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Voices in Venice: Team USA in ‘Olympics’ of Architecture

By A. Lira V. Luis posted 09-18-2016 03:54 PM


In a similar fashion as the leading international sporting events, the Olympic Games that alternate with the Summer and Winter Games, the architecture world has its own version embodied in the Venice Architecture Biennale. As with the Summer Game, it occurs during the summer in the northern hemisphere. The success of the architecture section in the art-centered Venice Biennale led to the establishment of its 1st International Architecture Exhibition, “The presence of the Past” directed by Paolo Portoghesi in 1980. This also paved the way to a subsequent Winter Game version by way of the Chicago Architecture Biennial inaugurated around the winter of 2015 in the northern hemisphere and occurring in alternate years with the Venice Architecture Biennale. Unlike however the Olympic Games movement, these two architecture events are organized by separate entities.

This year, the ‘Summer Games’ for the 15th edition started with the International Architecture Exhibition “Reporting From the Front” that is directed by Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate Alejandro Aravena. There are about 62 National Participations in the exhibition, including newcomers like Yemen that displayed an important presence at the Arsenale venue.

photo by Salam Rida

US Pavilion “The Architectural Imagination” team at the Giardini venue engages with audience. (Photo courtesy of Salam Rida)

The United States Pavilion presents “The Architectural Imagination” at the Giardini venue. It has since sparked spirited discourse and delight from direct and indirect spectators worldwide. Its curatorial team, Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de Leon, recalibrate the importance of architectural imagination in its exhibition, through demonstrations of creativity and resourcefulness in addressing urban and environmental issues in a 21st century Detroit. It aspires to have far-reaching application for postindustrial cities outside the U.S. particularly those in similar situations, through replication of ideas on repurposing empty industrial buildings, mitigating the effects of global migration on the city, and reinventing previously industrial waterfronts and dormant infrastructure. Some members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) chime-in on the discourse, “Detroit is not so much an ‘urban fabric’, but more of tattered patchwork, barely held together in areas from over 50 years of decline. The current resurgence is as palatable and evident as the many cultural innovations, such as SLOW Roll [a group bicycle ride that meets every Monday night and has expanded into a national network of community rides], that helps bring a race divided community back together,” says Matt Rossetti, a Fellow of the AIA and President of Detroit-based architecture firm ROSSETTI.

Team USA at the Olympic Games reflected the richness of diversity found in the races or ethnicities of its members. Just as they demonstrated power resulting from it, the 12 teams of architects selected to present speculative architectural projects commissioned for the four sites in Detroit in the U.S. Pavilion delivered more or less in equal measure. They include A(n) Office, Detroit (Marcelo López-Dinardi, V. Mitch McEwen); BairBalliet, Chicago and Columbus, OH (Kristy Balliet, Kelly Bair); Greg Lynn FORM, Los Angeles (Greg Lynn); Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta (Mack Scogin, Merrill Elam); Marshall Brown Projects, Chicago (Marshall Brown); MOS, New York (Hilary Sample, Michael Meredith); Pita & Bloom, Los Angeles (Florencia Pita, Jackilin Hah Bloom); Present Future, Houston (Albert Pope, Jesús Vassallo); Preston Scott Cohen Inc., Cambridge, MA (Preston Scott Cohen); SAA/Stan Allen Architect, New York (Stan Allen); T+E+A+M, Ann Arbor, MI (Thom Moran, Ellie Abrons, Adam Fure, Meredith Miller); Zago Architecture, Los Angeles (Andrew Zago, Laura Bouwman).

photo by Salam Rida

At the US Pavilion with curators (front middle) Monica Ponce de Leon and Cynthia Davidson (Photo courtesy of Salam Rida)

To continue the conversations created and inspired by the exhibition, the acclaimed journal, Log, published a special issue dedicated to it, cataLog. Sylvia Lavin, K. Michael Hays, and Robert Fishman contributed essays exploring the role of imagination in architecture and Detroit’s past and present. “The discourse presented in cataLog are inspirational and depressing at the same time. Inspirational in the sense they mostly all paint a vision for a city on the verge of emerging from it’s economic and cultural cocoon. The 12 conceptual projects positively address this issue of community with a wide variance,” observed Matt Rossetti, FAIA, LEED AP.

Cover of cataLog. ©2016AnyoneCorporation

The exhibition is open on May 28th until November 27th in Venice. Subsequently it will travel to Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art in February 2017 to accommodate the continued interest and involvement it brings long after the 15th International Architecture Exhibition is over. Dan Soleski, LEED AP in Detroit sees the exposition as a tremendous platform that ignites a creative global dialogue, “The exposition is a very worthy collection of explorations in opportunity and in assessment of the complexities and recessed conditions that exist within this city. Understandably and as in most speculative work, the cultivated physical ideas fall inherently short in marrying to the same visionary level of programmatic thought and substantive use… which is fine, as the purpose of this exercise is to stimulate that thinking and dialogue. Detroit’s ability to propel itself toward a truly revitalized city will hinge completely on how creative architectural dialogue is completely integrated with creative socio-cultural and  economic vision. All in all, the compilation is an inspiring lens in perspective, which can only add fuel to the city’s momentum…”


About A. Lira V. Luis, AIA, RIBA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, CeM
Lira contributes to the public’s awareness of the role of architects within local, national, and international communities. As a Platinum-level content producer for the AIA KnowledgeNet Blog, she opens the discourse with social media influencers through hosting an AIA Chat and delivering presentations at the AIA National Convention on the topics of new technology, new media, and  B2B (Business to Business) innovations. Her blog attracts more than 100,000 visits from architects and designers where she inspires ideas and architectural lessons into relevant action.

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