We may have been wounded, but we’re still here. One year after the events of September 11, we have not only survived, we have transcended the blows. While we continue to grieve, the human and material losses at the World Trade Center and the attacks on the Pentagon have unleashed pent-up energies, flooding the world with creative ideas. What, we all wonder, should replace all that went before?
The search for an answer to that question has galvanized universal attention. In an outpouring of responses, private citizens and professional designers are inundating the media with schemes to replace the World Trade Center and alter the future of Lower Manhattan. Television, the magazines (including Architectural Record), schools of architecture, lectures and seminars, books, and Web sites are jammed with schemes, from studious to half-cracked. In the aftermath, it seems that everyone has become a designer.
As the suggestions flow in and the cast of characters changes, a singular event may enrich the discussions. On September 8, the Venice Biennale opens its doors to the public with a grand architectural show. It may seem ironic to tout a celebration of design simultaneously with the anniversary of 9/11, yet, in a sense, what better way to proceed? The fact remains, despite a year of economic and political uncertainties, war and rumors of war, we are poised to build again with innovation and hope.
This, only the eighth Biennale International Architecture Exhibition, promises to offer a comprehensive overview, focusing on the “physical and material, rather than the virtual,” states director Deyan Sudjic. While large group shows can be overwhelming or superficial, Sudjic has assembled an all-star,
heterogeneous cast of 130 architects together in a single exhibition entitled Next. In one visit, the interested viewer can see the work of the great, such as Alvaro Siza, and the lesser-known, like Thai architect Kanika R’kul, in actual projects for real clients. What better way to grasp the temper of the moment?
Next is organized around project types, such as housing; for example, the low-income housing project called the Great Wall in which China has engaged talented architects like the Japanese Shigeru Ban. His ideas are strong and innovative. By contrast, tall buildings continue to be built worldwide, and the examples assembled in Venice will place the issue of scale squarely in public debate. Museums, arguably the laboratory for creativity during the recent past, will be represented by the work of Daniel Libeskind, Tadao Ando, and Sejima/Nishiwara—all with real examples that should broaden our global understanding.
The Biennale is larger, however, than the group show. In addition, approximately 50 countries are exhibiting projects at individual pavilions—a veritable world’s fair of architecture spread among the trees of Venice’s Giardini di Castello. What is happening in Argentina, Austria, France, or Brazil? Each country includes from one to 20 architects.
The exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion, The World Trade Center: Past, Present, Future, will approach Ground Zero in an uncommon way. Sponsored for the first time by the Department of State, with participation by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the pavilion (with yours truly as commissioner) will offer international visitors an encounter with events that, until now, may have seemed surreal or remote. Joel Meyerowitz’s photographs of Ground Zero will be complemented by the Max Protetch show of designs for the World Trade Center site—a touring exhibition of 60 schemes that has provoked passionate responses and prompted strong debate about the future of Lower Manhattan.
New ideas. Real projects. Worldwide scope. Debate. The Biennale should add up to a worthwhile pilgrimage for architects, immersing us in the rich, ongoing potential of our professional work. Despite last year’s horrors, the world did not stop spinning; instead, one year later, we have reclaimed our footing, and we are making new plans. Come to Venice and find out how. Ciao.