Have you wondered how well-planned urban areas, unclogged cities and beautiful buildings and monuments make us, urbanites, feel happy (no lack of better word to describe it) when it works for us. When it doesn't work, it can add stress and negativism. Economic booms have pushed every property developer to build as if they all had to catch the same wave to surf, and as the wave crashed into economic busts, they left a trail of unfinished cement carcasses dotted around the landscape. I still vividly remember Bangkok in the late 90s with its ghost buildings in prime downtown locations - large and torn plastic sheets flapping in the wind hanging 30 meters up, left unfinished as the money ran out, a score of them in different completion stages, all brutalist, all concrete, all unfinished.
In less than 3 weeks time I will have the pleasure of visiting Venice for a friend's very important occasion. It coincides with the current Venice Architecture Biennale. I am very very excited for this trip! The chance to wear a long evening gown for one, and to explore the biennale for another. The last time I was in Venice, my husband and I carried our daughter in her pushchair like a princess in a throne up and down the many bridges of the city. Good memories...
Photo courtesy of labiennale.org
At the biennale, I plan to explore the questions of identity, of how architecture reflects our society, whether globalisation is a fact of matter in architecture, how important it is for a city to maintain some form of identity, and question whether today's architecture only looks ahead and not to the past.
We seem to celebrate newness - new thinking, new design, new trend. This is so true in architecture currently. And yet, only a few have a voice in deciding how the urban landscape is panning out - be it building styles or urban planning. As individuals, we find ourselves in a fait accompli situation when it comes to architecture. It is a profession that 'leads' and never follows, never consults (the larger projects at least); it builds and everyone else has to live with it, live in it.
In interior design, there is more control by the individuals on how we choose to interact with our environment. We celebrate newness but are not afraid of criss crossing the boundaries between future, present and past. Perhaps this biennale will change my view on architecture.
Some of the topics that I am looking forward to exploring at the Biennale.
The pictures above and below are from Dezeen magazine and portray some of the Spanish buildings, radically rethought and built or repurposed after the recession of 2008. Following the crisis that hit the economy and the building industry, architects had a rethink in terms of recycling, reusing and reviving spaces and buildings.
Spanish architect, Ricardo Bofill, comes to mind with what he achieved of La Fabrica, where he turned a derelict factory into his home and studio. See before and after pictures at the end of the Dezeen series.
At the Biennale, the Spanish Pavilion titled Unfinished won the Golden Lion award, for best pavilion. I really look forward to visiting this pavilion. For me this is what architecture should be - to serve the end user, holding at its core belief, the interaction of the building with its inhabitant - a move away from building for the sake of glory.
La Fabrica by Ricardo Bofill
Images courtesy of ricardobofill.com
The Philippines Pavilion deals with the identity of architecture in Manila, in its rapid loss of heritage buildings to rapid modernisation, often ill-thought or ill-motivated. The exhibition is titled Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City. It will be an interesting visit as this problem is rampant all over Asia and other fast growing cities.
Photo courtesy of lorenlegarda.com.ph
Few days ago, I went to listen to a talk on the planning of Seoul Architecture Biennale in 2017. It was fascinating to hear how Seoul changed its emphasis from 'sacrificing the people for the city to sacrificing the city for the people'. As Seoul quickly mushroomed into a mega metropolis, building accommodations for the millions was a priority over any aesthetics (nearly a quarter of the country's population now lives in the greater Seoul area and satellites!).
Seoul dealt with, and it is still dealing in many ways with, the same questions Manila is starting to grapple above - the city identity. Since few years ago, the city has put its break on the rapid destruction of heritage buildings and started focusing on the quality and experience of those living in it. They undertook a mammoth project of cleaning the Han River, running in the middle of the city, opening the river, cleaning its water and turning its shores into a green space.
Photos courtesy of Didactic Discourse
As in interior design, what surrounds us has a fundamental impact on how we enjoy urban life. The dialogue between architects and the end-user should be at the heart of any development and cities should sacrifice for the people and not the other way around.
I will let you know my thoughts after the actual visit!