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The Venice Architecture Biennale 2008
September 20, 2008 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Kieran Long in The Architects' Journal: "The 2008 biennale is the year that the avant-garde finally disappeared into its own darkest recesses. Let's hope the recession finishes the job."
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posted by johnny novak (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Talking about architecture is like dancing about music.
posted by not_on_display at 12:08 AM on September 21, 2008


I love snark about esoteric fields outside my experience. There's really a kind of universal quality to good snark. I scarcely understood a single word he said apart from the ones everybody knows. And I'd never heard of a single person he references. I know almost as little about architecture as it is possible to know. And yet it comes through with crystal clarity here, and I get it, and I get why he's so pissed off. Bravo.
posted by Naberius at 12:10 AM on September 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


not_on_display, at least credit Elvis Costello.
posted by gene_machine at 12:17 AM on September 21, 2008


gene_machine, you do realize that not_on_display inverted the Costello quote, dissolving the ≠?
posted by blasdelf at 12:37 AM on September 21, 2008


That quote has nothing to do with Elvis Costello, or even Laurie Anderson.
posted by fixedgear at 3:34 AM on September 21, 2008


1918 called to ask for their cubo-futurism back.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:44 AM on September 21, 2008


architecture sucks
posted by doobiedoo at 5:21 AM on September 21, 2008


That quote has nothing to do with Elvis Costello, or even Laurie Anderson.

And all this time, I have associated it with Frank Zappa. It might have been Martin Mull, who is also famous for "Having children is like having a bowling alley installed inside your brain."

architecture sucks Nah, just most of it, as per Sturgeon's Law.

More and more I feel like the kid in "The Emperor's New Clothes". I sometimes wonder if people like the ones in the article have got so much invested in a particular viewpoint, they find themselves standing around a piece of crap to embarrased to say what they really think. The author certainly doesn't have a problem.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:28 AM on September 21, 2008


'To seduce,' he says in the explanatory text for Lotus, 'is to be sensitive to existing standards that stand as the inseparable definition from which to seduce, compare and portray an "other" against.' Come again? From this tortured, deconstructivist vision of seduction, I'm not sure Schumacher can ever have been seduced

Ha!

I've done consulting work (of the non-design variety naturally) for a number of the firms mentioned in that piece ... they are hard work, and very intimidating indeed. Also interesting asides about Hadid and sections in there. I enjoyed the article, thanks for the link johnny.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:50 AM on September 21, 2008


What's a "section"?
posted by geos at 8:51 AM on September 21, 2008


geos, a section is both the drawing of a cut through a building - like this - and the actual design of ceiling heights, adjacencies, height of the building within the zoning envelope, etc that can be seen on the same sort of drawing. I'm not an architect, so I'm probably not explaining this right, but a building's section has to "work" elegantly for the building's function just the same as a floor plan does.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:01 AM on September 21, 2008


The author certainly doesn't have a problem.

That's because snarking about modern art is (and always has been) easy, popular, and remunerative, which is why lazy reviewers do it with such joy. Actually discussing the latest trends and artists in a knowledgeable way and explaining why the bad stuff is bad and the (inevitably much rarer) good stuff is good is very hard and few people are interested in the results, which in any case will be condescended to in a few years by people who with the benefit of hindsight "know" it all anyway and have moved on to snarking about the next "new thing."

Here's my update on the old saw: reviewing the Biennale is like commenting on MetaFilter.
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on September 21, 2008


geos, a section is both the drawing of a cut through a building - like this - and the actual design of ceiling heights, adjacencies, height of the building within the zoning envelope, etc that can be seen on the same sort of drawing. I'm not an architect, so I'm probably not explaining this right, but a building's section has to "work" elegantly for the building's function just the same as a floor plan does.

Yes, basically a section is what you'd get if you cut through the building from the top down and then pulled it apart and looked inside. A plan is actually just a section taken on a horizontal plane instead of a vertical one. What they're talking about with Zaha Hadid's building sections is that they're generally pretty boring -- meaning that they're really no different from a standard cheap-o office building and just look kind of like a wedding cake with a bunch of layers stacked on top of each other. That kind of design is typical of designers who arent' really worried about how their work fucntions in three dimensions, and to a large degree that's true of Hadid. She's generally more concerned about the iconography of the work or how it looks in plan or in her distorted perspective drawings than she is with what it's like to actually walk through the building.

The thing is, this kind of thing that the author is complaining about has been going on for eons. The biennale and other things of its ilk largely serve as exhibitions for "paper architecture" (i.e. people who don't actually build anything, but just do pretty drawings), which while generally meaningless has a proud history in the architecture profession going back to Piranesi's carcieri etchings. As implied in the article, where it talks about the unbuilt Peak project in Hong Kong, Zaha Hadid was purely a paper architect until about a decade ago. Same with Daniel Liebeskind, who did the master plan for the WTC. The avant garde wing has always been a little silly, and hardly ever concerned with how buildings actually work--Peter Eisenman even went so far as to describe his designs as "post-functional" or "post-structural". Now people are just talking about buildings going beyond actually being built? It's no biggie; just the same masturbatory stuff that's always gone on. I guess the big difference lately is the rise of the "starchitects", and a lot of the old paper stuff that never had a chance of getting built is finally happening. Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro never built anything until a couple year ago either, but had a piece in the permanent colleciton of MOMA. And true, the recession/depression will probably put an end to it.

For reference: Lebbeus Woods. Superstudio. Archigram. Boullee. Ledoux. Violet-le-Duc.
posted by LionIndex at 12:09 PM on September 21, 2008


I don't think I've ever read the AJ regularly, but from the few issues that I have it strikes me as a cheerleader for the boring but worthy school of architecture and so intellectually disposed from the start to poo poo the strained connections of more 'conceptual' architecture and even more so the frivolous spectacle of starchitecture. Which is why...

That's because snarking about modern art is (and always has been) easy, popular, and remunerative, which is why lazy reviewers do it with such joy.

...I think this is the opposite of what's happening here. Ostensibly 'avante-garde', the majority of the targets here are media darlings, have a well ensconced following, guaranteed by affiliated academic staff and unflagging professional press coverage to the extent that their styles are endlessly recycled by most students. By contrast the architects Kieran champions - especially Sergison Bates, Tony Fretton and Witherford Watson Mann - are academic and media nobodies rather than populist favourites. These architects have a severity hangover from high modernism that can only come over as retentive by comparison to today's programmatic and formal promiscuity, so if anything this review is rooting for a doomed underdog.
posted by doobiedoo at 12:30 PM on September 21, 2008


I am fascinated by the architectural avant garde when I'm not sick of it. The final prognosis of death by recession is premature when the major academies are still on hand to provide theoretical capital, rendering liquidity and the annual cohort of groupies.
posted by doobiedoo at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2008


I'm not sick of it. The final prognosis of death by recession is premature when the major academies are still on hand to provide theoretical capital, rendering liquidity and the annual cohort of groupies

I'm not either, but I took the statement about its death by recession to mean that it wouldn't actually be *built* any more, and that the avant-garde would essentially retreat back to academia and exhibitions like the Biennale. I'd still like to see Thom Mayne get some work, though.
posted by LionIndex at 2:22 PM on September 21, 2008


I think this is the opposite of what's happening here. ... if anything this review is rooting for a doomed underdog.

Thanks, I defer to your far greater knowledge of the field.
posted by languagehat at 2:29 PM on September 21, 2008


A recession is more likely a boon to experimental work. C.f. U.S. architecture culture in the 70s.
posted by xod at 12:22 PM on September 22, 2008


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