10 November 2010

Beyond Beyond Building, Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

At this years Venice Architecture Biennale a series of talks called Architecture Saturdays have been held where directors of past Biennale have been invited back to hold "conversations" in front of a live audience. On Saturday 31st October Aaron Betsky, curator of the 2008 Biennale 'Out There: Beyond Building' took part in a panel discussion with Wolf Prix (Coop Himmelb(l)au), Winny Maas (MVRDV) and Hani Rashid (Asymptote Architecture) entitled 'Beyond Beyond Building.'

Left to Right: Winny Maas, Aaron Betsky, Hani Rashid, Wolf Prix

In his opening address Betsky, speaking to the large audience in the Teatro alle Tese, summed up the 2008 Biennale (which I must admit I did not attend) as a response to how "... buildings were no longer adequate to achieve the effects, the realisation, the ways in which we could critically experience our world of which they, if they have ever been capable of, were no longer today." During this prologue to proceedings he also attacked the 2010 Biennale, questing why Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA) had been selected to direct the Biennale (thoughts echoed in a recent Review in Icon Magazine). The tone set was one of questioning the relevance of the material exhibited this year and how exactly it demonstrated the title 'People Meet in Architecture.'

Following the introduction, each of the three contributors were invited to give a brief presentation on what they had been working on the in the two years since Beyond Building (hence the title Beyond Beyond). As is often the case when Architects are given a captive audience to speak to the presentations were not brief but this does not mean that they were anything less than lively, interesting and highly informative.

Rashid gave a whistle stop tour of the practice's work starting with the installations designed for the 2008 Biennale and ending on the Yas Marina Hotel, scene to the closing race of the 2010 Formula One World Championship. The work shown reflected the practice's rapid evolution from the experimental to large-scale built projects, all of which employ the technique of 'digital sketching.'

Yas Marina Hotel, Asymptote Architecture

Maas gave a self assured presentation in which he focused on his new venture - The Why Factory. Racing through two projects to have been published by the Think Tank that has grown out of the prolific practice MVRDV and a collaboration with Delft University of Technology - Visionary Cities and Green Dream. Maas called for an end to the suffix 'Re' to words so that "instead of (re)generation there is only generation ... no more (re)thinking, simply thinking."

Visionary Cities by The Why Factory
Prix touched lightly upon several projects during his segment, lingering longest on the Mini Opera Pavilion recently built in Munich, however it was his analysis of what exactly Beyond Beyond Building meant that was most memorable. He began by saying how he found the term very negative until he thought how a "minus and minus gives plus so that means its positive." Prix felt we should "think that beyond beyond is not the end of architecture, maybe its the start of a new one" and explained how he doesn't "look for the next because looking for next and next and next reminds [him] of a wheel which is spinning so fast that it looks [like] its still standing. We should be aware that still stand is death. Only going forward means life."

The panel discussion that followed was really a series of questions posed to each individual architect by Betsky as a response to the earlier presentations. There was however one lively debate where Betsky attempted to define each of the Architects in a 'modernist' box placing them in either Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe camps which sparked off discussions as to whether or not these two alone summed up architectural styles of the past century. Ultimately it was hard to find a common thread running throughout the event that constituted something that was Beyond Beyond Building.

If the 2008 Biennale had been a reflection of the excesses of the past decade, with the growth in iconic buildings and the fantasising of a future based on far different economic circumstances that we find ourselves today, then the 2010 Biennale reflects the present or the very near past - neither of which are Beyond Beyond. For something to be 'Beyond Beyond Building' today needs to reflect the current conditions (socially, economically, etc) that the present world inhabits, perhaps a middle ground between the two Biennale's would represent the ideal - visionary and progressive but rooted in the 'real' and achievable.