2014 Venice Architecture Biennale

By Asst. Professor Rene van Meeuwen, Guest Commentator, 5 March 2014

Pier Luigi Nervi & Co, Cathedral Abbey and Benedictine Monastery. Digital Reconstruction Matt Delroy-Carr, Keith Reid, Scott Horsburgh

The Venice Architecture Biennale is a special time and place, for the conversations, the connections and the competition. It is the Olympics of Architecture, where architectural athletes compete in the exploration of ideas and the wonders of our built environment. 

 Architecture can be built and unbuilt. There have been historical moments when the only architecture that was viable was in unbuilt form, often referred to as paper architecture. Two such moments were post-French Revolution with architects such as Boullée and Ledoux, and then the work of Constructivist architects after the Russian Revolution. Both these moments saw architecture used as a propaganda campaign to mark shifts in societal thinking. It was a deliberate celebration of a new order, but remaining operative in its motives as a way of reinforcing these changes through acts of architectural design. 

The thesis of the Australian exhibit for the 2014 International Architecture Biennale marks out similar territory, using the unbuilt of the everyday. So instead of the works being charged with a purpose, they become placeholders of a societal moment rather than its motivation. The work offers a lens into the state of play rather than trying to determine it. Rem Koolhaas has themed the Biennale as “Fundamentals 1914- 2014”, calling for the exhibits to be about buildings – not about architects. Our team has immersed itself in this brief, resulting in the exhibition Augmented Australia 1914-2014. We believe that Australia, as a country, has much to offer in the debate about architecture and globalisation. More specifically, Australia has always utilised its architecture and urbanity to reinforce its national identity.

Using the Koolhaas time frame, the team sampled a series of historical projects designed for Australia that, for various reasons, were never built. We were able to explore Koolhaas’s proposition that globalisation has made architecture generic to the point that national styles of architecture no longer exist. Twenty-three projects, both historic and contemporary, were selected to determine whether Koolhaas’s proposition is the case in Australia. Architecture is thus allowed to tell the story. That stated, the outcome was as we hoped and expected: architecture in Australia has a national identity – however, it is neither a style nor an aesthetic. The identity we have found is an attitude, a profound endeavour to explore and critique ideas, an antidote to globalisation. Australian architecture is maybe the oldest and the youngest from two standpoints. Evidence suggests that one of the earliest settlements existed at Lake Mungo in New South Wales. The indigenous people of this region used the lake to harvest fish and mussels thereby establishing the ability to support a primitive settlement dating back 40,000 – 60,000 years. At the other point is the colonisation of Australia since 1788, just over 220 years ago.

The Venice Architecture Biennale is a special time and place, for the conversations, the connections and the competition. It is the Olympics of Architecture, where architectural athletes compete in the exploration of ideas and the wonders of our built environment. The projects presented through Augmented Australia engage directly with Koolhaas’s theme and his research interests. The exhibition in its entirety will be delivered via an App for smart devices in and around Venice during the Biennale. Using the latest in Augmented Reality technology participants will be able to inhabit the buildings while also engaging in high definition animations of key features of each of the designs.

 

For more information on the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale

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