Forms of the Biennale

by Fielding Lowrance

My experience in Venice at the Biennale was one of the most enriching experiences I had while on my ten day extended travel around the north of Italy.  The first portion that we visited, which included expositions that related specifically to architecture, was particularly interesting.  We had only a very short period of time in which to take in a very large number of expositions, a fact that I found rather overwhelming and which led to a bit of a sensory overload. However, I still came away with some observations that have enhanced, and in some cases changed the way in which I think about architecture.
           The exhibition that had the greatest impact on me personally was certainly not the most sensational. However, the simplicity of the nature in which the idea behind the exhibit was conveyed lent power to the idea itself. The exhibit was one of the first that we viewed and was simply a darkened room with black and white images and text projected on each of the walls. The black and white, highly contrasted images immediately called attention to the architectural forms that they depicted. The fact that the framing of the images often took the subject out of the context of the entire building heightened the affect. There was written underneath each image the name of the building, and a description of the form: regulated, wavy, geometric, etc. A slide with text explained the difference between affect and meaning of form. While meaning is specific to the individual and dependent upon that individual’s biases, affect is the influence that the form has and has a closer relation to the form itself.

This idea colored many of the observations that I made later that day, and even influenced some of my previous experiences upon reflection. For example, in one of the later exhibits participants were asked to vote on what emotions certain buildings made them feel. The results were displayed on panels located throughout the room. Some buildings generally evoked similar responses. For example a rigid looking concrete government building elicited primarily anger and very few feelings of freedom. However, the responses to some buildings varied, or had votes split between similar responses such as happy and free. This reiterated the idea that the same forms can carry different meanings for different individuals.

The theme of the relationship between architecture and the people who populate was also present in many of the other exhibits I viewed that day. One that comes to mind in particular was another room that made heavy use of projectors. However, this room, presented full color images on all for walls, depicting large groups of people in states that varied from peaceful to highly agitated/protesting. On the floor cities were depicted coming together and dispersing in time with the images on the walls. This illustrated the role that populations play in the construction and destruction of a city environment and the cyclical nature of these developments.

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