intellectuals in various disciplines.
For the meeting on September 11, invitations to participate have been extended not only to the organizers such as Francesco Cellini and Claudio D’Amato, but also to some of the architects who designed the façades of the Via Novissima.