By: Tyler Norton
After experiencing the 2012 Venice Biennale, there is no question in my mind that the job of the architect is evolving. The entire basis of the Biennale is to showcase innovative architecture from around the world and it only took walking through the first few exhibits to show that this year’s festival was no exception to the rule. One theme that I repeatedly noticed throughout many exhibits was a sort of rejuvenation of architecture. Many of the exhibits and pavilions were not about completely new designs, but more about redesigning what already exists in a new, creative, and highly innovative fashion. This brings up the question of how, exactly architecture is evolving and more importantly, how particular exhibits in the Biennale chose to represent this new age of architects.
With the world population topping off at roughly 7 billion people, it is no wonder that cities are growing larger and larger, and more and more spread out. Eventually, we may even come to a point where we run out of space entirely. We may not be quite at that stage yet, but there is no denying that, while there are obviously still plenty of new designs being built, architects are focusing less on creating new buildings, and more on modifying existing ones. In my opinion, the higher the population grows, and the more the earth and cityscapes around us change, the more the job of the architect changes. Today’s architect has to deal with a whole new set of challenges such as rejuvenating existing spaces, all the while creating a delicate yet drastic balance of keeping touch with the past and remaining faithfully innovative in the design process. There are a few exhibits that I think did a beautiful job of illustrating this progression in the field of architecture.
The first exhibit that sticks out to me that applies to this theme of rejuvenation is the Ruta del Peregrino exhibit, which focused on the pilgrimage of Mexican residents to the temple of the Virgin of Talpa. This long and excruciating journey has very poor conditions and very little shelter for the pilgrims to stay in along the way. This project dealt with new design, but in the sense that they took this very old tradition, reevaluated the conditions, and created new buildings that sheltered the journeyers. Another example deals with the reuse of existing buildings and that is the German Pavilion. Architects in Germany are particularly close to facing the challenge of modifying buildings because the existing and sometimes hastily built postwar buildings are no longer suitable for their way of life. Therefore, they are using the theme of “Reduce/Reuse/Recycle” not only applying to reusing buildings but also tying in sustainable and recyclable materials that make the modifications innovative. While the German exhibit was about reusing, the Japanese Pavilion instead focused on complete reconstruction of buildings that were damaged by the recent and devastating tsunamis. A personal favorite exhibit of mine is the Norman Foster exhibit, which was the ‘gateway’ exhibit. The overall message behind this exhibit focuses on a general regrouping of architecture all over the world. Next, the Zaha Hadid exhibit focused not only on her recent works, but also mainly on her reinterpretation of the engineer Frei Otto’s work. Finally, in the Dutch exhibit, called “Reset,” there were a series of curtains that were rearranged every 5 to 10 minutes to represent fluid and flexible spaces that can easily be rearranged, which alludes to existing buildings that have the potential to be transformed into something completely new.
Although they do so in different ways, each of these exhibits show how existing architecture can be revitalized, refreshed, restored, and re-energized to turn out completely new. After seeing all of these exhibits, it is very clear to me that architecture has evolved from just simple design, to a much harder, and ultimately more rewarding field: that of redesign.