ARCHITIZER IS PLEASED TO PARTNER WITH THE US PAVILION, OFFICEUS, AT THE 14TH INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTURE EXHIBITION IN VENICE. IN THE WEEKS LEADING UP TO THE PUBLIC EXHIBITION OPENING ON JUNE 7TH, 2014, ARCHITIZER IS OFFERING A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS WITH THE CURATORS AND COLLABORATORS OF THE PROJECT TO SHARE THE CONCEPTUALIZATION, RESEARCH, AND INSTALLATION OF OFFICEUS. TODAY, WE OFFER AN EXCLUSIVE Q&A BETWEEN ARCHITIZER AND THE OFFICEUS CURATORS, ANA MILJAČKI (MIT), EVA FRANCH I GILABERT (STOREFRONT FOR ART AND ARCHITECTURE), and ASHLEY SCHAFER (PRAXIS). READ ON FOR THEIR STORY ON THE POWER OF A CURATORIAL TRIFECTA, WRANGLING WITH REM, AND THE THRILL OF EXCAVATING 1,000 PROJECTS BUILT BY US ARCHITECTS ABROAD OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS.
How did the focus on architectural export and offices arise? Was it a direct reaction to Rem’s theme of “Fundamentals”?
EFiG: The project came into focus way before Rem set his conditions for national pavilions. It was a very beautiful coincidence — what Rem did for us was to clarify and conceptually frame the projects. That’s why we categorized the repository of 1,000 projects from 1914 to 2014. Initially, we were looking into the last 10 years of architectural production of US firms abroad, and in order to really understand this production and the relationship between the big, large office and the ideas used within smaller, more experimental firms, we expanded the historical timespan.
AM: One idea circulating around Rem’s “Fundamentals” is that he wasn’t interested in looking at starchitects. He’s interested in looking at and making pronouncements about the flattening of architecture in a kind of global context today. We are taking that into account by framing the figure of the office as a protagonist, which is very important in the last century in comparison to the figure of the starchitect. Secondly, there’s the idea that export is relevant especially when you look at it from Rem’s point of view and the kind of architecture that is being produced across the globe. We really wanted to do a kind of archaeology of these projects, so you might not necessarily see them as flat as you would when Googling maps of the planet.
AS: There is a nice irony in the fact that the US pavilion is filled with projects — none of which are in the US.
What have been some of the greatest challenges and surprises in preparing for the pavilion?
AM: There’s a sheer scale to this project that’s physical — once you multiply an action that you think would be very simple on a small scale by 1,000, it is really another animal.
EFiG: One thing that has been the most challenging but at the same time the most rewarding, has been to convince the people who would typically see us as the agitators and scholars and publishers of a very specific type of architecture, that we were going to have them be part of a project that doesn’t treat them as the enemies, but treats them as the makers of history. Sometimes it would take us half an hour in a big room at a large corporate office to get someone to say, “We want to work with you.”
Ashley: One of the ambitions of the historical portion of the project is to make firms more self-concious of their history and understand their role in the discipline. Whatever their motivations, they are in fact participating in history and producing a legacy. That opportunity is exciting as a critical potential.
Ana: Another really pleasant surprise is that as you begin to look at a lot of these 1,000 projects in greater depth, there are fascinating stories behind how it got built, why it got built, and the negotiations that happened. These are stories that unfold in the exhibition and catalogue — it’s fantastic.
How can Architizer readers participate in OFFICEUS?
EFiG: Send us your office manuals! We’re collecting protocols and rules that constitute every single office. They can extend to the absurd or hilarious: drug and alcohol use, or how to handle drawings, or music playlists. It’s not just about comparing music, but comparing ways of working.
AM: There is an idea for us in which there could be an interaction with that architectural public that basically could comment on certain work that is being done at the biennale. There is that level of daily life in the office that could be connected and onlookers could have a kind of interest, and…
AM: Yes! And a stake in what was done.
Next, we’ll be speaking with Leong Leong. Can you explain how you selected that firm to design the pavilion?
EFiG: When you’re going to war, you want to go with people that you know how to fight with, and I had just worked with Leong Leong in an exhibition at Storefront, and Ana knew them as well.
AM: We each know the many young architectural firms from which we could bring in. But we already knew that Leong Leong would deliver and produce an awesome architectural space and exhibition.
EFiG: It was not such an easy assignment for them, working with three curators and a lot of voices. Leong Leong have a tendency toward a high level of construction and minimalism that I think is a very good counterpoint to the ideas and work that we all carry. There was something about their understanding of how people relate directly to the materiality of projects and things. Their design ultimately is this intersection between work, play, and display, while also creating an architecture of desire.
AS: Pragmatically, they had experience building abroad — which is the crux of the exhibition itself.
Photo by Cameron Blaylock