Venice Biennale 2012: Common Ground
The theme for the 13th Venice Biennale as defined by David Chipperfield is Common Ground. Common ground has a wide range of interpretations from the very process of architecture and its language of communication to the operation of architecture as a framework for everyday life. The city of Venice inevitably permeates as another “common ground” and contextual layer of the experience in the Bienniale's installations that will be on view from August 29 to November 25. And of course the pavilions themselves, built mostly within the early modern period of the 20th century, serve as a counterpoint to the definition of our contemporary condition. These three elements—the city, the pavilions, and the installations—combined with an incredible gathering of individuals and dialog make the event a fantastically rich experience.
Several of the pavilions interrogate the specific site of the Biennale itself as a foil to reveal today's common ground. The Nordic Pavilion has invited 30 young Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish architecture firms to respond to the poetic site of the Sverre Fehn–designed pavilion that is now 50 year old under the title “Light Houses.” The Finnish gem of a pavilion designed by Alvar Aalto in 1956 is also site for a group of Finnish architects to exhibit new forms in wood. Aalto's beautiful and experimental pavilion, originally intended as a temporary pavilion to be dismantled and reassembled, has just been reformed in wood following its destruction last year in a storm by a fallen tree after standing for 56 years. The renovation of the Aalto pavilion is one of the most subtle and remarkable works in the biennale, completed by a young Italian architect Gianni Talamini.
The most successful installations are large-scale interventions that directly engage the exhibition spaces where they are installed whether they are in the pavilions or the Arsenale. These installations are immersive and create an atmosphere that engages viewers on a multi-sensory level and create transformative visual and social experiences.
The collaborative installation by Venezuelan architects Urban Think Tank, writer Justin McGuirk, and photographer Iwan Baan has created a “stealth architecture” that is so thoroughly integrated into the Arsenale exhibition space that one might at first confuse it for a rest stop within the exhaustive exhibition. Their installation transforms the space into at once a gallery, an authentic Venezuelan restaurant, and active social space, complete with music and a party-like atmosphere for the common ground of discussion on the subject of informal occupation of the formalized space of the city. The case study for discussion is Torre David, a 45-story urban development failure in Caracas that has since been transformed by 750 families into a successful informal settlement. The project provides a new model for transforming the urban environment for an often-neglected percentage of people.
In all, the Biennale offers an incredibly diverse and dense display of ideas and responses that aim to provoke us to reconsider the role of the architect and the ways in which we create public life for citizens of the contemporary environment. The 2012 focus on dialog, context, collaboration, architecture without architects, reuse of existing buildings, and guerilla forms of architecture suggests a solid shift away from the old model of Starchitecture towards a new model of collective responsibility in design.