Biennale Architettura 2016
REPORTING FROM THE FRONT
Architecture is about giving form to the places where we live. It is not more complicated than that, but also not easier than that. Those places include houses, schools, offices, shops and retail areas in general, museums, palaces and government buildings, bus stops, subway stations, squares, parks, streets, trees along the streets (or not), sidewalks, parking, and the whole range of programs and pieces that constitute or built environment.
The form of those places, though, is defined not just by the esthetic trend of the moment or the talent of a given designer; they are the consequence of regulations, interests, economies and policies, or perhaps even of the lack of coordination, indifference, and simple chance The forms these places assume may improve or ruin people's lives.
The difficulty of the circumstances (scarcity of means, ruthless constraints, urgencies of all kinds) is a constant threat to the delivery of quality. The forces at play are not necessarily amicable either: the greed and impatience of capital or the single-mindedness and conservatism of bureaucracy tend to produce banal, mediocre, dull built environments. There are many battles that need to be won in order to improve the quality built environments and consequently people's quality of life.
In addition to that, the notion of quality of life ranges from very basic physical needs to the most intangible dimensions of the human condition.
Consequently, improving the quality of the built environment is an endeavor that has to tackle many fronts: from guaranteeing very concrete, down-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires, from respecting the single individual to taking care of the common good, from efficiently hosting daily activities to expanding the frontiers of civilization.
Our curatorial prosposal is twofold: on the one hand we would like to widen the range of issues to which architecture is expected to respond, adding explicitly to the cultural and artistic dimension that already belong to our scope, those that are on the social, political, economic, and environmental end of the spectrum.
On the other hand, we would like to highlight the fact that architecture is called on to respond to more than one dimension at time, integrating a variety of fields instead of choosing one or another.
Reporting From the Front will be about sharing with a broader audience the work of people who are scrutinizing the horizon looking for new fields of action presenting examples where different dimensions are synthesized, integrating the pragmatic with the existential, pertinence and boldness, creativity and common sense.
These are the frontlines from which we would like different practitioners to report, sharing success stories and exemplary cases where architecture made, is making, and will continue to make a difference.
In order to identify those examples we started from four different angles:
We came up with a list of issues that need to be addressed. Issues like inequalities, sustainability, insecurity, segregation, traffic, pollution, waste, migration, natural disasters, informality, peripheries, and the housing shortage are problems where basic needs and human rights are at stake. We went to look for creative, innovative practitioners willing to risk going into such complex fields. At the other end of the spectrum, we understood that issues like the mediocrity, banality and dullness of the places where we live are equally menacing for the quality of life. So we invited those consistent solid professionals who constitute a kind of resistance and moral reserve of the discipline against such threats.
We knew of projects that we thought had made a contribution so we wanted to know the story behind them, the difficulties, the tipping points, and the strategies they developed in order to succed.
C. Architects (or practitioners)
We contacted those we adimre or had a history of consistently producing quality outcomes in different circumstances. We asked them what were they'd been working on recently or what their next thing was going to be. In short: good architects.
D. Spontaneous submissions
Finally, La Biennale and Elemental began to receive spontaneous submissions from different people or projects that we were not aware of.
Following this, we proceed to invite people.
We did not have any kind of geographical, age, or gender quota. We sought only quality.
Some of them never responded.
Others declined, arguing that even though they were very much interested in the theme, they did not have enough time to give a proper response. Most accepted the challenge and began a dialogue with the curatorial team.
There were some attributes that we wanted the final selection to be able to reflect: for example, we wanted to highlight and underline those practices that even in the most conventional circumstances (doing buildings) were able to respond with precision and consistency to the request, fulfill the needs and desires that originated them and ultimately stand the test of time. We wanted to insist (until it becomes a shared minimum flotation level) on those examples that avoid trends and fashion and resisted the temptation of unnecessary frills.
We wanted to achieve a certain critical mass of architects, younger and older, known or less known, who were honestly in search of a certain timelessness and yet willing to respond to the challenges of our time. We were looking for projects able to integrate more than one dimension at a time, framing old charged issues in an original way in order to move forward.
In any case, it was crucial that there had to be a proposal; just to raise awareness of a problem (or do research), no matter how relevant the challenge may be, was not enough.
The relevance of the problem or the difficulty of the circumstances should not excuse practitioners from responding with quality architecture. Nor was the opposite approach enough: builidings that look nice but are unable to say which problem they are trying to address did not make it to the short list. We did our best to select examples that address a problem that matters and for which quality architecture made a difference.