Is Architecture Art? Venice Biennale Asks

The Venice Biennale, held every two years in Venice, Italy, is in full swing.  It started just a few days ago, and exhibit will continue through much of the fall.  This year’s events are coordinated by Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA, and includes over 50 architects, artists and engineers that Sejima feels are relevant to understanding architecture today. The exhibits offer a great diversity of material, unified under the usefully unspecific overarching title of “People meet in architecture.”

A review by Roderick Morris in yesterday’s NY Times is curious about how much of this year’s biennale could also be exhibited in art galleries as art.  Excerpts from the review pronounce: “Some of the architects and engineers Ms. Sejima has invited to participate have created installations that would not look out of place at a visual arts biennial… Ms. Sejima’s ideas of what is relevant to architecture today are probably more eclectic than those of any previous curator of the event… The enduring importance of drawing as the launching pad of the creative architectural process is vigorously advocated…”

It leads to the question: is architecture art?  Is it a fine art?  Is architecture becoming more like art, or less so in recent years?  How is architecture different than the other arts? Are the arts becoming more like architecture? What about the engineering side of architecture?  What about architecture’s “public” nature, the fact that buildings often affect more people over a longer period than most other art (many more people have to walk by a building than need to see an edgy painting in a gallery or listen to a piece of provocative music)?  What about the “functional” nature of architecture: architects seem to have a responsibility to insure that the user’s needs are addressed more so than other arts?  What about the increasing “moral imperative” to save energy in buildings?  How about the need to relate to context or community?  Is “architecture” the same as “building”?  Is the former art, and the later just everything that we build?

I encourage you to look up and research the Biennale.  Start at the Biennale website. A particularly interesting exhibit is the Croatian pavilion, which was floated in on a barge.  See e-architect blog. Check out reviews on various news sites and blogs, see what others think.  CMU Prof. Jen Lucchino has created a class in F’10 that studies the history of the Biennale, focuses on this year’s happenings, and even involves a class trip to Venice over October’s mid-semester break.

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