Feb 21, 2013
THEME: Point of View

Finding ‘Common Ground’: The Venice Architecture Biennale and the Power of Collaboration

Last month, news that Rem Koolhaas will curate the 2014 Biennale di Architettura in Venice went public settling months of speculation.  Below, a reflection on 13th iteration curated by David Chipperfield. 

I am always reminded of the importance of seeking “common ground” with clients and colleagues in my practice, and I found myself re-energized with optimism after attending the 2012 edition of the Biennale di Architettura in Venezia this past November.  I had not been to this exhibition since the early 1990s, when undoubtedly my eyes and intellect were not fully sharpened as architectural tools. I’ve always longed to return, to be part of what is arguably one of the most prestigious cultural events in the world.

The Biennale concept goes back to the late 19th century, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized to gather, showcase, and promote new artistic trends. Through the years that followed, music, cinema, dance, and theatre festivals were born under the Biennale moniker. In 1980 the first Architecture Exhibition took place, under the leadership of Vittorio Gregotti, to spark a provocative dialogue on the emerging Postmodernist movement.

I made a point, purposely, to arrive in Venezia with the least amount of background research and information so not to affect my experience and feedback. I was only equipped with the words of this year’s curator, David Chipperfield:

I want this Biennale to celebrate a vital, interconnected architectural culture, and pose questions about the intellectual and physical territories that it shares. In the methods of selection of participants, my Biennale will encourage the collaboration and dialogue that I believe is at the heart of architecture, and the title will also serve as a metaphor for architecture’s field of activity..”

I spent a couple of days engaging the city, the people, the exhibition site, and the exhibited work. Each was part of a single, interrelated experience. Across the city, the interaction between people was ubiquitous. The success of this past year’s event lies in the fact that the planned interactive scenography of the exhibition spilled beyond the gates and was thread throughout the city fabric, at satellite exhibitions, and through casual conversations on water buses, streets, and cafes.

Future architects get in on the action

The site of the Biennale clearly emphasized that a well-planned architectural context becomes fertile ground for meaningful interactions. Each exhibition and participant was an act of optimism, emphasizing the results of when people come together, such as the US installation “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good”,  Japan’s contribution Architecture possible here? Home-for-All”, or Russia’s “i-city”, which presented an interior space entirely of QR codes readable by anyone with a smart device. These were clear examples of projects that highlighted the power of collaboration towards the improvement of the status quo.

The United States presented ‘Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good’


Russia’s exhibition revealed a space immersing the visitor in QR codes


Visitors could read information using a smart device.

Chipperfield explains, “Since the beginning, by choosing the theme Common Ground we wanted to give emphasis on what we have in common and to reassert the existence of an architectural culture, made up not just of singular talents but a rich continuity of diverse ideas united in a common history. This year, visitors were able to see how several collaborative processes and discussions between architects, photographers, artists, critics, and scholars have generated common themes, ideas, and solutions. Architecture is collaboration and dialogue between society and architects, it is the commitment to share our Common Ground with others.”

The Biennale was a striking reminder that no matter how you design and plan a specific “locus”, it is the “genius” of its visitors and inhabitants that creates an active, vibrant place that becomes relevant beyond the site itself.

Significantly, there was no single element or idea that stood out to me—no star of the show, so to speak. Perhaps this was representative of the collaborative, collective effort each contribution had, their interdependence and role in setting up Common Ground for a trailblazing the future renewed with optimism that encourages architects and the profession to support, collaborate, conspire, together.

The fog surrounding the canals, a pervasive supporting player during my time in Venezia, intangibly lifted and carried the significance of the 2012 Biennale beyond its own place and time, reaching the corners of receptive minds and strengthening our collective Common Ground.


This post was authored by Filo Castore. 

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