Despite beginning and ending with gusts of rain, yesterday’s first day of previews at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale mostly cast a sweltering sun over Common Ground, the main exhibition at the Arsenale. At first reckoning, the theme, chosen by exhibition director and UK architect David Chipperfield, doesn’t sound all that different from Kazuyo Seijima’s intriguingly prosaic People Meet in Architecture from 2010. But while Seijima’s Biennale will be best remembered for its immersive installations by Olafur Eliasson, Antón García-Abril and others, Common Ground places objects, documentation, and imagery at the center of architecture’s buzzing hive of current preoccupations.
There are lots of artifacts, both found and otherwise: an abstracted kiosk among stacks of newspapers and paper cups (by Case Study Vogt and ETH Zürich), doodads bought in London shops (Haworth Tompkins) and knickknacks from a religious pilgrimage in Mexico (master planned by Tatiana Bilbao, Derek Dellekamp, and Rozana Montiel). The overriding sense is that of an archaeology of memory, whether collective or fragmented, and devoid of singular narratives. Indeed, FAT’s Museum of Copying, Farshid Moussavi’s Architecture and Affects, Valerio Olgiati’s Pictographs, and Hans Kolhoff’s Tektonik all seem to be sticking their shovels in an excavation of (mostly Western) architectural references, all the while churning the strata to mix it up. Sometimes it works, though other times it verges on stodginess.