America Gets Earnest With Social Change Theme at Venice Architecture Biennale

A preview of some of the projects which will be featured at the Biennale's American pavilion this summer.

Every other year, hotshot architects from all over the world descend upon Venice, filling the waterlogged streets and crumbly old buildings with some of the weirdest (and occasionally pointless) archi-experiments around.

At this year's Venice Biennale of Architecture the U.S. Pavilion is mounting an exquisitely earnest exhibit on social change. It'll include everything from a mobile food collective in Chicago to storm-protection plans in New York and New Orleans. Below, we take a peek at the highlights.

Up top, a design by MOS, for an installation that will adorn a nook outside the actual pavilion. Made mostly of helium balloons, the architects describe it variously as weather-balloon inspired, the "kind of architecture would Haruki Murakami make," and "diet-architecture" made of almost nothing.

Below is a concept for a big-box parking lot-turned-garden. The elevated platform takes the shape of the company's logo if you look at it from Google Earth (ostensibly the only way you can convince a big-box retailer to throw up anything green). It came from cityLAB, a think tank in--where else?--L.A.


Here's the Mobile Food Collective by another think tank, Archeworks. It's made up of an organic food cart and a fleet of delivery bikes.



Hood Design, founded by Walter Hood, out of Oakland, Calif., has taken on downtown Berkeley, one of the worst-designed neighborhoods in the Bay Area. It looks like the ruins of a planning war between the city and the 'burbs, what with an over-wide boulevard cutting straight through a pedestrian shopping area no one wants to frequent anyway, because it's so poorly maintained. Hood has a plan for turning downtown's Center Street into a sort of urban woods, setting trees, ravines, and parks against the ubiquitous concrete. Chances of it happening in a city government that spends 99% of its time passing resolutions against the war in Iraq? Slim to none. But it's a good idea.



Here's a mixed-used development that's been underway in Atlanta since 1960. In the words of the architect, John Portman & Associates, it "illustrates how a design-led business can create a positive and powerful effect on the stability and growth of a major city."


Engineer extraordinaire Guy Nordenson is collaborating with a slew of designers and experts on concepts to build up the "soft infrastructure" -- natural habitats and the like -- of both New York and the Mississippi delta. Contrast that to the ideology of "hard infrastructure," which, as the press materials tell us, has swallowed up Louisiana's wetlands at the rate of one football field every 38 minutes.


Workshopping: An American Model for Architectural Practice features a total of seven American architects and collectives. Opening in August, it's curated by Michael Rooks of the High Museum of Art and Jonathan Solomon of 306090. For more about the Biennale, visit the Web site.

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4 Comments

  • Bob Jacobson

    PS How is Guy Nordenson coping with the BP oil spill in his treasured wetlands? That's worth a story in FC.

  • Bob Jacobson

    Absolutely beautiful concepts in a well conceived show. It gives the lie (often associated with the US Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, which is nothing more than a corporate billboard) that we in America are incapable of addressing broader issues with a social conscience when we exhibit overseas. Thank you.

  • Michael Nicolson

    John Portman's building's have helped to destroy the fabric of many American urban centers. That he made it into the Biennale is a testament only to the power of money.