Maybe the first exhibition space in the Arsenale show the visitors what the 13th Architecture Biennale might be all about. Four posters by Bernhard Tschumi try to dig deeper into the topic of the "Common Ground", or what it should be. To Tschumi, architecture means to think about concepts not form and to think what architecture does, not what it looks like. If these four posters act like an introduction to this year's Biennale theme, it makes you expect a more thoughtful, less formalistic exhibition.
That's good news. Way too often the Architecture Biennale was a spectacle of avant-garde fantasies of 20th century. Bigger, higher and more glorious - this was the progress-logic of many previous Biennale exhibitions: computer generated sculptured surfaces and eye-candy architecture everywhere.
The 12th Architecture Biennale “People meet in Architecture” directed by Kazuyo Sejima already paved the way for a more contemplative interpretation of the biannual show. This year, the director David Chipperfield wants to find out "what kind of ideas architects might share". Chipperfield likes the double meaning of the theme. On the one hand it is about the intellectual common ground and about the thought architects share, but on the other hand it is also simply about the "ground": the public space, the social perspective of architecture and the question "Who owns the ground?".
Like in the last Architecture Biennale, architects had to respond to the theme and not just show some of their current projects. But can a crowed of individual architects be committed to a theme which is about sharing and collective thinking?
Again like in many previous Biennale exhibitions, some architects cannot resists to use the exhibition for self-promotional work, like Renzo Piano's tower for London, Zaha Hadid who presents the genesis of her architectural blobs, Herzog & de Meuron and their "tale of woe" of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and Kollhoff with an impressive collection of neoclassical facades.
However, the younger generation of architects is more successful in finding interesting architectural statements around the topic: FAT architects and San Rocco discuss the theme of "copying architecture", urban think tank show the 45-story squatted office tower in Caraca, crimson - architectural historians discuss the value-decay of "New Town" movement and not-so-young OMA/Koolhaas shows 15 buildings across different European cities that have been designed by architects employed by the public sector: The show is a mix of photographic record of the buildings in their current state and archival material - in an exhibition space that reflects the current vandalized condition of the former visionary projects.
As usual, the national pavilions, which fall under the responsibilities of each country, show an even less homogeneous interpretation of the theme "Common Ground".
Simply brilliant is the Japanese pavilion. Curated by Toyo Ito it investigates in alternative housing concepts for the homes that were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. It is a pavilion not to miss at the 13th Architecture Biennale, and of course it won the prize for the golden lion for the best national pavilion.
Quite cynical is the Israeli pavilion. The show "aircraft carrier" deals with the American influences on the Mid-East region, and specifically on Israel, after 1973. People can even buy the exhibition items in an integrated show, like a mobile of paper interceptor planes.
That "common ground means sharing", is the approach of the US pavilion. It shows countless ideas and concepts for social interaction and participation. It perfectly shows that architecture is not just about building. Also one of the best pavilions in the Gardini.
Again, the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale is a big show, and again people might realize that it is tough to expect "big" solutions from architects to the challenges of contemporary life. But anyway - at least they try.