For once, they've come up with a theme for the Venice Biennale that is genuinely fascinating and not just in an abstract, self indulgent, way, but in a way that could actually be of some value in provoking a real reassessment of the massive impact that the modern movement has had on all of our urban values.
Entitled; Absorbing Modernity 1914 – 2014, the director, Rem Koolhas has made it clear what he wants:
“Ideally, we would want the represented countries to engage a single theme – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014, and to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favour of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language in a single repertoire of typologies.”
As reported in the recent press release [Archiseek news], the chosen Irish representatives, Boyd & McLaughlin, are going to be presenting an exhibition at the Biennale next year that 'looks at the social and material dimensions of infrastructures in forming the identity of Ireland since independence, and the embodiment of these in architecture,' which they explain in the following terms:
“In an Irish context there are complex readings due to decolonisation and political independence. After independence the construction of new infrastructures was seen as part of the building of the new nation. The adoption of international style modernism in architecture was perceived as a way to escape the colonial past”.
The use of word 'infrastructures,' plural, here is ringing my alarm bells, but assuming that this is just a mild example of the usual mystification-by-architect-speak, and that they really are contemplating just milking the pitifully few signature infrastructure projects that the state, or its semi-states, did manage to commission in the early decades of independence; the Shannon Hydro-Electric plant, Dublin Airport, Busaras etc., as some kind of process of - de-colonisation-by-architecture - we're going to head off to Venice with a presentation that seriously misrepresents our recent architectural past.
We know only too well that it wasn't beneath many of our political leaders in the mid-20th century to excuse the mass urban dereliction that they presided over, which decimated our 18th century built-heritage, with disparaging references to the colonial past that was responsible for much of that heritage, and yet even this phoney - de-colonization by dereliction - would be a more valid representation of our architectural values in the prescribed period than any aspiration to an independent identity through an embracing of the 'International Style'.
Do we really want to delude ourselves that we were ever a country that was inspired by our architects to 'escape the colonial past' by embracing modernism. Look around you, that didn't happen, the Catholic Church would have nothing to do with it for a start.
To the extent that the architectural profession was complicit in the wide-scale ditching of the past, it was largely to create work, and aggrandizing opportunities, for itself, but that's not quite the same thing.
- Old Master
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