Best of the rest: starchitects pull in the crowds at Venice Architecture Biennale

Best of the rest: starchitects pull in the crowds at Venice Architecture Biennale

There’s a saying that the writer and chef Anthony Bourdain likes to use to epitomise the attainment of success, and the perpetual recognition that said success tends to create. To paraphrase, one goes to see a band like the Rolling Stones because you know that they’re going to play Satisfaction, and peering through the crowds, thronging a trio of exhibits at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, one gets the feeling that, come rain or shine, the crowd-pleasing combination of blockbuster names and dramatic centrepieces will always pull the masses in.

Such sentiments do not diminish in the least the power of these exhibits; if anything, they make the displays during this year’s Biennale by Frank Gehry, Lord Foster and the recently departed Zaha Hadid even stronger.

Gehry’s exhibition at the Espace Louis Vuitton near the city’s teeming Piazza San Marco retraces the story of the architect’s dream of ‘designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation’, referring to his dramatic design for the Fondazione Louis Vuitton in Paris that opened in 2014. Entitled ‘Building in Paris by Frank Gehry con l’intervento di Daniel Buren’, it was initially unveiled in Paris for the inauguration of the Fondation, but has been imparted new life via a special redesign by Gehry Partners. The building’s architecture is being presented via a series of scale models.

The Canadian-American architect’s display is evenly matched by artist Daniel Buren’s spectacular in-situ installation that shares main billing with the exhibition, which works with the space’s glass roof to create a striking multicoloured vision in line with the artist’s best work.

Literally flying closer to the Biennale’s ‘Reporting from the Front’ theme is the Droneport concept, revealed by the Norman Foster Foundation at the Arsenale as its inaugural project. Conceived as a response to Africa’s exploding population and lagging infrastructure, each Droneport will serve as a base from which Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can deliver emergency medical supplies to remote communities previously difficult to access by conventional means, with the maiden flight set to launch later this year in Rwanda.

‘The Droneport project is about doing “more with less”, capitalising on the recent advancements in drone technology – something that is usually associated with war and hostilities – to make an immediate life-saving impact in Africa,’ says Foster. The structure’s vaulted form is made from two layers of a new type of compressed earth block dubbed Durabric, developed by the LafargeHolcim Foundation in conjunction with researchers at the Block Research Group from ETH in Zurich and Meco Concept in Toulouse.

Last, but certainly not least, is an artfully grand tribute to the late Zaha Hadid, organised by the Fondazione Berengo cultural institution and set within the walls of the spectacular 16th century Palazzo Franchetti. While no tribute or retrospective could truly encompass the breadth of Hadid’s work and process, this abridged version will more than suffice for most. Spanning her early works – including the distinctive, competition winning Peak in Hong Kong – all the way to works set to be completed by her studio ZHA this year (such as the Port House in Antwerp), the exhibition will offer new appreciation and insight to both experienced observers and architectural neophytes.

In particular, longtime fans will be glad to see familiar works juxtaposed with detailed visualisations; three milestone projects (the evergreen Vitra Fire Station, Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the MAXXI Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome) are given their own dedicated spaces, alongside a room reserved for Hélène Binet’s powerful images of the studio’s built work. In a career decorated with innumerable accolades and awards, it’s fitting that the architect’s first tribute exhibition takes place during what is considered by most to be the world’s biggest architecture celebration.

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