What is the New Gravity of the Venice Biennale Architectura 2018?

Xenia Vytuleva, senior researcher of ETH, Zurich and Irina Vernichenko, “”, discussed “zero degree architecture”, “passive house movement” and “shoe box” buildings concept and what can become key topics of Venice Biennale opening on May 2nd 2018.

Xenia:  In 2016, the Biennale was curated by Alejandro Aravena. His concept was architecture on the margins, refugee camps, smaller communities, neglected communities. The territory of architecture was staggered towards informality and in the direction of nonconventional ways of architectural thought: slums, vernacular architecture, everything that we used to think of as marginal architecture – it’s small scale, low budget, incredibly creative, but it’s also socially, politically and even ideologically charged architecture, architecture that responds to the needs of humanity, architecture with the human face.
This year Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara propose a very open concept of “ Free space”, as integration, sharing, ideas exchange, open plan.

Irina: Is sharing the new gravity in the Freespace 2018?
Xenia: It’s a trend of translating communication to the territory of architecture, it’s a political slogan.

Irina: Can I ask you about competition? Venice biennale is a competition, there will be winners. If we look at business press today, there is a discussion of the new competition launched by the smart, connected products, that combine sensors, data storage, microprocessors, software. This products are also used by architects, so will the smartest project win?

Xenia: What’s the goal of the Biennale? To reinforce the position of architecture as a critical discipline, thinking discipline, discipline capable to transform the future in physical, mental and ideological way. To reinforce the architecture as regards to market, economies, politics. How to make it relevant.  One ingredient, that has become increasingly important in architecture today, is the story telling. It is injected in various ways, for example by Rem Kolhaas, who is an incredibly well articulated architect. He is a philosopher, a writer, a journalist, who could twist the story.

There is a famous joke: who will win the project? – The one that would tell a better story.

Irina: Does this story tell that there is architecture that is more art than architecture?
Xenia: Well, it’s a fictional story, but it is still a question of what is your fable, what is your narrative, what is the idea behind it?

Irina: And what will be the story of the Biennale of 2018? Is it about proximity to the digital, new ecology norm, or about new aesthetic norms or new humanity?
Xenia: It’s a story about the nerve of the society mainly. If 2 years ago it was the humanitarian aim of architecture, how fast it can respond to the urgent needs of the humanity, today the story is changing. It’s about economy, bitcoins, social integration, idea of AI and technologies. How does architecture respond as a thinking discipline, as a discipline that thinks in terms of project?  “projecto” means “to cast forward, to throw forward”, so the entire architectural practice is basically about futurism, because  long term practice takes a lot of investment, money resources, it is future oriented discipline.

Irina: Could the idea of the curators of the Venice Biennale -“freespace” (that sounds very “relaxed”), be a game changer or not?

Xenia: Relaxed is a good way, it is an open concept, there could be anything within this beautiful way of sharing ideas and space sharing.

Irina: You like the idea of a “relaxed” concept. Is “passive architecture” a trend of the future? “Passive” architect lower energy consumption non mechanically, without electricity.

Xenia: Passive has a negative connotation, I would use probably an alternative term – “zero degree architecture”, or “shoe box” with minimum of ideas, simple rectangular, that contains data storage, mostly used in the silicon valley and in the West coast of US to storage data. Data is aiming for a huge space, data storage is not a cloud only, data storage is incredibly space consuming.

I am sure there will be reflections of this new plea in architecture that is the data storage and technology.  Coming back to your question about passive architecture, that is looking at vernacular ways of air circulation or air conditioning, extracting ideas from vernacular African buildings, is still a trend within architectural museums, architectural galleries and universities.