Obviously when we saw that the first event of the first panel discussion on the first day was titled “Writing Building” and was billed as going beyond criticism and academic writing in an effort to recapture a lost audience (Are you still with me here?), we pricked up our ears.
As it was 10 am in Venice only about a dozen people were in the audience nearly outnumbering the panel itself of international design luminati, including Map Office, French designers crossbreeding writing, video, and design media in Hong Kong, Reed Kroloff, former mastermind of Architecture turned Cranbrook dean, Shumon Basac, a critic to watch from the Architectural Association and writer for Tank magazine, and Yehuda Safran, a distinguished philsopher-critic and founding member of the Architecture Foundation.
Map talked about the parallel lives of texts & drawings, words & lines and the adventures in China of their fictional creation, Pixel, whose epiphany involving workers at a Venice theme park in China wearing Santa Claus hats is a fine example of a theme that has been much bandied about at this Biennale: Architects trying too hard to be what they are not—In this instance, Borges or writers.
Next up was our esteemed colleague Kroloff who did not disappoint with his comment that architecture publishing needs to get sexed up. In the age-old modernist conflict between word and image, Kroloff came down squarely oin the glossy side, saying “If you don’t want to lick the page then something is missing.”
On the side of the well-written word, TK reminded the audience (now swelled to at least 32) that Nietzche had supplied much of the written foundations for Mies, Corbusier, Loos. Faust, he said, debated which came first the word or the deed and, in an odd segue, Steven Holl at his 50th birthday office party featured magnets all over the wall of the key words motivating his work. So that settles it, I guess.
But it was Bazar asked the question which really haunts us: Why does architecture produce such bad writing? He suggested that it might have to do with a “plague of bad philosophy” foisted on impressionable architecture students in the 80s by Peter Eisenman et al and pondered whether it might just be better to head for pure fiction, or at least travel writing. His most memorable quote was actually something Rem Koolhaas said: Journalism is the regime of curiosity.