Civil society is made up of individuals and institutions, and these do not always seem capable of identifying the requirements for organizing the space we live in. They are often unable to explore the potential that architecture offers, unable to look at or consider the possible new, the possible different. On the other hand, look at the world of architects: they have too often been asked to construct objects that would be akin to a scream in the midst of mediocrity, to design buildings that would astonish and attract attention because of their communicative effect, thinking in this way that they have crafted a foil against the mediocrity of other building and urban developments. Not by chance architects were in the past entrusted with the creation of celebratory works such as opera theaters, large museums, banks’ headquarters, and luxury hotels in exotic countries. We have used these architects as if they were celebrity pastry chefs who are being asked to create stunning wedding cakes. For this reason the public now increasingly considers them as the lords of the feast, capable of offering us something sensational but that has nothing to do with the organization of individual or civil life.
In order to mend this fracture, la Biennale can make its contribution primarily by posing these as its themes. While not denying that there is a problem in the relationship between architecture and ecology, architecture and technology, and architecture and town planning, the crux is to mend the fracture between architecture and civil society. From Aaron Betsky’s provocation, according to which the fabricated or built object is the tomb of architecture (Architecture beyond building, as a provocative maxim, was not entirely understood), to Kazuyo Sejima, who considers architecture through the language of its society, and erects works whose message is the absence of hierarchies and respect for function, obtained through transparency and simplicity of form (People meet in architecture emphasized precisely the fact that architecture is the place where people meet, live, and act). It is only a short step from here to Common Ground, this year’s theme, but in the same direction: going back to talking about architecture to help architects emerge from the crisis of identity they are going through, and at the same time offering the public a chance to look inside architecture, make it familiar and discover that something can be asked of it, that something different is possible, that we are not condemned to passive acceptance.
This year there will be thoughts and reflections, ideas and conflicts. This conception of the exhibition inevitably provokes a modification not only in the relationship between architect and curator, but also a change in the approach of the architects called upon to work out their participation. The exhibition thus becomes a space in which they realize an idea and a system of relations between architecture of both past and present, whereby that which is exhibited is reciprocally valued. This is an important innovation in the history of architecture exhibitions. Unlike the past, when each architect or artist was given a space, thus individualizing their participation, this year there will mainly be exhibition rooms filled with works by different architects rather than celebrations of single works.
This year’s will be an exhibition made up of resonances, where the irrevocable relationship between architecture, space, and town planning will re-emerge from the notes of the resonance. One sees, for example, the interest of the architects taking part in the city, with particular attention paid to the recovery of existing buildings and the upgrading of urban spaces: Kazuyo Sejima herself, who formulated the exhibition she directed on the work of individual architects, is taking part this year with an installation whose theme is the reconstruction of Mijato-jima island, which was destroyed by the tsunami. Or one looks to those participants who have drawn inspiration from the close link with past masters, remote or recent (Toshiko Mori with Carlo Scarpa and Piranesi, FAT and Andrea Palladio, the San Rocco “world of references,” and so forth), or instigated associations with other grand contemporary colleagues (Grafton Architects and Paulo Mendes da Rocha, the Ruta del Peregrino grouping, Kenneth Frampton and Steven Holl, Gort Scott and Renzo Piano…).
Or, again, one looks to built architecture, from full scale reconstructions of existing buildings (Anupama Kundoo, who literally transported craft techniques and materials from India to the Corderie at the Arsenale) to the fluidity of forms and spaces that Zaha Hadid managed to make emerge from intricate balances of structural forces; from the materialization of the concept of architectural and cultural heritage as a basis “for the search for and construction of new realities” made by Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus (who were inspired by the mighty architecture of the Gaggiandre at the Arsenale), through to the structures arising out of the association of Alvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura, which perfectly show how this exhibition echoes and expands a precise exemplification made by Bice Curiger (director of the 54th International Art Exhibition), which she called para pavilions.
The evolution of the exhibition is in step with that of the public, which not only increases numerically but seems more and more qualitatively important. This is thanks to la Biennale’s initiatives, devised to make the 13th International Architecture Exhibition a reference point for new generations, who must be given room for verification and comparison that is not only habitual communication but a place enriched with new stimuli. In order to emphasize the nature of la Biennale as a place of research and enquiry, this year more than sixty Italian and foreign Faculties of Architecture will take part in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition thanks to a project we have called the Biennale Sessions. Each university will bring about fifty students and teachers to spend three days with all the possible facilities, to look at proposals from the world over and organize a seminar. I hope that this will function as a mainspring to make young people realize that one cannot not participate. The exhibition will consolidate this action as the most significant international moment in the field of architecture.
My thanks go the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, who, despite these difficult times for public finances, have maintained their decisive support; the territorial Institutions who have in various ways given their support to la Biennale; the City of Venice; and the Veneto Region. We would also like to extend our thanks to the different Authorities who have been involved and displayed an interest in the structures within which our exhibition has operated—from the Ministry of Defense to Venice’s Superintendents. A special thanks also goes to the sponsors, who have offered their crucial help, and to all those who have contributed to the success of each individual participation; a warm welcome must also be extended to all our visitors! And, finally, our heartfelt thanks also go to David Chipperfield, his staff, and la Biennale’s operative structures, who have all contributed to the forging of yet another masterpiece.