Rem Koolhaas, curator of the latest Venice Architecture Biennale, remembers lying naked on a balcony as baby, in the cold last winter of the Second World War. He recalls an earthquake when he was growing up in Indonesia splitting the wall next to his bed. He still dreams of Italian films from the 1960s. And out of these memories he has built his giant exhibition, “Fundamentals.” There are no buildings here, nor the work of any star architects, only the “elements” of architecture (ceilings, floors, walls, fireplaces, stairs, those balconies) as seen in models, photographs, and wall texts. As in a dream (or a nightmare), nothing quite hangs together, so you go wandering through the remains of architecture.
In the spirit of that theme, for the National Pavilions, Koolhaas asked the participating countries to comment on their indigenous architecture. In a parade of photographs, the U.S. showed how it has imposed good, bad, or indifferent monuments on other countries around the world, while the Belgians demonstrated how people pervert (or “improve”) the buildings architects have designed for them, by adding their own stairs, windows, air conditioners, or refrigerators. Meanwhile, in the Israeli Pavilion, robots trace out suburban settlements in sand, only to wash them away again faster than any politician could ever hope to. Koolhaas’s Biennale lets you wander through a graveyard of modernist architecture where only the ruins of its utopian monuments remain. Here, some highlights.