The kingdom of architectural visions closes its doors

Laura Salmi
Monday 24 Nov 2008

Venice rests after 70 days of archi-centric installations, pavilions, workshops and talks

“What this is, Ladies and Gentleman, is not your standard Architecture Biennale”. It is with these promising and challenging words that Aaron Betsky, this year’s director, introduced the 11th International Architecture Exhibition at the Opening Ceremony on the 13th of September in Venice. Fast forward to the 23rd of November: more than 100.000 visitors have been up and down the many venues and have been puzzled and amazed, bored and enlightened by installations, projected realities, stages, manifestos and utopian visions created by 55 participating countries and a plethora of architects that accepted Betsky’s challenge to produce unique pieces for this year’s Biennale.

Out There: Architecture Beyond Building was this year’s title and and experimentation it’s core aim. The director expanded on its vision: “A good Biennale is an attempt to find that architecture, which is most acutely understanding its purpose, its task, its possibility, its dreams, its fear. I think that a Biennale, if it works, is of the present, of what we are dreaming of and what we are afraid of now.”

Visitors were drawn into a myriad of scenarios that confronted their perception of architecture, space, time, life and more; the technicolor world of ’the Hall of Fragments’ by David Rockwell with Casey Jones + Reed Kroloff borrowed from film imagery to reflect on architecture’s visionary power; Gareth Hoskins Architects designed Scotland’s first ever stand-alone pavilion to welcome collateral events; Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei produced a large dream-like walk in installation; Frank Gehry created a wooden sculptural piece inspired by pictures taken during the construction of the Statue of Liberty.

The proud recipients of the prestigious Lion Awards were Nicolas Grospierre and Kobas Laksa of the Polish pavilion (Golden Lion Best National Participation) with Hotel Polonia - The afterlife of buildings, a witty and polemic vision of the probable future of buildings; Greg Lynn (Golden Lion Best Installation Project) for his experimental recycled-toys furniture that according to the jury “best embodied the Biennale theme"; Elemental of Chile (Silver Lion for a Promising Young Architect) for the expert architectural intelligence applied to the context of low cost housing; James S. Ackerman, the first historian of Architecture to receive the Special Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

With a 5 minutes thunderous applause accompanied by a standing ovation, Frank Gehry gladly received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement and recognised the importance of the Biennale: “I don’t know of any other event in the world that does this that highlights the work of so many architects from all different countries from over the world and exposes some of them for the first time to international audiences and that is an incredible thing and out of this comes the recognition and the growth of the profession of architecture in a very positive way so I am very proud to be proud of it. Thank you.”

Many were the admirers and supporters of the exhibition but some criticized its abstractions and self-indulgence and felt the language of architecture was getting too confused with the one of art. But Aaron Betsky with a smile welcomed the idea: “If people want to call it art, they can call it art. We usually call things that are useless and beautiful art, if that means that this Biennale in which the objects are useless and beautiful is art, then I would be happy.”

With more architects and visitors present than all previous years, the Venice Architecture Biennale has once again set its supremacy on the architectural world.

Laura Salmi

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