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NEXT, 8 Mostra Internazionale di Architettura
La Biennale di Venezia

Who’s next
by: Stefano Maffei


If we really have to talk about nostalgia, then perhaps we can take a good old milestone of classic rock & roll as our starting point. In order to comment on this Biennial, or rather, comment on its underlying themes, perhaps the best thing for us is to think back to something we have already experienced. While I was poking around the Biennial web site, I was reminded of an idea which came from the title of an old record by The Who. The record is called “Who’s Next?”, and seen in the light of this brief commentary, it might be read to mean who’s the next star, who will be the next darling of the star system, of the sparkling international circuits, who will go down in history as Architect of the 21st Century?
Well, I’ll tell you this: my generation is sick to the back teeth of this question. WHO CARES…..!!
What’s the point of having another truckload of shiny new examples of architecture proposed by a selection of marvellous and untouchable protagonists of contemporary architecture?
Who really cares about the latest catalogue of –isms, trends, and YACS tribes (Young, Architect, Contemporary, Snob)?

It’s a shame that the curator, in the attempt to hook up the Biennial to the great international professional circuits, has gone about it all the wrong way. The winning combination for this Biennial might have been ideas+examples. Examples without even a bare minimum of ideas to be discussed, to be verified through a careful choice of case studies only lay down the foundation stones for what the curator of the Biennial thinks it ought to be or become. That is, an architectural magazine, a solid magazine built using classic material examples proposed by contemporary architecture: building designs, models and prototypes.

The only tiny defect of this albeit clear thematic direction lies in the fact which cannot be overlooked that by doing so, not the slightest contribution is made to the creation or discussion of a collective and non-individualistic perception of architecture. The key issues the curator Dejian Sudijc brings up in the video clip on the Biennial web site regarding his intention to highlight the physical side of architecture only serve to drive home this conservative, formalist approach to architecture in which the substance (that is, the idea) if there is one either cannot be seen or cannot be understood.

Go out for a walk with Celati from “Verso la Foce” as your guide.
Go for a walk around a few town halls, offices, churches or hospitals in Italy.
This event will only demonstrate to us exactly how little, how very little real Italian architecture there is.
Don’t you ever wonder why?

Why isn’t there any quality Italian architecture?
Why are Italian architects so crap?
Or shall we just shrug it all off saying that it’s the Brits’ fault because they just don’t understand the Italian scene?

As far as I’m concerned, the answer lies in the current nation-wide inability to start up a debate on or an approach towards or an experimentation with architecture which might gain widespread following while at the same time preserving even a feint sense of the original and home-grown.

This is the fruit of a rather perverse interweaving of various factors. On one hand, we have a largely public body of consumers who are quite thoroughly uninterested in the real reasons why architecture exists, delegating their potential role as the sponsor of not strictly commercial research which brings about an almost total lack of debate on the key strategic notions – notions of the use of architecture as a key tool in social engineering, as a way of experimenting with new social models or lifestyles. On the other hand, there is a stuffy old generation of young architects who don’t have the courage to discuss or oppose this grotesque logic, and at most each fight a tiny personal battle on one particular aspect, which is better than nothing but which doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the real areas in which an architect needs to operate in – the city or the territory in the wider sense…

Perhaps to start something, something which might possibly be defined as a movement, it would be enough to be like Tommy (yes – The Who again) says:

I’m free – I’m free
And freedom tastes of reality…

BIOGRAPHY

Stefano Maffei, born 18.03.1966 in Sassuolo, Modena (Italy)
Architect and designer. Ph.D. in Industrial Design. Lives and works in Milan.
Researcher at the Department of Industrial Design (INDACO) of the Faculty of Industrial Design at the Polytechnic of Milan and teacher of Industrial Design. Member of the SDI (Sistema Design Italia), design research agency.
Supervises the exhibitions, publishing and research activities of OPOS, a Milanese cultural body concerned with research and promotion in the field of design.
He has written various essays and publications for Electa, Scheiwiller, Abitare Segesta, Il Sole 24 Ore Editorial, Lupetti and Eleuthera.