Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Architecture Beyond Building

The 11th architecture biennale in Venice opens to the public this week and visitors will see a very different idea of the built environment. This year, curator Aaron Betsky themed the show Out There: Architecture Beyond Building. "What should be an obvious fact: architecture is not building," Betsky has said. "Architecture must go beyond buildings because buildings are not enough. They are big and wasteful accumulations of natural resources that are difficult to adapt to the continually changing conditions of modern life."

I met with the organizers of the U.S. Pavilion this summer to hear about their plans to present a particularly interesting view of architecture in America. No Gehry, no Thom Mayne, no mass development, super-scaled uber buildings. It is, rather, a look at the practice of architecture and how that practice is changing as designers morph into activists, urbanists, and —dare I say it—COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS. It is the antiStarchitect. It is an exhibition all about the power of small, intentional, actions within American cities. An excerpt from their curatorial statement sums it up:

Into the Open: Positioning Practice explores how architects, urban researchers, and community activists are meeting the challenges of creating new work in response to contemporary social conditions and addresses factors challenging traditional methods of architecture, such as shifting socio-cultural demographics, changing geo-political boundaries, uneven economic development, and the explosion of migration and urbanization. At the same time, it will advocate for an expanded conception of architectural practice and responsibility.

The roster of organizations participating in the exhibition, in fact, includes many who are not architects at all, like Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard project. There's the Center for Urban Pedagogy, which connects designers, artists, researchers and activists around projects like the development of public high school curricula. The International Center for Urban Ecology (ICUE) is another group, and this one is particularly interesting to me because they have been studying the concept of Shrinking Cities. (On October 1 in Baltimore, the monthly design conversation will take on some of these issues. It will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Wind Up Space on North Avenue. More details to follow, so be sure to save the date.)

Snapshot from inside the U.S. Pavilion. Image from Architect's Newspaper.

For a full list of participants in the U.S. Pavilion, click here. And if you, like me, will be watching this unfold from the wrong side of the Atlantic, you can check in on their daily blog.