2016 Venice Biennale Architecture Exhibition: “Reporting from the Front”
by Raquel Mayorga
During the weekend of June 17th, I visited Venice with a group of architecture students from CU-Boulder. We were lucky enough to be there for the Biennale Archittectura 2016, an amazing and rich event located in the peaceful Arsenale, away from the overwhelming crowds of the city.
Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena curated the biennale as an explosion of the “inventiveness and pertinence” embraced by our contemporary architecture culture. Titled “Reporting from the Front,” the biennale’s collection displayed a mix of creative solutions to world dilemmas — housing, natural disasters, segregation, migration — with an artistic approach that celebrated materiality and unique expressions. Everything in the event was thoughtfully designed, from restrooms and signage to the grandiose architectural samples in each country pavilion.
Alejandro Aravena’s own “introductory” piece, located at the exhibit’s entrance, created a powerful sense of arrival, preparing visitors for the very rich sensorial experience of this biennale’s installations. Emphasizing recycling and reclamation, the piece was constructed with 100 tons of waste material generated by dismantling the previous biennale: 10,000 square meters (107639 square feet) of plasterboard and 14 km (8.70 miles) of metal studs.
The metal studs were hung from the ceiling, creating a vast field of metallic compressing skies. The effect created by the repetition and positioning of the studs was to transform their true material into ribbons of a softer and more malleable nature. The plasterboard walls were also transformed, with a stone-finish that visitors could not help but reach out and touch. All around the walls, there were small “technology shelves” holding screens playing videos of meetings held while organizing the biennale, providing the audience with the opportunity to engage and deeply understand the process behind this extraordinary event.
Beyond the entry installation was a long gallery with a diverse sampling of work from world-renowned design firms and universities. The “Armadillo Vault” on display stunned me — an expansive canopy constructed by ETH Zurich researchers, using 399 slabs of limestone and no glue or mortar — all perfectly dry connections. The Armadillo established a “milestone for stone engineering” introducing structural spans of up to 16 meters (52.5 ft.) Though made of a heavy and difficult material, the canopy felt delicate and highly refined. The textured walls were strategically lit and shadowed, to provocative effect.
To take the time to savor each piece at the Arsenale would make for a week or longer stay in Venice, and unfortunately I was unable to see it all. Despite this, the Biennale Archittectura 2016 was a highlight of my five-week Euro trip, reminding me of architecture’s great potential to create and influence positive change through innovative solutions to the world’s most dire problems.