by Steve Bisson

TIME-SPACE-EXISTENCE is the second exhibition of the European Cultural Centre, which was created in 2014. This exhibition should be seen as a platform for architects from Europe and other parts of the world to visually present their personal thoughts and creations about and within architecture.

In the context of La Biennale di Venezia 2016, the European Cultural Centre presents - in three of its prestigious Palazzo’s in Venice, Palazzo Mora, Palazzo Rossini and Palazzo Bembo - an extensive combination of established architects and architects whose practice is less known, as a cross section of what can be seen as architecture today.

Conforming to the aim of the European Cultural Centre, the exhibition features architecture presented in a broad variety of artistic media; video, sculptures, photos and installations. Since the more than 150 participating architects originate from very diverse cultures representing over 50 countries and are also of very different age, the works are highlighted from unusual, very personal points of view.

Not being able to be exhaustive, in this article I present a selection of works hosted at Palazzo Mora, that have affected me more.

Recycling and Community Center of Chira (RCCC)

A-01 is a multidisciplinary network organization creating integrally sustainable solutions within the fields of urban and rural development. The office was founded in 2005 by German architect Oliver Schu╠łtte and Dutch anthropologist Marije van Lidth de Jeude. The anonymity of its name reflects the multitude of actors who stand behind the projects. The majority of our work is situated in developing countries, which means working with the existential limitations of people who find themselves in a permanent state of transition, and where the necessity of improvisation with its resulting visuals of the ‘incomplete’ are amongst the defining elements for the appearance and functioning of the built environment

As one of the results a design-and-build studio, which was joined by the Latin University and the National University in Costa Rica with the further support of the Veritas Center of Innovation and the Costa Rican Fab Lab Association, the Recycling and Community Center of Chira (RCCC) is now being constructed. It has been financed through the United Nations Development Programme, a Dutch NGO, an international fundraising campaign, as well as local donations. The self-organized Association of Ladies Working for the Environment (ADATA) will operate the center, empowering islanders and sustaining their livelihood. Besides collecting and recycling garbage, ADATA will engage in upcycling processes by producing jewelry made from ‘trash’. Like this, the facility will generate an income for women who now depend solely on traditional ways of fishing and help building resilience. Besides being a workplace, the RCCC offers a space to gather for meetings, events, and environmental education, as well as a daycare center for children of the women at work.

© A-01, Recycling and Community Center of Chira (RCCC)

Framing the Common: a Project on the Shared Spaces of the Apartment

Framing the Common: A Project on the Shared Spaces of the Apartment, is a group project to shed light on the common idea of ‘home’ that started in autumn 2014 with a workshop in Tehran. The second phase was a parallel project involving teams from Tehran (Project Mosha, WORKNOT!), Bogota (CAMPO), Mumbai (ROOM for Architecture), and Kuala Lumpur (Normal Architecture) to locate the current condition of housing in the thorough project of Modernism. Since its emergence, the modern home has been instrumentalized to produce individual human-subjects, a process whose initial step was bound with the need to provide large numbers of minimum housing for factory workers; a process based on, but also conditioning, the separation between workspace and lifespace, a process fundamentally rooted in quantitative concepts of architecture, standardization, uprootedness, separation, and individualization. The idea of ownership was at first theorized and put at work in the 16th century when it became a precondition for the right of citizenship. But then it has undergone various transformations in the way it was applied in various countries while it grew tremendously more standardized and pixelated everywhere.

© Installation view, Palazzo Mora, Venice, 2016

Today the duality between concepts of private and public – based strongly on the modern paradigms of ownership – appears with a focus on the individuality of human-subjects. It is in this context that shared spaces have an in-between condition: laws and regulations consider them as in possession of multiple owners, while their use among owners is reduced to overly specific functions. To the extent that, instead of being spaces owned by multiple owners, they are excluded from the possession of all – in control of regulations. In a way, these spaces count as second-hand spaces, spaces that are shared–not deliberately, but inevitably. These spaces, excluded from private ownership, either turn into storage spaces, or turn into something other than the functionality they are meant for. However, this exclusion in itself is not a matter of our concern, but the regulations and power relations resulting to these arrangements are our very subject of study. These relations create the categorization of private, public, and shared space – and at the same time dissolve ‘the common’.

© Framing the Common: A Project on the Shared Spaces of the Apartment

Lieven Lefere: La Raison des Ombres

The point of departure of the work 'La raison des ombres' is the mausoleum of the former Vietnamese leader Ho-Chi-Minh. This building, with adjoining public space, was constructed during the mid seventies in Hanoi. It was designed as a unifying symbol for the Northern and Southern parts of the country after the Vietnamese war.

The main inspiration behind the production of 'La raison des ombres' is Lieven Lefere's fascination for places where it is prohibited to take photographs, which stands in stark contrast to our over-mediatized world, flooded with images. Based on rare footage and his own recollections of a visit some years ago, he reconstructed the inner space of the mausoleum in his studio on a scale of 1:3. The photograph is all that is left of this large scale model and remains as a document for presentation.

© Lieven Lefere in his studio

The photographic image freezes time, just as the embalmed body denies the transitoriness of the body and thus the progress of time. By this gesture a connection is made between the outer and the inner space. Through the thin vertical line you can catch a liberating glimpse of the horizon. It was also inserted as a reference to The Museum of Unlimited Extension, an unrealized building complex designed by Le Corbusier. Inside this museum the architect drew a labyrinthine trail that leads the visitors away from the centre of the building. Here and there an interuption of the wall provides a rare view on the surrounding landscape. In the case of 'La raison des ombres', however, the spectator is lead straight to the centre of the building. The atmosphere of the mausoleum is dark and desolate, but the incision is offering a vanishing point to the spectator. A mausoleum for the living conceived as a liberating space where time stands still and existence is commemorated.

© Lieven Lefere, La Raison des Ombres

The Chicala Observatory

The Chicala Observatory is an archive of the history and urban culture of Chicala, an informal neighbourhood in the centre of Luanda, Angola. The project is the result of collaboration between the Department of Architecture at the Universidade Agostinho Neto (UAN) and The Cass School of Architecture, London Metropolitan University. It takes the form of various open access components, which complement one another: a physical archive, an interactive website (www.chicala.org) and public presentations (lectures, exhibitions and publications). The aim of the study is to present the urban and social character of an area of the city which is gradually disappearing, and about which there is still a widespread lack of knowledge. The research also seeks to understand the nature of the neighbourhood’s reciprocal relationship with the city as a whole.

© Paulo Moreira, Household, 2013

The Chicala Observatory has contributed to increasing the inclusion of informal neighbourhoods in the teaching and professional practice of architecture. It has also helped to encourage public debate on the place of informality in Luanda’s urban order. Some of the primary spatial and social characteristics of the Chicala neighbourhood recorded in this study have already vanished due to the ongoing urban transformation process. The Chicala Observatory, hence, contributes to strengthening and consolidating the collective memory of the city of Luanda.

© Paulo Moreira, Household, 2013

Patricia Parinejad: Refavela

Favelas, named after the Brazilian creeping plant ‘favela’, have existed in Brazil since the 19th century. Wretched areas of closely packed dwellings sprung up in cities and on the outskirts of cities and continued to spread rampantly, growing completely out of control. Today, a billion people across the world live in slums. By 2030 this number will have doubled.

'Refavela' explores the remarkable reality of informal settlements and the interlacing structures of the spontaneous architecture of Rio’s favelas. The tapestry of buildings in such unexpected patterns and the creative energy exuding from the wildly interwoven structures is fascinating. Reminiscent of a honeycomb or a natural organism, they seem to crawl up the hills and etch their way into the surrounding jungle. An undulating and constantly growing labyrinth inexorably overflowing into the Mata Atlântica; an intricate maze built from trash and waste, the living environment for hundreds of thousands of people in search of a descent living space in which chaos and order seem to coexist. Some communities are being cleared as part of an urban clean-up campaign. And thus part of the country’s valuable architectural history is being destroyed.

© Patricia Parinejad, Refavela

Patricia Parinejad spent months documenting countless structures, different surfaces, the materials that had been used, and their components and elements such as scaffoldings, walls, doors, windows, stairs, roofs, and so on. For the author it is striking how much this architecture is a reflection of Brazil itself, and particularly so of Rio, a city full of surprising discoveries and delights. This spontaneously created architecture has a thousand different faces. It always reveals something new, and this inventiveness is typical for Rio’s dynamic identity. Each dwelling has its own look and unique singularity. Portraits of individual residents emphasize the human aspect of this entirely distinct way of living and show sensitive and passionate faces full of character that grew up in these rough but vibrant living conditions. Beauty is often where it is least expected. The dynamics of informal settlements show that creativity is among the key elements needed to create a decent living environment. Slum architecture could offer future solutions and become a role model for urban design and development, especially with the backdrop of the current refugee crisis where more and more dwellings are needed. The present informal architectural catalogue is also a tribute to the variance of craftsmanship, artistic vivacity, and architectural potency of the neglected and, to some extent, despised favela architecture. 

© Patricia Parinejad, Refavela

Denise Scott Brown

In September 1956, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown arrived in Venice for the CIAM Summer School. They were passionate Modernists who agreed with English New Brutalist ideas for updating the movement. While photographing architecture to support they memories back home in Africa, they fell in love with Venice, and they focus shifted from recording to analyzing. The city, in gainsaying Modern principles, offered an extension of Brutalist thought. Here time is revealed in brick sizes and combinations in one house mark many eras. Palazzos derailed from their first programs are now museums, galleries, and apartment houses – activities their designers never dreamt of.

© Denise Scott Brown, Piazza San Marco, Venice, 1956

What gave historic buildings the ability to adapt? How can we design for unpredictable future? Where does change over time leave the concept of functionalism? Venice urban space is not like Ville Radieuse. Campos and streets are skytopped outdoor rooms, defined by building fronts. City sectors form islands clustered around the Grand Canal, within a vast Lagoon where space is defined by markers and vistas. They shot street life, circulation, and activities, the givens of urban planning, and pondered earlier dictators of urban form and polity, tides, high water, geography, and economics. Values were revealed in churches and café tables in public squares, retail uses on the Rialto Bridge, private uses of deconsecrated churches, and (once) the Ponte dei Petti’s sirens. This reflected interplays between government, church, and people, IS and OUGHT, real and virtual.

© Installation view, Palazzo Mora, Venice, 2016

In January 1965, Denise Scott Brown moved to California and studied Los Angeles, where swift growth, vast space, and automobiles made even Miracle Mile seem like a commercial strip; and Las Vegas, where neon set downtown ablaze but had to extend upward to mark The Strip and its casinos in the Mojave Desert and among seas of cars. Brown now photographed more to teach than record, to compare Southwestern auto cities with historic ones and with the Modernist urban visions decried by social planners. I shot commercial architecture built for quick returns, social succession and invasion, machine romanticism, freeway lyricism, violent juxtapositions between freeways, pylons, and rural cottages, symbolic communication by architecture and signage, and interesting activities and ways of life – a mash of 1960's urbanism. Preparing studios, Brown explored Muscle Beach and The Strip. She practiced the “just shoot!” principal: stop to question your choice of subject and it’ll disappear before you reach it and just as you realize why you want it. Slides were mandatory: students in architecture need concrete examples to understand concepts like “symbol in space before form in space.” Her aim was not to answer questions but to help students learn to seek answers.

© Denise Scott Brown, Architettura Minore on the Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, 1966

© Denise Scott Brown, Architettura Minore on the Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, 1966

In 1966, Denise Scott Brown invited Robert Venturi to see Las Vegas. In the exhibition images are selected to convey the artistic journey “From Rome to Las Vegas” – “Venice to Venice”. Some of these appeared in Learning from Las Vegas famous studio and publication. Offered faculty rates, $8 per night, at the new Dunes hotel, Denise Scott Brown  joked “Could Las Vegas be educational?” Fifty years later the question still teases and challenges. 

© Denise Scott Brown, Bob a la Magritte, Las Vegas, 1966


European Cultural Centre
Palazzo Mora