Taubman College represents U.S. at 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale
Written by Sydney Hawkins
With eight faculty participants representing three different countries, the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning will take center stage at the world’s top architecture show this summer.
The Venice Architecture Biennale, established in 1980 as part of the 130-year-old Venice Art Biennale, is a celebratory exhibition held every two years that brings together the foremost architectural visionaries practicing today from more than 100 countries.
Not only was Taubman College awarded the U.S. State Department bid to host and curate the 2016 U.S. Pavilion, but work from Taubman faculty will also be presented in the Canadian and Kuwait Pavilions as part of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition.
“This year, more than ever, you can really see that U-M is one of the major centers of creativity in architecture and urban planning,” said Robert Fishman, Taubman College interim dean. “Our faculty represent an incredible range of expertise—from digital fabrication to global urbanism, they are international thought leaders for different ways in which cities are being transformed today.”
The Architectural Imagination
After nearly a year of preparation, more than 60 Taubman students, staff, fellows and faculty members will travel to Venice this week for the installation and opening of the “The Architectural Imagination” at the U.S. Pavilion.
The exhibition, open to the public May 28-Nov. 27, will use Detroit as a fantastical model of the future to demonstrate how architecture can address the urban and environmental issues of a 21st century postindustrial city.
Once a hub for innovation and invention, the Motor City has since faced many challenges over the course of the last few decades, including population loss, abandoned buildings, desolate neighborhoods and racial divides.
As advocates of the power of architecture to construct culture and catalyze cities, co-curators Monica Ponce de Leon and Cynthia Davidson selected 12 of the best contemporary architecture and design teams from across America to “re-imagine” four sites in downtown Detroit that represent these particular challenges.
The four sites—specific to Detroit but with far-reaching applications for cities around the world—included the vacant land along the Dequindre Cut near Eastern Market; the Packard Plant; Mexicantown, located on West Vernor Highway in southwest Detroit, and the U.S. Postal Service building and adjacent land between West Fort Street and the Detroit River.
Three teams were assigned to each of the sites that were selected in collaboration with an 11-person Detroit Advisory Board, including city of Detroit planning director Michael Cox; Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; Milton S.F. Curry, associate dean and associate professor at Taubman College; and Mark Wallace, President of Detroit RiverFront Conservancy.
The advisory board played a major role in fall 2015, when the teams visited their project sites and met with community leaders and citizens to discuss each neighborhood’s aspirations before beginning their projects.
“One of the unique aspects of the proposals were the interactions that took place with the neighborhood groups that were strongly associated with each area,” Fishman said. “The architects completed a tremendous amount of preparatory work that would have gone into a real-world project, and I think people will be stunned by their ambition and creativity—they have managed to produce buildings that no city has seen before.”
Sharon Haar, professor and chair of the architecture program at Taubman College, said that it is unusual for a single American city to be selected as the focus for the U.S. Pavilion, but that Taubman’s location and long-standing partnerships within Detroit made them a frontrunner to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia).
“The key for us is that as a university and as an architecture program located just 45 minutes from Detroit’s city center, we’re uniquely situated to acutely understand the issues of the city at a very local level, and to articulate and present those issues with potential solutions to a global audience,” she said.
Taubman College plans to present “The Architectural Imagination,” an exhibition made up of more than 250 objects, architectural models, drawings, collages and videos, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) early 2017.
A new Detroit
Among the 250 responses nationwide for architecture proposals, 22 American architects representing the following 12 firms were selected to create conceptual projects for the four sites identified in downtown Detroit:
A(n) Office, Detroit (Marcelo López-Dinardi, V. Mitch McEwen)
BairBalliet, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio (Kristy Balliet, Kelly Bair)
Greg Lynn FORM, Los Angeles (Greg Lynn)
Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta (Mack Scogin, Merrill Elam)
Marshall Brown Projects, Chicago (Marshall Brown); MOS, New York (Hilary Sample, Michael Meredith)
Pita & Bloom, Los Angeles (Florencia Pita, Jackilin Hah Bloom)
Present Future, Houston (Albert Pope, Jesús Vassallo)
Preston Scott Cohen Inc., Cambridge, Mass.(Preston Scott Cohen)
SAA/Stan Allen Architect, New York (Stan Allen)
T+E+A+M, Ann Arbor, Mich. (Thom Moran, Ellie Abrons, Adam Fure, Meredith Miller)
Zago Architecture, Los Angeles (Andrew Zago, Laura Bouwman).
Among these architects, five have ties to Taubman College.
Mitch McEwen is a Taubman assistant professor and partner at Detroit-based A(n) Office, one of the design firms selected to work on a conceptual project at the intersection of West Vernor and Livernois. She will present a plan for industrial studios catering to Detroiters displaced by the new international bridge and expansion of the Marathon Oil refinery. The building boasts an air-purification network and a Canadian Consulate.
Ellie Abrons, Adam Fure, Meredith Miller and Thom Moran, Taubman assistant professors and members of Ann Arbor-based T+E+A+M, took more of a material approach for the Packard Plant location on East Grand Boulevard. They will present a design for a “megamasonry mountain,” formed by a new aggregate made of recycled building materials and supported by the Packard Plant’s existing columns.
In addition to participating faculty members, six Taubman College students—Kristen Gandy, Ramon Hernandez, Christopher Locke, Rubin Quarcoopome, Salam Rida, and Diana Tsai—were selected to assist the curators of the U.S. Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale in installing “The Architectural Imagination,” and will also serve as docents for the opening days of the exhibition.
Geoffrey Thün, associate dean for research and creative practice at Taubman, and Kathy Velikov, U-M associate professor of architecture, were selected to be part of an interdisciplinary team led by landscape urbanist Pierre Bélanger to represent Canada in the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.
Thün and Velikov’s architectural practice, RTVR, will collaborate on the design of a multimedia project titled EXTRACTION. The work will first be on view at the Canadian Pavilion during Biennale, before touring in 2017 with the Walrus Foundation as official media sponsor during the 150th commemoration of Canada’s Confederation.
EXTRACTION will feature an installation, film and book that address the ecologies and territories of resource extraction. It will explore the architectures, histories and economies of Canada’s rise to a “global resource empire,” home to 75 percent of the planet’s prospecting and mining companies.
Engaging both contemporary and historic media, EXTRACTION addresses the balance of resources that create and support Canada’s urban life and the implications of those necessary extractions, as well as Canada’s history as defined by resource extraction.
After oil in Kuwait
El Hadi Jazairy, U-M assistant professor of architecture, was invited to contribute to the Kuwait Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale. Jazairy’s practice, Design Earth, will contribute a proposal titled “After Oil.” Jazairy and project partner Rania Ghosn, along with team members Jia Weng, Rawan Al-Saffar, Kartiki Sharma, Hsin-Han Lee, Namjoo Kim and Sihao Xiong, will present nine drawings (60x60cm) and three 3D printed (1.5×1.5m) models of “After Oil.”
The exhibition proposes three speculative tales that explore the geography of the Persian Gulf and its islands in the decades after oil. These stories are also a reflection on the present condition: they stage and extrapolate critical issues of today’s oil landscape to make the public aware of the energy systems on which modern life is dependent and the long-term consequences of the current fossil fuel regime.