A century of 'painful process' at Venice Architecture Biennale 2014

  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014

Architects from around the world, including Malaysia, gather for the Venice Architecture Biennale festival, looking at how ideas of modernity have influenced architecture over the past century.

Dutch star architect Rem Koolhaas, the curator of the giant event which is held every two years, said this year's “provocative” edition was all about how different countries have adapted to modernity in design over the past 100 years.

“Modernisation is a very often painful process,” said Koolhaas, a winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize who is known for his unconventional designs and city living theory. “Somehow every nation in the last 100 years has been forced to modernise itself, and forced to adapt to a condition that is currently dictating the direction of the world,” he said.

Koolhas stressed that the festival was about architecture rather than big-name architects. “It is really ironic : not a single pavilion talks about Mies, Le Corbusier, or any one else. So in that sense, it is perhaps a lesson of the importance of architecture but a lesson of modesty for the big names,” he said.

The Biennale this year will be a blockbuster edition. Koolhaas has been preparing it for the past two years with a team of 187 people and it will last six months instead of the usual three, running from June 7 until Nov 23. Eleven countries including Ivory Coast, Kenya and Turkey are taking part for the first time in the Biennale that Koolhaas said was intended to be more about “research” than presenting a finished product to the public.

Willfully provocative

Some of the exhibits at the Biennale — entitled Fundamentals — are willfully provocative, like the boring office ceiling with exposed pipework at the beginning of the exhibition, which is suspended under a dome that illustrates the soaring ambitions of architects in the past. Koolhaas said this was intended to show that architects now are often confined to superficial changes instead of getting involved in the structures of buildings.

Another part of the exhibition brings together replicas of spectacular doorways from different parts of the world, ending up with a gray airport security scanner. There is also a toilet room featuring a range from the hi-tech Japanese facility to a Roman latrine and different sections with a bewildering variety of walls and windows.

What lies beneath: A 'false ceiling' with its hidden concatenation of pipes and vents — a totally modern architectural invention — installed under a Renaissance-era dome, presents itself as a visual metaphor for the Venice Architectural Biennale 2014, which seeks to explore the impact of modernity on the narrative of architecture. Below, a light installation at the entrance to the Monditalia exhibit space at the Biennale. 

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