NEW YORK — "Is there something architects share?" asked president of the Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta. "Do they refer to each other or are they just isolated geniuses to which we ask from time to time to produce a firework? Do they talk to each other?"
London-based architect David Chipperfield, the curator of this year's Venice Biennale International Exhibition of Architecture, has enthusiastically answered yes. "Chipperfield accepts the idea of taking this point of view, of architecture as a discipline — and the world of architects as the world of those who share a common ground," said Baratta. Yesterday the two spoke at the New York Italian Cultural Institute (although Chipperfield appeared over Skype from London) to preview "Common Ground," the theme for the bi-annual architecture exhibition's 13th installment. The title refers to the dual nature of architects’ relationships with one another: while the common misconception is that they work in relative isolation, they’re united both in an architectural culture that shares the same history and ambitions, and in their separation from other art forms. "An artist can go home and make a painting or a sculpture or dream up an idea," Chipperfield said. "We need to be commissioned. We are strange animals; we have to be both complicit and independent. We are not only convincing the studios to fund our work, we are convincing our citizens."
In order to present an array of generationally, culturally, and geographically diverse exhibits, Chipperfield recruited 104 participants including newcomers from five countries making their first appearance at the Biennale (Angola, Kosovo, Kuwait, Peru, and Turkey) to present 58 different projects. An entire home from India will be constructed by hand on the festival grounds, while photographs of the space underneath Norman Foster's Shanghai bank by Andreas Gursky will be on view. Both projects take very different approaches to finding Chipperfield's requisite common ground: The former represents a true collaboration between architect, technician, and craftsman, while the latter shows images of Filipino workers appropriating Foster’s space on the weekends to create temporary villages out of cardboard boxes where they take their breakfast and lunch. The combination of Foster’s models and sketches with Gursky’s photographs shows the multi-layered way a piece of architecture can be embraced by society. Other projects will use recreations of past architectural structures as a nod to a shared, collective memory among architects, or a history of intellectual common ground.
For their presentation in the U.S. Pavilion, the Institute of Urban Design will create "Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good," a survey of the positive results that came from architecture suffering through leaner years. Our current economic crisis and urban decline gave way to determined individuals who took it upon themselves to solve problems within their own environments, a kind of DIY urbanism that lead to guerilla bicycle lanes, reclamations of neglected public spaces, and pop-up markets by architects, designers, and average citizens you've likely never heard of.
In many ways, the Venice Architecture Biennale can effectively be considered its art counterpart's little sister — it borrows the same concept, organization, and language of exhibition as the Art Biennale, and is now only in its 13th installment. But Chipperfield’s festival emphasizes architecture as its own entity, a separate world, the needs of which allow it to make vastly more tangible contributions to society.