The International Exhibition
Open to the public from Saturday May 28th to Sunday November 27th 2016 at the Giardini and the Arsenale, the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, titled REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, is directed by Alejandro Aravena and organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta. The preview took place on May 26th and 27th, the awards ceremony and inauguration was held on Saturday May 28th 2016.
The Exhibition also includes 63 National Participations in the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the historic city centre of Venice. Four countries are participating for the first time: Philippines, Nigeria, Seychelles and Yemen.
The Italian Pavilion at the Tese delle Vergini in the Arsenale, sponsored and promoted by the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, Direzione Generale Arte e Architettura Contemporanee e Periferie Urbane, has been assigned to the curatorial team TAMassociati: Massimo Lepore, Raul Pantaleo, and Simone Sfriso.
The Exhibition REPORTING FROM THE FRONT is laid out in a unitary exhibition sequence from the Central Pavilion (Giardini) to the Arsenale, and includes 88 participants from 37 different countries. 50 of them are participating for the first time, and 33 architects are under the age of 40.
“The lady on the ladder who, climbing up onto the highest steps can gaze over a far broader horizon, and by doing so conquers an “expanded eye”, announces the Biennale Architettura 2016 curated by Alejandro Aravena. We immediately loved this picture – stated President Paolo Baratta - because in a way it represents La Biennale as a whole, with our attitudes and our goals.
“It is also in part a counterpoint to the image chosen for the most recent Biennale Arte. The symbol selected last year by Okwui Enwezor – Baratta noted - was Paul Klee’s famous “Angelus Novus” as interpreted by Walter Benjamin; the winged angel looking backwards in shock, seeing only the past and in the past, debris and tragedy, but also insights that could be useful some day, in a future towards which the hidden forces of providence are driving him, like a wind blowing on his wings.”
“What does the lady see? I think - commented Baratta -mainly desolated land comprising immense swathes of human habitation which no human could be proud of; great disappointments representing a sad, infinite number of missed opportunities for humanity’s ability to act intelligently. Much of this is tragic, much is banal, and it seems to mark the end of architecture. But she also sees signs of creativity and hope, and she sees them in the here-and-now, not in some uncertain aspirational, ideological future.”
“Is this a sign of optimism? We have often deplored, in previous Biennale Exhibitions – the President recalled – that our present time seems to be characterised by increasing disconnection between architecture and civil society. Previous Exhibitions have addressed this in different ways. This time, we wish to investigate more explicitly whether and where there are any trends going in the other direction, towards renewal; we are seeking out encouraging messages.”
“And we are not just interested in exhibiting concrete results for critical appraisal. We also want to see into the phenomenology of how these positive examples came about. In other words: what drives the demand for architecture; how are needs and desires identified and expressed; which logical, institutional, legal, political and administrative processes lead to demand for architecture and how they allow architecture to come up with solutions which go beyond the banal and self-harming.”
“Because this is clearly a serious impasse; not as much in architecture as a discipline, but in human organisation, in our ability to harness it, be saved by it and enter into dialogue with it.”
“We feel the need to highlight how positive outcomes have been achieved through the evolution of decision-making chains which link need - awareness - opportunity - choice - execution in a way that leads to a result where “architecture makes the difference”, as Aravena puts it.”
“We are not interested in architecture as the manifestation of a formal style, but rather as an instrument of self-government, of humanist civilisation, and as a demonstration of the ability of humans to become masters of their own destinies.”
“Architecture in action as an instrument of social and political life, challenges us to assess the public consequences of private actions at a more fundamental level.”
“Presenting architecture in action is also one of the answers to the permanent question raised by La Biennale. What is an architecture exhibition? – asked Baratta. And what should an architecture biennale be? In the Biennale Arte, which is the parent of the Biennale Architettura, the works are there in front of the visitors; with an architecture exhibition, the works are elsewhere. What should there be here? And indeed, the search goes on. We must avoid turning into a magazine, a convention, a critical essay, or a place for specialists alone: an exhibition just for architects. We also need to avoid condescension and falling into the trap whereby architects are tempted to present themselves as artists.”
“We need to engage with the public and with all possible stakeholders in the decisions and actions whereby our living spaces are created, both as individuals and as communities. As Architecture is the most political of all the arts - concluded the President - "the Biennale Architettura must recognise this.”
“In his trip to South America – related Alejandro Aravena - Bruce Chatwin encountered an old lady walking the desert carrying an aluminium ladder on her shoulder. It was German archaeologist Maria Reiche studying the Nazca lines. Standing on the ground, the stones did not make any sense; they were just random gravel. But from the height of the stair those stones became a bird, a jaguar, a tree or a flower. “
Aravena thus expressed his hope that the Biennale Architettura 2016 might “offer a new point of view like the one Maria Reiche has on the ladder. Given the complexity and variety of challenges that architecture has to respond to, REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about listening to those that were able to gain some perspective and consequently are in the position to share some knowledge and experiences with those of us standing on the ground.”
“We believe - explained Aravena - that the advancement of architecture is not a goal in itself but a way to improve people’s quality of life. Given that life ranges from very basic physical needs to the most intangible dimensions of the human condition, consequently, improving the quality of the built environment is an endeavour that has to tackle many fronts: from guaranteeing very concrete, down-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires, from respecting the single individual to taking care of the common good, from efficiently hosting daily activities to expanding the frontiers of civilization.“
The curator’s proposal is therefore twofold: “on the one hand we would like to widen the range of issues to which architecture is expected to respond, adding explicitly to the cultural and artistic dimensions that already belong to our scope, those that are on the social, political, economical and environmental end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we would like to highlight the fact that architecture is called to respond to more than one dimension at a time, integrating a variety of fields instead of choosing one or another.”
“REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about sharing with a broader audience, the work of people who are scrutinizing the horizon looking for new fields of action, facing issues like segregation, inequalities, peripheries, access to sanitation, natural disasters, housing shortage, migration, informality, crime, traffic, waste, pollutionand the participation of communities. And simultaneously it will be about presenting examples where different dimensions are synthesized, integrating the pragmatic with the existential, pertinence and boldness, creativity and common sense. “
“It is not easy – concluded Aravena – to achieve such a level of expansion and synthesis; they are battles that need to be fought. The always menacing scarcity of means, the ruthless constraints, the lack of time and urgencies of all kinds are a constant threat that explain why we so often fall short in delivering quality. The forces that shape the built environment are not necessarily amicable either: the greed and impatience of capital or the single mindedness and conservatism of the bureaucracy tend to produce banal, mediocre and dull built environments. These are the frontlines from which we would like different practitioners to report, sharing success stories and exemplary cases where architecture did, is and will make a difference.”