Here’s a remarkable idea: we don’t need any more buildings. We’re full up. If we need more space, we can renovate what we already have. We’re good.
Such a scenario is about as likely to occur as a mall closing because everyone’s bought enough clothes. The construction industry is a crucial, perpetual driver of our economy.
Yet that’s the premise of Re-set: New Wings For Architecture, the Dutch pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. “We are not hanging Objets d’Art, exhibit works or stage events,” says Petra Blaisse, the textile designer and frequent Rem Koolhaas-collaborator behind Re-set. “We are responding to the vacant architecture itself.” Rather than stage an exhibition, like most other countries at the Biennale, Blaisse and her team have filled their space with a series of shimmering curtains, hung on motorized frames that divide the expansive galleries into smaller spaces. The pavilion’s interior changes every five minutes–accompanied by a soft whirr and swishing of fabric–demonstrating how relatively low-cost, low-impact architectural interventions can re-animate abandoned spaces.
Re-set piggybacks conceptually on Holland’s 2010 pavilion, Vacant NL, which proposed the creative reuse of thousands of vacant buildings across the Netherlands, calling attention to the glut of unused space with a scale model of every known unused building in the country. That harrowing, rigorous exhibition is in stark contrast to the simplicity and ease of this year’s offering–a kind of conceptual exclamation point that proves how easily such spaces could be repurposed. In Venice, the architects point out that the Dutch Pavilion building has sat vacant for 9 months of every year since it was build–roughly thirty or so years of disuse in total.
“An untouched tract of land and a substantial budget were for many years the chief preconditions for fine architecture,” says Netherlands Insitute of Architecture director Ole Bouman, who curated the show. But no longer. In fact, an exorbitant budget these days seems to act almost as a critical handicap–sure, that’s an interesting piece of architecture, but you had money. “The ‘reanimation’ of desolate buildings is increasingly becoming the architect’s core task.”
The Biennale, for all its talk of slum research and guerilla architecture, is still a gathering for the upper echelon of an industry defined by conspicuous consumption. The Dutch (along with Japan’s excellent Toyo Ito-designed pavilion) present a less glamorous proposal: let’s use what we’ve already built. Bouman, who has spent the last few years advocating an Architecture of Consequence, is part of a group of critics and architects who believe reuse is necessarily the future of architecture. It’s certainly no longer the trendy topic it once was–but Bouman appears to be keeping on keeping on. “The power of architecture is proven by the experience, the performance,” he adds in a video shot at the pavilion. “In a way, it’s not just the purpose, but the effect of architecture that’s being shown.”
[Images (c) Rob ‘t Hart]