Intuitions and conflicts. The Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Mario Cucinella guides us across architecture that can resist political forces. But the architect’s soul gets the upper hand over the curator’s.

Arcipelago Italia, the Italian contribution to the 16th International Architecture Exhibition

Inside the Italian Pavilion different itineraries overlap; the metaphor of the archipelago isn’t enough to keep these all together. It would have sufficed to have simply done what the architect Mario Cucinella had stated and partly carried out: reflecting on inland areas, without coming up with hasty design solutions built ad hoc to show that the architect, through his design, accredited by university research, can provide all the answers. It would have been enough just to have faith in the excellent intuition the architect lends to curating. Taking a tour to observe and understand an Italy forgotten and abandoned to its nature and inhabitants, with architecture that, thanks to its simplicity, can resist political forces that, at this moment, don’t believe in architecture. 

Cucinella already went on this tour; he led us amidst unique and engaging itineraries, in a clear and communicative installation. He showed us places we’ve forgotten and which could still be the focus of reflection on the state of our nation. In these eight itineraries, contemporary architecture design, historical towns, roads, landscapes and natural parks stage the geography of an amazing Italy. This stroll is enriched by projects selected thanks to a call launched in June 2017 (a great and democratic idea) with the goal of identifying concrete examples of designs that were built or are currently being built, able to underline the role contemporary architecture can play in inhabited areas far from major centres often perceived as places of marginal passage yet able to reacquire centrality in the dialogue between new needs, layers of history and landscapes. Among the 500 proposals, the curating team selected around 70, relating them to the itineraries. Rounding off the display – or rather, before embarking on this tour of Italy – the documentary L’altro spazio describes this trip through the inland territories in search of the roots of our layered material and immaterial knowledge across the past and geography of our peninsula.

If everything were limited to these intuitions, the boundaries between design, research and memory would have been respected. Cucinella, who is indeed a talented architect, would have displayed his vision and left room for an interpretation on the part of the visitor, mostly architects like himself. If he had been courageous enough to stop, opinions would have been more than positive. Instead, the architect’s soul, which has all the answers, got the upper hand over the curator’s, with little time at disposal for such complex issues. If his role became that of co-architect, I ask myself why not leave room for the talented studios that were invited rather than guiding them and showing off: AM3 with Vincenzo Messina, BDR Bureau, diverserighestudio, Gravalos Di Monte Arquitectos, MoDus Architects, Solinas Serra Architetti.

Arcipelago Italia, the Italian contribution to the 16th International Architecture Exhibition
Arcipelago Italia, the Italian contribution to the 16th International Architecture Exhibition

Why choose the path of conflict between very different roles? So the matter was delicate – that of being a curator or an architect – and the choice fell upon the conflict between these two roles; this way, it fenced in all those invited, including universities, which remain on the margins with respect to the importance given, information-wise, to the School of Sustainability (a cultural and non-commercial sponsor of the Italian Pavilion), founded by Mario Cucinella himself. In short, the motionless dance between intuitions and conflicts leaves room for doubt.

Exhibition title:
Arcipelago Italia
Opening dates:
26 May – 25 November 2018
Mario Cucinella
Italian Pavilion, Arsenale

Special Biennale

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