Highlights of “Towards A New Avant-Garde” at the Venice Biennale

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Towards a New Avant-Garde, Superscript’s three-part conversation series during the opening weekend of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition— La Biennale di Venezia, brought together 40 talented young architects, writers, critics, to debate issues of identity, collaboration, and economics. Over the course of three 90-minute conversations, several key themes emerged, including the need of architects to engage the public directly, the importance of evolving new forms of communication and criticism, and the value of capitalizing on opportunities to be proactive. Here’s a snapshot of what the participants had to say:

Internationalization (11 a.m. CET, 8 June)

Focusing on the impact of Italian architecture beyond the country’s borders, the Internationalization discussion took as its starting point the seminal 1972 MoMA exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” and then fast-forwarded to “Monditalia” and today, speculating on the influence of the most recent generation of Italian architects beyond the country’s borders. We asked the group: Why choose to do experimental work abroad versus Italy? Is the idea of nationality important to an architect’s identity? How does Italy’s strong critical culture play a role in the production and reception of architecture?

The issue of audience, both for architecture and architectural criticism, was a key topic within the conversation on Internationalization. Editor of the Turin-based publication +011 David Tommaso Ferrando advocated exploring new forms of criticism using images and social media. “Criticism has to change because the media is changing,” said Ferrando. With the opportunities to connect and work globally today, identity becomes less defined by nationality and more by an individual’s point of view and how they engage with the profession. Working outside of Italy today is a most often a choice versus an “exile”, said Angela Gigliotti of Oslo-based U67 Architects. Seeking more professional freedom, some even put aside the label “architect.” Sydney-based architect David Neustein noted that in Australia “many people say they are not an architect as a way to escape from the system of authority.” Bringing the conversation full circle, photographer Teresa Cos stated that no matter where an architect was working “We need to speak more to the audience, speak more to the people. Architecture is not just about us.”

 

Collective Action (1 p.m. CET, 8 June)

As a new generation of Italian architects self-­organizes, seeking alternatives to the traditional architecture system, the Collective Action discussion reflected upon how the avant­-gardes of 1968­ to 1976 were motivated by a similar impulse. To understand the agendas of a young generation, we asked: What are the most urgent problems to address today? What makes you angry? Do we still need manifestos? What fields are today’s young architects are working in outside architecture?

Editor-in-chief of The Architect’s Newspaper William Menking kicked-off the conversation by describing Superstudio’s working process and evolving internal relationships. “Architecture cannot be a profession where we just build,” said Dario Tundo of the architectural collective IRA-C argued. “We also have to talk and create ideas.” Taking this a step further, original radical architect Gianni Pettena added that architects should have “a daily practice of not only thinking but also translating,” underscoring the importance of communicating ideas. The dialogue should extend beyond colleagues to the public, even if that conversation is sometimes difficult or involves conflict. Artist Christian Costa of Spazi Docili urged architects to “spend time in the community. Participation connects the worlds of art, architecture and politics.” In addition to establishing cross-disciplinary connections, the expansion of the architecture profession, from urban planning to coding, invites architects to collaborate in meaningful ways with other disciplines. As for manifestos, a call to action today may grow from practical as well as idealistic concerns, said Anna Marie Meister of Princeton’s Radical Pedagogies research group (awarded a Special Mention for their Monditalia installation). “They have to emerge from urgency, not nostalgic longing. Perhaps we need a new word for the term manifesto?”

 

Economics (3 p.m. CET, 8 June)

Using self-­initiated side projects as a testing ground, many young architects are looking beyond the current economic system and finding alternative approaches, much as the Italian radical architects of a previous generation did. Unlike the attempts of that generation, can an experimental practice become sustainable today, or is economic fragility an essential component of a radical experiment? We asked: How do you fund radical design? Does it matter who pays? And, reflecting on a quote from architect Marco Lampugnani, how do you “create value, not things?”

With many architects relying on state­-sponsored mobility programs and research funded by academia, is it possible for a new generation to change the system from within? Architect and professor Elisa Poli of Cluster Theory advocated trying “to create a web between your university and others” to maximize funding opportunities. But even in the private sector, “money is now going towards funding new architectural approaches, not just building” said business strategist Stefano Schiavo. Does the source of funding matter? Architect Marco Ferrari of Studio Folder (a recipient of a Special Mention for their Monditalia installation Italian Limes) said that this was a moot point: “With the complexity of funding, there is no way to truly trace back where your money came from. I believe being radical in architecture is now less about being against the market.” It’s this shift in thinking that most distinguishes the radicals of yesterday and today. And with new financial models such as crowd-sourcing available, architects are in a position to be proactive about bringing an idea to life. Architect Marco Lampugnani of Snark summarized: “Being radical is not about statements but about action.”

INTERNATIONALIZATION PARTICIPANTS

Brendan Cormier (Volume)

David Neustein (Other Architects)

Shumi Bose (AA)

Roberta Marcaccio (AA)

Martina Muzi (Space caviar, DAE)

Davide Tommaso Ferrando (011+)

Francesco Marullo (Behemoth)

Angela Gigliotti, Fabio Gigoni (U67 architects)

Gianpiero Venturini (Itinerant Office)

Alessandra Cianchetta (AWP)

Elisa Cattaneo (LoWlab. Landscape of Weakness)

Giacomo Cantoni

Pietro Pagliaro (SO – IL)

Teresa Cos

COLLECTIVE ACTION PARTICIPANTS

William Menking (Architect’s Newspaper)

Gianni Pettena

Ignacio Gonzalez Galan (Princeton University)

Anna Maria Meister (Princeton University)

Francesca Vannuci (Princeton University)

Giulio Masotti (Mammafotogramma)

Dario Tundo (IRA-C)

Nina Artioli (T SPOON)

Luigi Greco (Rudere)

Carlo Venegoni (NEW GENERATIONS festival)

Silvia Franceschini

Tamar Shafrir (Space Caviar, DAE)

Christian Costa (Spazi Docili)

Fabrizia Vecchione (OMA)

ECONOMICS PARTICIPANTS

Marco Ferrari (Studio Folder)

Marco Lampugnani (Snark)

Elisa Poli (Cluster Theory)

Lea-Catherine Szacka (Oslo School of Architecture)

Alessandro Martinelli (i2a)

Stefano Schiavo (Sharazad)

Alessandro Miti (Ciclostile Architettura)

Iago Borja Carro Patiño (Ergosfera)

Cristina Canto Dominguez (Ergosfera)

Alessandro Cariello (SMALL)

Donatello De Mattia

Ippolito Pestellini (OMA/Monditalia)