Urban Fold

The Winners and Losers at this Year's Architecture Biennale

Steve Rose surveys the scene at this year's Architecture Biennale in Venice, where he observes that the mood has shifted: "away from starchitecture towards something quieter, more collaborative and utopian."

According to Rose, this year's Biennale - regularly the most important event on the architectural calendar - reflects the new reality for a field trying to regain its footing following the crash of the high-flying real estate market of the 2000s. 

"The theme for this year's Biennale, chosen by its British director David Chipperfield, is Common Ground. It's a choice that hints at architecture's need to refocus on issues like engagement and communication, on its need to establish shared values. But as the Spanish students show, there are chasms splitting the world of architecture. A divide is opening up – generationally, economically and philosophically. The starchitects of Trujillo's second reality are still here, but the appetite for celebrations of individual genius, and isolated, beautifully crafted buildings, seems to be dissipating. To co-opt the language of the Occupy movement, the big names are starting to look like architecture's 1%."

In the search for stable ground, architects are gazing backwards to the mid-20th century when the pendulum had firmly swung in the other direction - away from designing and developing the trophy homes and buildings for the global 1%, and towards a social utopianism.

"Those were the days: when architects knew what needed to be done and governments had the money to let them do it," says Rose. "Dutch superstars OMA, for example, celebrate the work of anonymous architects in public authorities across Europe from the 1960s and 70s. As OMA architect Reinier de Graaf puts it, the era was 'a short-lived, fragile period of naive optimism – before the brutal rule of the market economy became the common denominator.'"

Full Story: Starchitects and squatters: Venice Architecture Biennale


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