The Architectural Imagination

John Hill
8. June 2016
MPdL Studio: Totems announcing "The Architectural Imagination" (Photo: Aaron Dougherty)

The US Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Cynthia Davidson and Monice Ponce de Leon, sets its aim at Detroit to exhibit twelve speculative architectural projects for the post-industrial American city.

The Architectural Imagination proposes, per the words of Cynthia Davidson in the video at bottom, "that it is possible to imagine new scenarios for the city through architecture; that architecture has the possibility to catalyze change." That Detroit is the setting for this theme and assertion is a fairly obvious one, but its roots can be found in the exhibition's organizer, the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, which was founded in Detroit but left the city alongisde other entities last century. The school and curators see Detroit as a place of innovation and therefore guided the dozen architects to dream big rather than proposing practical, immediately implementable ideas. In thise sense, The Architectural Imagination is the antithesis of Alejandro Aravena's Reporting from the Front.

Present Futures: New Corktown (Photo: Aaron Dougherty)
Marshall Brown Projects: Dequindre Civic Academy (Photo: Aaron Dougherty)

Davidson and Ponce de Leon selected the twelve architects from more than 250 submissions, assigning each one of four sites in Detroit. The four rooms of the US Pavilion in the Giardini are the settings for the sites, which allows visitors to compare and contrast the three design responses for each site: Mexicantown/Southwest Detroit, the old US Post Office, Dequindre Cut/Eastern Market, and the Packard Plant. The proposals are diverse in terms of program and form, but Davidson, in the exhibition cataLog, finds "porosity" – in form but also in terms of access – as a common idea, one that acts as "a metaphor for the city." In Venice, it's tricky to judge the merits of the far-fetched – or imaginative – proposals against the backdrop of the rest of the Biennale, but when the exhibition travels to Detroit in 2017 there will surely be more serious debate about the merits of this approach and what it means toward reinventing a city that needs it so badly.

T+E+A+M: Detroit Reassembly Plant (Photo: Aaron Dougherty)
Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au testing the Microsoft HoloLens interface of Greg Lynn FORM's Center for Fullfilment, Knowledge, and Innovation (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

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