Dieses Jahr gab es in Venedig eine Architekturbiennale in Laserdruck. Überall zeugten schreiend bunte Plakate davon, dass sich die Techniken der Werbewirtschaft in der Aufbereitung von Informationen allgemein durchgesetzt haben. Die digitale Erfassung unserer Welt reduziert die physische, wirtschaftliche und soziale Realität auf Daten, die dann mit grafischen Mitteln dargestellt werden können. Die Architektur dieser Richtung besteht aus Grundrissen und Ansichten aus ausgeschriebenen, aufeinandergestapelten Funktionen. Keine Schnitte, keine Materialien, und um die Konstruktion werden sich Arup & Partners kümmern (siehe auch Seite 58). Dennoch ging der Goldene Löwe an den Dänischen Pavillon, der genau diese Richtung vertrat. Die Frage, die daraus folgt, ist: Durch welchen Veredelungsprozess gewinnt man aus den Datenbergen kristallklare Architektur? Wie können wir eine grafische Darstellung in dreidimensionale Form oder gar in gebaute Realität umsetzen – wie es uns OMA und andere während des letzten Jahrzehnts vorgemacht haben? Wie finden wir den einen entscheidenden Moment plastischer Konstruktion, Raumorganisation und Materialkombination? Laut Biennale-Kommissar Richard Burdett findet sich die Antwort in informellem, selbst organisiertem Bauen wie den Selbsthilfeprogrammen südamerikanischer Favelas: Architektur entsteht dabei nachgerade zufällig. Wenn die Disziplin Architektur relevant bleiben will, muss sie moderne Anforderungen in Gebautes umsetzen können, ohne dabei auf eine vage Vorstellung von sozialem Zusammenhalt in europäischen Städten aus voraufklärerischer Zeit zurückzugreifen. Es ist an der Zeit, die sichtbar gemachten Daten in Form zu bringen, Stadtlandschaften digital zu öffnen und Alternativen zu heutigen Stadtformen zu entwickeln, die gegenwärtig sowohl Umwelt als auch Gesellschaften stark beeinträchtigen. Schönheit und geformter Raum wie in der Stadt Venedig müssen dabei ein Ausgangspunkt sein.
Form Follows Data
This year in Venice it was the laser print biennale. Banners and blow-ups screamed their messages from every corner of the Arsenale and the Giardini. For once the venerable facades of Venice had to compete for attention with the garish graphics produced by architects, urbanists and their associates. The former wizards of design were proclaiming – once again – the death of architecture and the emergence of a new strategy for those who used to call themselves designers. This time it was agitprop, perfected in the stylish way proper to the second-oldest profession, and based on the similar turn art had taken almost a decade ago in places such as Kassel.
One lesson to be learned from this biennale is that new technology is always changing the discipline, despite the unbelievably reactionary attempts by the Italian architects in this year’s Biennale to call for a desiccated »City of Stone,« as their exhibit of neo-lithic projects in the Arsenale was called. They hoped to hide all the computer wires and air conditioning that makes modern urban life possible, but came up only with empty gravestones of architecture. Another lesson is that the Al Gores, the Bruce Maus and the Rem Koolhaases are having their moment. The notion that what one does as a citizen with specific skills is to co-opt the world of mass communication and advertising in order to proclaim a socio-political agenda through politics, advertising or architecture has now become the dominant tendency in contemporary practice.
If one takes this manner of operation at face value and accepts its value, then this biennale certainly showed how it could be done well. The magisterial use of what has become the new lingua franca of theoretical architecture, Google Earth, by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the Italian Pavilion was a good example. It made clear exactly how large and strange the new world now arising on the Gulf Coast is. What appeared to be small developments in Dubai in the context of a panoramic view of desert on the walls turned out to be larger than the area of downtown Paris laser printed on the floor in the same scale. This simple demonstration shows how effective it can be to just present what others (not the architects in the Biennale) are doing. The exhibition of photographs that preceded this bit of cartographic propaganda was by far the strongest record of the sublime aspect of the new world that is arising out of the control of thinking architects in fast-growing cities around the world That strange new urban landscape and its record, in its authenticity and imagistic quality, proved more powerful than most of the data sprawling across the walls of especially the Arsenale. Similarly, the commune the French established in their pavilion, complete with showers on the roof and a great deal of almost clichéd chain-smoking, and the Ipod-like Spanish pavilion with its giant talking female heads showing that the other fifty percent is now just as good or bad at making buildings as men, all served to give the Biennale a dose of reality.
But the Golden Lion went to the Danish Pavilion, and that choice raises the real question: Is this where European architecture is or wants to be going? Is it really all about data? The vaguely colonial Danish project consisted of proposals for urbanism in China, carried out by Danish architects working with Chinese students. The results looked no different than what one would expect to be turned out by OMA or MVRDV, or at one of the American universities infested with the graduates and architects from those nodes of digital interpretation of physical data. For that is what this direction in architecture offers: the reduction of the physical, economic and social reality of our world to information that can then be represented through graphic means. One of the major innovations created by OMA and its allies in the last decade has been to turn that graphical representation into three-dimensional form, if not into built reality. In this architecture, floor plans and elevations consist of the names of the various functions written out and stacked on top of each other. Computer renderings present literal mountains of data and mountain ranges of different economic conditions. There are no sections, there is no material, and construction is outsourced to Arup & Partners (see also page 58).
This is of course not the only thing that an office such as OMA or MVRDV or some of the architects of the Danish pavilion produce. What is remarkable is that a building such as the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, which won the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture last year, and which was designed by OMA, is a compelling object not because of or despite such an approach, but in addition to it. That building presents a physical presence, a complex spatial logic, and a critique of both diplomatic representation and the working of bureaucracy that is built into it, from its overall shape to the material of its floor coverings and door handles. That is what makes it a great building.
The question then is this: By what process of refinement do we get from the mountain of data ore to crystalline architecture? What is it that allows us to find that moment of physical construction, of spatial organization, of material assemblage, that makes us aware of the critical exposition that otherwise exists only in laser printed slogans?
To Biennale Commissioner Richard Burdett, evidently aware of this issue, the answer is that one finds it outside of the mainstream profession of architecture. One finds it in self-help programs in the favelas of South America and in the minibus shelters of Johannesburg. One finds it in the photographs of Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff and in the sheer act of accumulating images and data in one place, as in the models of densities Burdett had built in the Corderia. One finds it, in other words, not in buildings but in their representation or in the actions of which they are only the – almost happenstance – result. The Arsenale presented the solution to the question of the future of urbanity as a monumental parade of spatialized data with visions of what could be beyond buildings.
The strange effect of a Biennale that tried to show us the importance of cities, their history and their future, is that it made both those urban artifacts and the architecture out of which we once thought they were made seem completely irrelevant and poignantly present. Everywhere always the memory of something called the city and architecture echoed through the halls of the Arsenale and rustled in the leaves of Giardini. The city was present as a romantic ideal and architecture as fragmentary construction. Within these bits of memory and figments of future forms were no tools for making cities or architectures on display only user’s manuals for assembling data into a kit of parts out of which a lived reality might someday arise.
If European and global architecture is to have relevance, it of course needs to look beyond reactionary notions of pre-Enlightenment European cities as models for social cohesion and beyond the monumental tradition in architecture. But it must also figure out how to go beyond an agitprop utopia of data collection. It needs to work with discover those tools proper to architecture and its large-scale cousin, urbanism, namely space, construction, composition and all the other elements by which we make representations in three dimensions. It must then use its particular skills as well as its social aims to make critical form. It will not do to just pile up information and to make data visible. It is time to shape data, to open up the urban landscape with data, and to create the forms that will offer concrete alternatives to urban developments that are physically, socially and environmentally wasteful. Beautiful form and shaped space might be conservative relics or even fetishes that in themselves are not critical and might not be what builds cities, but we must at least start there.
Aaron Betsky ist Direktor des Cincinnati Art Museum. Davor leitete er das NAI und war Kurator für Architektur, Design und Digital Projects am San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Als ausgebildeter Architekt hat er rund ein Dutzend Bücher über Architektur und Design verfasst, zuletzt »False Flats: Why Dutch Design Is So Good« (2004).