New Corktown proposal by Albert Pope and Jesus Vassallo, US Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale. Photo: Peter Molick.
The 15th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia) opened with a Vernissage last week, a private preview of the work produced for one of the most immensely exciting times for architectural practice, research, and theory. The exhibition entitled “Reporting From the Front” was curated by 2016 Pritzker Laureate Alejandro Aravena of Chile, who placed construction and quality of life at the center of the discussion.
Curators from each country selected representatives to exhibit their work in national pavilions at the Giardini, the grounds of the Biennale. In addition, the Arsenale collated projects from various countries illustrating significant examples of vernacular building methods, formal languages, and tectonic systems in current development. It was especially interesting to be in Venice at the time of the Vernissage because exhibitors, installers, supporters, and academics alike spilled out from their respective pavilions and onto the connecting alley, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, to socialize.
Building in a landscape being converted from mid-income housing to high-end luxury condos; construction currently stalled due to financial hardship. Photos: Daisy Ames.
Houston is caught in the crosshairs of irrational exuberance, a term initially coined in the 1990s by Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan in reference to the overvalued dot-com market. Similarly, when the United States’ housing market crashed in 2008, we were again forced to rethink our economic investments and spending. As architect and writer Pier Vittorio Aureli explains, we began to embrace Mies van der Rohe’s aphorism “less is more,” rendering it fashionable once again.
During such fundamental economic shifts we have come to see Houston’s continuing growth as more of a superficial reconstruction rather than an attempt to address the root of its problems. For example, the oil market crash in the 1980s left the city desolate, and the buildings Downtown were referred to as “see-through buildings” because the floors were not occupied and left transparent from one glass facade to the other. Since Fall 2015, the oil price per barrel has declined 70 percent, and unless we implore thoughtful design and fiscally responsible construction methods, we might face an empty city once again.