Between 29 August and 25 November, Venice hosts the 13th International Architecture Biennale – the event which determines relevant trends in architecture for the next two years. This year, the Russian pavilion has received a Special mention in the Best National Participation nomination with the wording as follows: “for a dialectic approach to Russia’s past, present and future which in the process turns us all into digital spies”. Sergey Tchoban and Sergey Kuznetsov, Chief Architect of Moscow, acted as pavilion curators; Grigory Revzin, an architecture critic, — as Commissioner.
This year, the Biennale was titled Common Ground. The architects focused on searching for new points of contact with society. The search resulted in architecture which practically did not give any food for thought and where content and form are reduced to function. Thus, for example, young Canadian architects have created an architectural form using bars of various heights which is intended for social and cultural dialogue between immigrants and local inhabitants. The project was supported by a video message with an appeal to share an experience of moving to another country and adaptation to it, but from the viewpoint of new architectural ideas and still remains a puzzle to me.
The Russian pavilion represents an i-city project devoted to Skolkovo: a huge Pantheon-like dome totally faced with ornamental QR-codes with the encoded information on various projects of the innovation city. Behind the wall panels, lamps are located working in several modes: first illuminating one type of objects and then the other ones, with all lamps being switched on at last. The visitors who were given a tablet PC before entering the pavilion could feel acting as spies and, after aiming their tablet at the square, read the information about one of Skolkovo’s projects.
The pavilion looks superb and large-scale, but it is difficult to stay impartial till the end when evaluating the brainchild of my fellow-nationals, although, the essence of it, unfortunately, demonstrates the projects of foreign architects.
Therefore, I decided to interview my non-Russian colleagues and gathered their feedback on the pavilion. Some opinions are given below.
Iveta Popova, architect, Bulgaria:
“Romanticism of recent years in the first part of the pavilion where the images of Soviet tech cities, Skolkovo’s ancestors, are hidden behind the lenses gives a definite anticipation of promising history. And it would seem, as if this well and beautifully made glossy-black dome invites you to investigate a future research city in the vicinity of Moscow in Silicon Valley style and discover a new Russia. But in the end, that promising essence of the project you’ve expected disappears behind expensive presentation”.
Lorenzo Crozi, architect, Italy:
“The Russian pavilion proved to be the most irritating one. Seeming high technologies became outdated long ago. And the project’s idea itself doesn’t pick out a flourishing stock of national talent, but demonstrates the projects of foreign star architects”.
Maria Patzelt, architect and designer, Germany:
“The Russian pavilion was an interest grabber at the Biennale. A bright pop art explosion being close to vulgarity and out of step with the declared subject remains in memory and gives ground for discussion that is quite a few”.
Vincenzo Somarelli, architect and designer, Italy:
“The approach of making high technologies the main driving force for an architectural project is flat and one-sided. At first, it seems that the Russians have made something obviously valuable and great. But, as a matter of fact, you just entertain yourself by walking with a tablet in your hands and scanning QR-codes, besides this entertainment there is nothing to be taken out from the pavilion. I think Russians don’t understand that these are not the technologies necessary for people. Generally speaking, the overall idea of the Russian pavilion has reminded me of lunch in modern school when every school boy or girl, being deep into his or her new gadget, thinks that nothing is more important in the world than just another application”.
No doubt that the Russian pavilion impressed both the judges having awarded it with a Special mention and the guests of the Biennale even in spite of the fact that some opinions could be reduced to such words as “these Russians” have thrown money for the project again. Making an impression is our advantage. The things treated outside of Russia as immoderate and wasteful for us will reflect the generosity of the Russian soul.