Public architecture in hard times

For the Biennale, the Portuguese exhibition “Public without Rhetoric” shows 12 public buildings with a focus on the accessibility and quality of collective space.

João Mendes Ribeiro, -é+, Museu Arquipelago, São Miguel

Being one of the few European countries to not have its own pavilion at the Giardini, Portugal chose Palazzo Giustinian Lolin where the Ugo and Olga Levi Foundation is housed as its temporary venue. It is quite a contrast with two years ago, when Portugal staged the exhibition “Neighbourhood - Where Álvaro meets Aldo” on the ground floor of a still-unfinished wing of Álvaro Siza’s tenement at the Campo di Marte social housing project in the Giudecca district. But don’t let the different type of location fool you, because both shows share a common root in what they consider virtuous architecture, and how to represent it.

Also the curators of “Public without Rhetoric” embrace social projects, but while the 2016 focus was on social housing, this Biennale offers a selection of public buildings. Again this time, traditional means of representation are used: drawings, scale models and photographs (slides, to be precise). To see the current state of the works, video is added, as it was back then to show Siza visiting the tenants of his lodgings. This time, just as two years ago, there are no special effects, sophisticated props, complex concepts or highfalutin theories. There is no rhetoric in Portugal, this year’s title indicates – only concreteness.

Gonçalo Byrne and Barbas Lopes Arquitectos (Diogo Seixas Lopes and Patrícia Barbas),  Thalia Theatre, Lisboa, 2012
Gonçalo Byrne and Barbas Lopes Arquitectos (Diogo Seixas Lopes and Patrícia Barbas), Thalia Theatre, Lisboa, 2012

To make their point, the curators Nuno Brandão Costa and Sérgio Mah selected 12 buildings constructed in the past 10 years by Portuguese architects born in every decade from the 1930s to the 1980s. The work expresses the public mission of architecture, made all the more eloquent seeing the economic crisis that has struck Portugal particularly harshly during the last decade, drying up the funds that were needed precisely for social projects. “Our obsession with community buildings is countercurrent to a ten-year movement away from public construction projects, with Western European neoliberalism viewing them as unnecessarily, wasteful and misguided,” say the curators. “Cultural, educational and sporting facilities lead to civilisational evolution and progressive social equity. This type of architecture simultaneously rebuilds and rehabilitates the form of the city, and qualitatively and culturally renews public space.”

Cultural, educational and sporting facilities lead to civilisational evolution and progressive social equity. This type of architecture simultaneously rebuilds and rehabilitates the form of the city, and qualitatively and culturally renews public space

The work brought to the Biennale to demonstrate the Portuguese touch when it comes to social architecture is of various scales and uses. Coherent with the curators’ pragmatic social agenda, the videos projected in the entrance hall show the dynamics of appropriation employed by the people who use the buildings. Produced by four contemporary Portuguese artists – André Cepeda, Catarina Mourão, Nuno Cera and Salomé Lamas – these films offer a subjective and indirect impression before we move on to the piano nobile of the palazzo, where a more objective portrait of the work is given through more traditional instruments of analysis. Do not attempt to look for a logical sequence, chronological order or organisation by size. The projects are presented without hierarchy. The big names of Siza, Souto Moura, Aires Mateus, Gonçalo Byrne and Bak Gordon are interspersed with the younger ones of Ottotto, Barbas Lopes Arquitectos, Fala Atelier, Atelier Depa Architects and Fahr 021.3. All of them pursue the beauty and accessibility of collective spaces, and all are living examples of the cross-generational quality of Portuguese architects.

Title:
Public without Rhetoric
Pavilion:
Portugal
Curators:
Nuno Brandão Costa, Sérgio Mah
Location:
Palazzo Giustinian Lolin
Opening dates:
26 May – 25 November 2018
Address:
San Marco 2893, Venice

Special Biennale

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