The June 2023 issue of The Architect’s Newspaper is out today. In addition to architecture news and reviews from across North America, the issue includes features on spaces of inclusion and a Focus section on windows, walls, and doors. The following Editor’s Note from AN’s Executive Editor Jack Murphy introduces the issue with a reflection on the recent Venice Architecture Biennale.
The first official architecture biennale in Venice was held in 1980 and curated by Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi, who recently died at the age of 91. It was during this event that the long, dark expanse of the Corderie within the city’s Arsenale, or shipyard, was brightened by the architect-designed storefronts of the Strada Novissima exhibition. A “critics’ corner” at one end was anchored by a large, “giant stubby pencil, as if worn short from use, and slightly aslant, apparently in tribute to the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” as Glenn Adamson described the scene in an essay last year.
But there were prior architecture efforts as part of the art biennale. These, led by another Italian architect, Vittorio Gregotti, were more directly concerned with the plight of Venice itself. The first was unveiled in 1975, when Gregotti organized a competition about the Molino Stucky, a large, abandoned flour mill on the island of Giudecca. The results featured proposals from artists, architects, and local representatives. Gregotti later directed two more shows in the ’70s for the biennale before Portoghesi arrived: Werkbund 1907 in 1976 and Utopia and the Crisis of Anti-Nature in 1978.
This first show was “very political,” as Gregotti remarked to Aaron Levy and Bill Menking when they interviewed him in Milan in 2009 for their book Architecture on Display: On the History of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, published in 2010 by the Architectural Association. Gregotti wanted “to make a clear and certain declaration that the biennale was open to the public, to Venice and to non-specialists.” The move responded to “the problem of 1968,” when, at the 34th art biennale, students protested in Piazza San Marco and the Giardini, causing some artists to refuse to show their work in solidarity. (“At least we have an interesting Biennale again,” one “jaded art dealer from Rome” declared, according to The New York Times.) It’s inspiring to think of these humble, socially responsive origins for architecture’s participation in the biennale, as it shows the progress made by this component of La Biennale di Venezia. In a short time, architecture’s portion became widely influential as the celebrations grew in footprint, popularity, and spin. This arrives alongside the thorough commodification of Venice as a museum of itself. Today, the Molino Stucky, once the subject of Gregotti’s instigations, is a Hilton hotel.
We have our own contemporary provocations, many of which surface in the 18th Venice Biennale of Architecture, curated by Lesley Lokko, which opened last month. Among them are the current iteration of the (very unofficial) Unfolding Pavilion, curated by Daniel Tudor Munteanu and Davide Tommaso Ferrando, which adopted the theme of #OPENGIARDINI. The organizers criticize the near-total controlled access to the Giardini, which began as a park. Currently, only a third of the grounds are open to the public without purchasing a ticket to the art or architecture biennales, and the green space’s edges are hardened “by the system of gates, walls, fences, CCTV cameras, metal spikes, barbed wire, and armed guards,” according to Munteanu and Ferrando. Still, there are two locations where the barriers break down and people can slip by, so the pavilion highlighted them with signage, stairs, protective caps for the aforementioned spikes, and ladders, all painted red, plus red carpet. Vernissage attendees were able to see the interventions for a few days before the biennale removed them and life returned to business as usual.
The act’s ideals of open access relate to the official biennale’s effort, led by Lokko, to display work by a broad set of architects whose work largely went unseen in prior versions of the exhibition.
Inclusivity also powers this issue’s features, which include texts that explore the topic through urban landscapes, designing for HBCU campuses, and reshaping the classroom to be one of broader operational awareness for architecture’s new top talents.
Of course, the issue has much more to offer. Check out its ample spread of news, crits, and reviews, and don’t miss the Focus section. AN’s coverage hits whether you’re seeing these words on a screen or printed on paper. However you receive AN these days, the point is that you’re reading what we’re writing. What happens next is up to you.