RA Magazine Winter 2012
Issue Number: 117
Preview: The 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale
The British Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale draws on a global melting pot of architectural ideas. Now it is coming to London, reports Hugh Pearman
Aberrant Architecture’s models of Niemeyer’s schools in the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
The façade of one of Oscar Niemeyer’s ‘flat-pack’ schools in Rio de Janeiro. The British Council’s ‘Venice Takeaway’ exhibition in the British Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale seemed at odds with the nature of that huge competitive exhibition, with its central show ‘Common Ground’ curated by David Chipperfield RA. Here were Brits doing a complicated thing, presenting no fewer than 10 examples of architectural inspiration that came from anywhere but the UK. But as curators Vicky Richardson, from the British Council, and Vanessa Norwood of the Architectural Association, declared: ‘From the time we embarked on this project, we wanted it to have a life beyond the Biennale.’ The first part of that afterlife begins in February, 2013, when the show comes to the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.
The concept is ambitious. Richardson and Norwood invited ‘explorers’ to go out into the world, find good architectural ideas, and bring them back. Out of 118 entries, 10 were chosen. From these, for me there are three highlights.
Given the current debate in the UK about a proposed new generation of stripped-down, ‘flat pack’ schools, Aberrant Architecture’s exploration of architect Oscar Niemeyer’s hundreds of prefabricated schools in Rio de Janeiro is both fascinating and timely. Instantly recognisable, these straightforward concrete buildings from the 1980s have lasted well. Buildable in six months from standard components, and designed for kids to run around easily, they have transformed Brazilian education. Basic by European standards, they nonetheless hold lessons for us about how to build lots of good schools, cheaply and quickly, when architects and educators work together.
Houses in the floating village of IJburg, near Amsterdam.
dRMM’s floating deck shown in the British Pavilion, which was used to explore potential sites for floating houses in the Royal Docks, London. Similarly, architects dRMM looked for a solution to a twin British problem: the housing shortage, and increasing flooding. In the Netherlands, there is a village of floating houses, at IJburg near Amsterdam. Why not build floating houses in British docks and waterways, dRMM suggest? Executed with the characteristic humour of their director Alex de Rijke, this appealing project saw the architects sailing a floating deck around the Royal Docks in London in search of potential sites for waterborne houses. The waterways remain among the most underused areas in the capital.
Then there is Belfast. When Berlin was a divided community in the 1980s, an international building exhibition rebuilt an entire declining district of the German metropolis. One of Zaha Hadid RA’s earliest buildings, an apartment block, was built there. Could the same thing happen in Belfast, where the scar tissue of former conflict provides plenty of building land? Can the city be healed through architecture?
Mark Hackett and Declan Hill, architects from the campaigning body Forum for Alternative Belfast, think so and they present a convincing case for urban renewal through staging an international building exhibition with competitions to regenerate the city, especially through reconstructing residential buildings because the city centre has become desperately depopulated.
These three exhibits at ‘Venice Takeaway’ provide only a taste of a very diverse show: if serious, thought-provoking architecture is your thing, don’t miss it.
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