The latest instalment of our new series of AR Reading Lists: seven carefully chosen pieces from our archive, free for registered users
Originally set to open next week, the 17th Venice architecture biennale has been put on hold until the end of the summer. Considered as a global exchange of ideas or showcase of work by the best and brightest in practice today, the biennale has vast and undeniable influence in how architectural thinking is shared and disseminated across the world. It is also a microcosm of geopolitical relations, in which lines of power are quite literally played out in physical space and footfall – and the extent to which the representations of the buildings championed there are true back at home is not always clear.
Even unbeset by biennale-goers, Venice remains a pillar of tourism, a city progressively hollowing out as those who work around its waterways can rarely afford to live there, shops for basic necessities making way for souvenirs. The city of dreams, inspiration to so many writers and artists, heaves even as it empties out, seams splitting with constant newcomers but never a familiar face.
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- World stage: the grand international exhibition, AR May 2020, Tomà Berlanda
‘While multinational corporations can buy their right to exhibit with a status similar to that of nation states, other national communities are allowed to take part only under the patronage of architects from powerful Western countries’
- The carnival of thought: Rem Koolhaas’s Venice Biennale, AR July 2014, Charles Jencks
‘With a limited budget and time, and the forces on each Director to pull off a spectacular but arresting argument, it becomes a poisoned chalice’
- Learning from Venice: Alejandro Aravena’s Biennale from 2016, AR online June 2016, Tom Wilkinson
‘This biennale is a depressing reminder of the limited power of architecture in the faced of political antagonism, and a dose of wild utopianism would have been more salutary than these hundred versions of “keep calm and carry on”’
- Media attention overload: the collapse of Makoko’s floating school, AR online June 2016, Tomà Berlanda
‘The distance between Makoko’s reality and the daily concerns of the self-referential architectural intelligentsia at a Rolex-sponsored event is quite striking’
- The gondola and the speedboat: Venice as a crucible of culture, AR May 2018, Jonathan Glancey
‘For many outsiders, Venice has long been the stuff of exotic dreams, a city as fictional as it is real. “Opium couldn’t build such a place”, wrote Charles Dickens on his first visit to the city in 1844’
- Venice: problems and possibilities, AR May 1971, James Morris
‘Is Venice condemned either to be a museum, artificially preserved for the aesthetes and the sightseers, or to be systematically ruined in the interests of modernism?’
- Like a critically ill patient, Venice’s wounds are proof of a widespread disease, AR online May 2017, Michael Webb
‘Venice no longer seems capable of creating anything other than bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and restaurants, souvenir shops and phony carnivals’
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