That the most important architectural exhibition takes place in Venice can be no accident. Venice supplies a stage that no other city could for such an event. Its architecture, modest and grandiose, combines with the lagoon to create something beyond nature itself. The city shames us by its beauty, reminding us of the real possibilities of architecture, both as individual acts and as part of a greater vision.
Against all odds, Italy remains the spiritual home of architecture and it is here we can fully understand the importance of buildings not as individual spectacles but as the manifestations of collective values and as the settings for daily life. The sensibility and understanding of the people is without doubt the result of living amongst the world’s greatest patrimony of architecture and urbanism. This tangible sense of context and history remind us that our built world is a testament to the continuous evolution of architectural language and critical to our understanding of the world around us.
With this in mind, I was inspired to direct this Biennale towards concerns of continuity, context and memory, towards shared influences and expectations, and to address the apparent lack of understanding that exists between the profession and society.
The director of the Architecture Biennale has the privilege of inviting participants to exhibit in the Arsenale and the Central Pavilion of the Giardini della Biennale. With this comes the responsibility to give a direction to this exhibition of talent and research. This direction can be defined by the title of la Biennale which itself can provide a cover under which the participants can find shelter to present their ideas. In choosing my theme, I wanted to encourage my colleagues to react to the prevalent professional and cultural tendencies of our time that place such emphasis on individual and isolated actions. I encouraged them instead to demonstrate the importance of influence and of the continuity of cultural endeavour, to illustrate common and shared ideas that form the basis of an architectural culture.
Common Ground provokes us to admit the inspirations and influences that I believe should define our profession. The phrase also trains our attention on the city, which is our area of expertise and activity, but is something created in collaboration with every citizen, and the many stakeholders and participants in the process of building. The discipline of architecture involves diverse and often contradictory concerns, but I believe we share ideas and visions that can be confirmed through architecture itself. Common Ground invites us to find these shared ideas from our individual positions of difference.
This Biennale, coming at a time of global economic anxiety, offers us a chance to put into perspective the undeniable individual architectural achievements that have given identity to the recent years, and to provoke a more focused consideration of our shared concerns and expectations.
The theme of la Biennale was a provocation to my colleagues to demonstrate their commitment to these shared and common values, encouraging them away from a monographic presentation of their work, and towards a portrait of the collaborations and affinities behind it. That they have all engaged in this with such commitment and energy is a testament to them and confirmation of what we know but don’t articulate sufficiently: that despite our different concerns, backgrounds and points of view we do indeed share common ground, and this forms the basis of something we might describe as an architectural culture. Furthermore, this provides us with a basis for dialogue, debate and opinion.
The administration of the Venice Biennale, under the secure guidance of its President Paolo Baratta, has persisted in giving us the opportunity to reflect on the discipline of architecture. We should not underestimate this gift, nor should we imagine such an event would be possible anywhere else.
The exhibition is the result of incredible effort and I would like to acknowledge the work of la Biennale staff and especially Manuela Lucà Dazio, without whom this event would not be possible.
Many thanks to my own team, calmly led by Kieran Long, Jaffer Kolb who dealt with every problem with dedication and humour, Shumi Bose who masterminded the publications, and to Rik Nys for his design direction.
Special thanks to John Morgan and his team who gave us the elegant graphic identity of the exhibition and the catalogues.
Special thanks to Richard Sennett who gave us the title of la Biennale at a time when we were struggling to give an identity to our intentions, to Jamie Fobert who advised us on the exhibition design, and to the others who gave us advice and guidance, including Dietmar Steiner, Chris Dercon, Richard Rogers, Lynda Myles, Heiner and Celine Bastian, Ricky Burdett, and Mario Nanni who offered generous support for lighting design.
I would like to thank all of the sponsors. Without their generosity and support, this Biennale would never have happened. Thank you also to the friends who helped me in the search for sponsors, Arnica-Verena Langenmaier, Monika Sprüth, Erica Bolton and Jane Quinn, Margit Mayer, Rosario Saxe-Coburg, Victor Zamudio-Taylor, Peter Saville and Sir Ronald Grierson. Finally I would like to thank my office who covered for me during this period and Evelyn and my family for their support and humour through stressful moments.
Finally the exhibition is a tribute to the participants and contributors and to their commitment and energy and their collaboration in this tentative experiment to define Common Ground.