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Architecture Stars Poised For Radical Shift To Simplicity

Article illustrative image Partner logo Is Zaha Hadid's Burnham Pavilion in Chicago about to look passé?

VENICE - Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said of academic writers that "they muddy the water, to make it seem deep." Architects, we can say, have been known to do the same.

Let’s think for a moment about what we have been forced to endure over the past decades thanks to an alleged building language that was wooly, muddled, ideological, and unrealistic. Being awkward was a must, and the gullible public bought all this “architectology.”

Well, something might have finally changed. Venice's 13th International Architecture Biennale kicks off Wednesday, running until November 25. The clean design, the display at the Arsenale venue -- more than the pavilions in the cold Giardini -- give the sense that the ideology of the past decades has arrived at its inevitable end.

In the words of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni: "No xè ghe ne podeva pì" -- we couldn’t stand all this anymore.

I’m not saying that after all the unrealistic and ridiculous proclamations of the wannabe avant-garde, the storm of the crisis and the restoration was needed to sweep away all the allegedly progressive illusions. But a healthy breeze of simple wisdom can heal the wounds which were opened by the wasted Utopian ambitions that were bound to go nowhere.

In the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition, the president of the Biennale, Paolo Baratta, criticizes the nomadic drift of architecture which injured many previous exhibitions. The president admits that in the past we had to swallow a lot, recalling the deadly paradoxes by Aaron Betsky who claimed that a building is the grave of architecture.

It is immediately clear that the title of this edition, Common Ground, works as an axe without any excuses.

Moving forward, facing backwards

Common Ground means finding a shared and requited language, a musical resonance. No more of Archistars’ remote works. Let’s find a connection, a ground zero, some basic shapes. This primordial language doesn’t accept divas’ vain solos anymore and their hysterical desire to be the center of attention.

“Here, there’s no room for architects, only for architecture,” said the director David Chipperfield, with his ironic Charlie Chaplin-esque smile. He means that architecture needs a joint effort, a real sense of the urban context, humbleness towards sources and influences. Not Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence, but a long awaited sincere public outing about sources of inspiration and hidden passions. 

Even the diva of shapes, Zaha Hadid admits her debts towards the pioneers Felix Campana and Heinz Isler’s fluid tent structures. Peter Eisenman works on Giovanni Battista Piranesi while Peter Märkli uses Hans Josephsohn and Alberto Giacometti’s human sculptures. We have never seen so many references to Piranesi, Palladio, Terragni and Libera. This Biennale, though, is not historicist or didactic. 

The Italian Pavilion, which is curated by Luca Zevi, son of the famous architect Bruno Zevi, is showcasing “Made in Italy” products starting with the first Italian computer built by the Olivetti factory in 1959. Fulvio Irace is retracing the Milan of Giò Ponti, Caccia Dominioni, Gardella, and Magistretti. It is not nostalgia, though. It is hard rethinking and lucid memory.

In the Catalan and Balearic Pavilion, the sculptor Jorge Oteiza’s words explain the spirit of this exhibition well. He says that artists are like oarsmen, who move forward while paddling backward.

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