(Polish Translation)The Koolhaas’ party is over. Someone’s already switched the light on and the last couples have left the dancefloor. The ocean of exhibitions, lectures and accompanying events that lasted for a long five months, might surely give one a headache. After the room finally stopped spinning from absorbing too many views on modernity (or perhaps from having one glass too many of sparkling prosecco) what will be left in our architectural memory? Will the fourteenth Architecture Exhibition, called by some truly rebellious, influence and add to the ongoing discourse on changing practice and the role of the architect or will we wake up with a hangover?
The Koolhaas’ feast the day after
It was a hot summer in Venice this year. Under the merciless sun, a swarm of architects that flooded Giardini and adjacent Arsenale had to abandon their beloved black dress code in favor of a lighter palette. The Biennale kicked off in style. A number of invited researchers, OMA/AMO team and students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design joined forces and worked for two long years under the guidance of Rem Koolhaas, the host of this year’s Biennale. As a result of this investigation Rem served us his favorite, bitter-sweet cocktail, a true mixture of critique, humor and cynicism.
By dismantling a building into independent elements, Koolhaas brought architecture ‘back to basics’. In the Gardini, under the roof of the Central Pavilion he managed to gather a number of artifacts, a tangible encyclopedia of what a building is made of.
Meandering between exhibits in the soothing sounds of Rem’s favorite music, one could test the endurance of a kinetic floor, follow the evolution of a urinal or glimpse into the ‘intestines’ of a suspended ceiling. It’s there, in the domed chamber, where the recently restored gilded decorations have been partially covered by standardized sheets of a lowered ceiling system, where he makes his point:
‘The ceiling has become a thick volume full of machinery, of which the architect has very little to say. The expression has been reduced to that of a grid.’
The constantly accelerating process of modernization leaves less and less space for freedom of architectural expression. Standing in a tiny room with an army of technicians, project managers and developers, the designer’s involvement is often limited and shrank to the choice of assembling the building from a catalogue of ready-made elements. Proceeding digitalization and mechanization often lead to disappearance of an architectural sensitivity and symbolism.
‘If, for example, a fireplace was once an occasion for social gathering and ornamental embellishment, there are now sensors that can track an individual and provide heating specific to that one person. The provision of heat becomes a solitary, dematerialized and invisible affair’ – Rowan Moore states in his critique.
Russia’s trade fair
A charming hostess stood at the threshold of the Russian Pavilion, luring the visitor to come inside. Designed by Moscow’s Strelka Institute, the exhibition ‘Fair Enough’ has been awarded with one of the three Special Mentions for the national pavilions. Not surprisingly, the authors of the exposition responded to Koolhaas’ call for ‘Absorbing modernity: 1914 – 2014’ with a certain dose of irony– Rem himself is responsible for designing the institute’s educational program. Stepping inside, one could find himself at a trade fair, somewhere in a faraway land where the winters are long and cold.
The commercial stalls tightly positioned in a generic looking room showcase a hundred years long history of country’s modernization. ‘Russian’s past our present’ – states the neon outside the pavilion. Ideas, once produced in a radical Russian urban laboratory and charged with theoretical value, similarly to Rem’s building elements, have been stripped to their conceptual essence, ready to be sold, in a package-deal or independently, and exported to anyone, anywhere in the world. Architecture became a product of a standardization and once again mechanisms of globalization and commercialism have triumphed.
Just around the corner from the Biennale’s hustle, between San Marco square, jampacked with tourists and the famous Rialto bridge, stands one of many Venice’s palazzos– the building of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. This cultural institution, founded in 1869, hosting a museum and a library, has been restored in 1963 by Carlo Scarpa, an architect born and educated in Venice.
Rumors say he could spent hours moving a single line around on his drawings, focusing on the details. Other time, he would join the masons, perfecting the form and experience of his architecture on a site. You can almost trace his design process inside of a building, a careful layering of colors, textures and materials in creation of a truly sensual space.
Escaping Rem’s party I was left with insecurity and doubts. This year’s Biennale, focusing on architectural fundamentals raises question for which there are no easy answers. I don’t know what the future of architecture is, but here, at Scarpa’s museum I know that it does exceed the pages of a catalogue.