Rising Architects Hit the "Street" in Shenzhen With a Show of Futuristic Façades

"Tri-Colonnade" by SO-IL, New York
(Courtesy SO-IL)

The fourth annual Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, titled “Architecture Creates Cities. Cities Create Architecture,” is well underway, helmed by former Miami Art Museum director and current partner at architectural firm K/RTerence Riley.

Riley (whom you may remember stunned the art world by abruptly departing from his post at MAM in 2009) is the first non-Chinese person to serve as the biennale's chief curator. He is presenting a program of more than 30 exhibitions, symposiums, panel discussions, and performances that explore architecture as an agent for cultural growth in cities, as well as address issues of sustainability and urban vitality. Among these exhibitions is “The Street,” a play on "La Strada Novissima" ("The Newest Street") from the first modern architecture biennale in 1980 in Venice. Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi invited 20 of the time's most influential architects — Frank GehryRem KoolhaasRobert Venturi, and others — to design façades for exhibition spaces displaying their latest work. 

"The installations and façades create the ‘street’ even as the ‘street’ provides the structural basis of the architecture," said Riley in a statement. "Unlike the 1980 Venice exhibition however, the architects of the 'Street 'have been encouraged to design façades – or, as it has turned out, non-façades – that are spatial and material rather than two-dimensional."

Riley's 2012 version tapped the talents of architects hailing from five continents, selected for their diversity in style and approach: Shanghai’s Atelier Deshaus;  Alejandro Aravena of Santiago, Chile; New York-Barcelona hybrid Fake Industries Architectural Agonism; Sao Paolo’s spbr; New York’s SO-IL and Aranda Lasch; Berlin’s J. Mayer H. (who earlier this year unveiled this stunning immigration checkpoint on the border of Georgia); Los Angeles’s JohnstonMarkLee; Beijing’s Open Architecture and MAD Architecture; Seoul’s Mass Studies; and Beirut-Cambridge collaborators Hashim Sarkis Studios. Like Portoghesi's "Newest Street," the facades are arranged in rows facing each other. Given equal amounts of space, the architects used these façades to express their own individual design philosophies. 

Los Angeles-based JohnstonMarkLee has created "1787," an exterior of stacked blocks surrounded by curved mirrored surfaces on three sides for a panoramic, self-examining effect for its visitors. Inspired by the security lining of business envelopes, J. Mayer H. created "Façades of Countenance," an exterior of maze-like curving lines mimicking that familiar Data Protection Pattern that provides commentary on the thin line between public and private domains. Mass Studies’s “(N)ON Façade” is made of LED projections of drawings, photographs, and renderings of their current projects, while MAD Architects’s “Boundless” exhibits their work behind the façade of a black sphere, punctuated with peepholes through which visitors may sneak a peek.

The row of architectural installations evokes a sense of walking through a boulevard of storefronts — a representation, no doubt, of the biennale’s goal of providing a cultural marketplace of ideas.

Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale Of Urbanism\Architecture runs through February 18. To see more façades featured on the “The Street,” click the slide show above.