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Rem Koolhaas looks back to the future at Venice Biennale

The Architecture Biennale in Venice is the largest of its kind in the world and the curator at this year’s event, Dutch architect and provocateur Rem Koolhaas, is determined to shift the discourse from the stylistic comfort zone of modernism to a more intangible notion of modernity. Calling it ‘Fundamentals’, he has invited participants to muse on the past century in architecture. Michele Bambling is curator of the United Arab Emirates’ Pavilion: “The contemporary buildings being built today are quite different from the modern buildings that we’re focusing on. And there is an enthusiasm for that, many people love this, they want to be a part of the global stage, they want to be a part of what’s happening now. But other people – even the same people – also feel that it’s important to keep the sense of the modern heritage and that tradition as well, and that they could co-exist side by side.” The Bahraini pavilion set an ambitious goal of creating an index of architecture for the entire Arab world, to reflect on pan-Arabic heritage at a time when the whole region is going through major changes. “A lot of these modern projects were backed, or they were the product of institutional programmes and were backed by the state itself,” said Lebanese architect and designer of the Bahrain pavilion, Bernard Khoury.“With the disappearance of the state there is a shift of let’s say another sort of modernity which is coming to us, in fact to the Gulf region and that’s a very different kind of modernity – a very dangerous, blind import of Anglo-Saxon models, which is certainly not a product of the state. Mostly the product of the private sector,” added Khoury.The Russian pavilion is perhaps the most direct response to Koolhaas’ theme, ‘Absorbing Modernity: 1914 to 2014’, distilling key aspects of the country’s architectural identity over the past hundred years. The pavilion’s original curator was replaced two months ago after he criticised Russia’s actions in Crimea. The Architecture Biennale runs in Venice until the end of November.

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