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Bricks and Morals: The German Pavilion

Architecture as propaganda: Curators Alex Lehnerer and Savva Ciriacidis reconstruct the politically charged 1964 Kanzlerbungalow intersecting with the German Pavilion in a curatorial move that is both disarmingly simple while loaded with ethical complexity

Alex Lehnerer and Savvas Ciriacidis have produced a clear, inhabitable idea that literally enacts Rem Koolhaas’s theme of ‘Absorbing Modernity, 1914-2014’ by inserting a 1:1 replica of the German Chancellor’s Bonn Residence into the German Pavilion. Both the Kanzlerbungalow and the Pavilion itself are politically loaded and historically layered buildings. The curators, who work together as the Zurich practice Ciriacidislehnerer, used this architectural montage to explore national identity, Germany’s uneasy history, and the use of architecture as propaganda able to project a political message.

What began as the Bavarian Pavilion in 1909 was renamed the German Pavilion in 1912, then given a monumental National Socialist makeover before Eduard Trier’s last remodelling in 1964. The same year Sep Ruf’s Kanzlerbungalow was built. This bourgeois Modernist symbol was the broadcast ‘living room of the nation’ until Bonn was abandoned as the capital of the Federal Republic for Berlin in 1999. The first inhabitant, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, told his public, ‘you will learn more about me by looking at this house than by watching me give a political speech’, burdening architecture with the role of political metaphor and suggesting that this little glazed structure was more transparent than its inhabitants.

Physically, this installation of overlaps has created clashes, blank dead ends, intriguing new interstitial spaces, and odd translations where what was once open is now closed. A red carpet and Helmut Kohl’s car extend the piece into the Giardini beyond. Double-sided, printed sheets with the plan of each space overlaid reveal their relationship when held to the light. The art critic and poet Quinn Latimer contributed a lyrical essay, ‘Your Bungalow is My Pavilion (This Room is an Island)’, that speculates on the way these spaces were inhabited. Adolf Hitler, no stranger to the manipulative potential of architecture, is quoted from his chilling 1937 speech at the Munich Haus der Deutschen Kunst on the power of buildings as the embodiment of a political moment: ‘Their word is more persuasive than any spoken word. For it is a word made of stone.’

The Bungalow Germania was powerfully spatial and architectonic in a Biennale that at its core dismembered architecture into its component parts or disembodied it through representation on film. Its success lies in its physical clarity, apparent simplicity and underlying narrative depth.

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