From his high perch as director of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, Rem Koolhaas told the world that the field of architecture is in crisis, and asked the event’s curators to look critically at Modernism and try to see with fresh eyes the fundamentals of architecture itself. Many pavilions responded with historiographic exhibitions documenting their country’s modernist experients in the last 100 years. Many of them read like glorified encyclopedia entries. By contrast, the curators of the U.S. Pavilion—Eva Franch i Gilabert, Ana Miliački, and Ashley Schafer of the New York-based OfficeUS—have created a working architectural office whose eight “partners” are actively engaged in wide-ranging research with the goal of constructing a new agenda for future architectural production.
These researchers and theorists have their work cut out for them. They are charged with surveying the production of American architects working abroad in the last 100 years, from Wright’s Imperial Hotel to Gehry’s Guggenheim and beyond. In addition, the researchers are expected to go far beyond forms and typologies to consider the culture of U.S. architects and how they participated in the exportation of business practices, design processes, ethics, and ideologies.
To that end, the OfficeUS has filled the U.S. Pavilion with all the trappings of a working architectural office, from drafting tables to shelves lined with project binders. However, they must share their files with the general public, who can access the same binders as the researchers themselves.
To create a working space for the partners, New York-based architecture firm Leong Leong has transformed the separate rooms of the rather stodgy—even kitschy—Palladian-style pavilion into what Franch i Gilabert calls a “continuous surface.” White plasterboard walls and strategically placed mirrors help “dematerialize” the building, she says, giving the impression that you are moving through a single, meandering room. At the same time a set of semi-transparent, modular drafting tables, also by Leong Leong, helps link separate spaces into an apparently continuous, if quirky, whole.