Venice Biennale is all style and little substance

Aaron Betsky did not endear himself to Irish architects four years ago when, on his first visit here (as an assessor for the AAI Awards), he suggested that they “borrow bits and pieces of the past, create fragments of civic grandeur abstracted to meet modern demands and never come together into a coherent and strong shape”. Betsky, who was born in Montana and now lives in Rotterdam, where he’s director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, will be remembered internationally for the travesty of his curatorship of the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale, Out There: Architecture Beyond Building , much of which is mere vacuous entertainment. The Corderie of the Arsenale di Venezia, a 300m-long former rope-making factory that serves as the thematic core of every biennale, provided the backdrop for Ricky Burdett’s magnificent presentation of the world’s mega-cities in 2006. But now, as Gertrude Stein acidly observed of Oakland, California, “there’s no there there”. According to Betsky’s manifesto: “This biennale does not want to present buildings that are already in existence and can be enjoyed in real life. It does not want to propose abstract solutions to social problems, but wants to see if architecture, by experimenting on and in the real world, can offer some concrete forms or seductive images.”

The Irish Times