Biennale beanball



The 14th Venice Biennale opened June 7 and runs into November, the lalapalooza of world architecture, this year curated by Dutch starchitect Rem Koolhaas. The usual suspects of architecture criticism have had their go at it, and it has proved disappointing to some of them.

Rem Koolhaas. (

Rem Koolhaas. (

I grab for readers’ delectation three essayists from Archnewsnow’s ongoing bag of biennale coverage: Sarah Williams Goldhagen, who wrote “Critique: Rem’s Rules” for Architectural Record; Pulitzer winner Julie V. Iovine, who wrote “Just the Fundamentals” for the Wall Street Journal; and Aaron Betsky, who wrote “I Went to the Venice Architectural Biennale and All I Got Was This Elegy” for Architect magazine.

Rem Koolhaas’s theme for the biannual event was that modern architecture had replaced the national characteristics of our world’s collection of built environments with a globalized sameness. He wanted each nation with a pavilion to analyze that truth from its own regional perspective. The biennale is usually just a glorified runway for the strutting of the latest in architectural fashion, but Koolhaas is architecture’s intellectual bad boy, often allowing home truths about modern architecture to “slip” out of his discourse, and this year’s biennale theme was typical.



Koolhaas seems to draw architecture critics to put their depth chops on display, and so I will let readers plunge into these three critiques on their own. They are all deeply amusing. I will only say that Iovine let the cat out of the bag when she revealed the depressing fact that so many of the exhibits at the biennale were about the past! – as I suppose you would expect from an event whose theme is about how style has evolved as a representation of national character. To me it seems obvious that Rem’s big crime this year was to introduce a lot of traditional architecture. This posed the risk of allowing visitors to feel the inevitable charm of traditional and classical styles over the usual tedious, sterile, ugly modernist styles that visitors are expected to pretend to drool over. Apparently, this was just a little too obvious for our three critics to bear, and they have grumbled accordingly, not without some worthy insights, of course, but all sporting more than a mere soupcon of angst. So please enjoy each of them in their own way!

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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