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Introduction to the Biennale exhibition

As stated in the manifesto for this exhibition, the current urgency of the housing problem in Russia requires the accumulation of knowledge on foreign practices. The first and foremost task of this Biennale is therefore to show housing architecture from other countries. For the International Pavilion, fifteen architects from twelve countries have been selected on the basis of their work in the field of mass housing.

These are not per-se architects that specialize exclusively in housing in many countries housing is an important part of the portfolio of any architect. This is certainly the case in Europe, with its high population density and strong urban  tradition. Instead of living in private houses, like in American suburbia, Europeans tend to live in collective residential buildings. Accordingly, housing areas are developed on the basis of centralized planning with the employment of architects and urban designers.

Six of these areas in various European cities are shown in the second part of the International Pavilion. In the third part of the Pavilion we find the seventh city: Madrid. This city  is well known for its practice of inviting renowned architects to construct social housing. Eight of these projects show that there is in essence no difference between the architecture of housing for rich or for poor people apart from the location and the size of their apartments.

The Russian part of the exhibition is also divided between architects and cities. Leading Russian architects show their recent projects for mass housing in the Arch-Catalogue: a traditional part of the Arch Moscow exhibition that for this occasion is renamed as Kvartalni vopros (Designing the Urban Quarter). The aim is not to show individual buildings, but housing complexes, blocks or even whole areas.

In addition to this, the Museum of Architecture features 12 Moscow architects who show their ideas on mass housing on a more conceptual level.

The biggest exhibition on Russian cities is of course about Moscow. The Moscow Pavilion shows the latest update of the General Plan for Moscow, with housing playing a dominant role.

A more experimental or even utopian approach can be found in the Museum of Architecture, where an exhibition on 10 new Russian cities opens on June 5. These highly ambitious projects show how the recent rise in demand for housing can potentially lead to the creation of new Russian cities with new housing typologies and consequently new ways of living.

In addition to these principal exhibitions there is a large number of special projects, a few of which I like to mention here. The Museum of Architecture features an exhibition on the history, present and future of two important constructivist housing projects, whereas the Vkhutemas Gallery at the Moscow Architecture Institute shows its 1960s NER diploma project – both testimonials to Russia’s unique tradition in housing and urban planning. In the small halls of the Central House of Artists we find among others Domavtonom, a competition for the design of an autonomous house judged by Norman Foster, and Shrinking Cities. This exhibition shows the result of extensive research on cities that are not at all booming, but are in decline. This project can be considered as a counterpoint in the recent euphoria on the Russian construction boom: if we are going to build new cities, what will happen to the old ones?

If we add to this the exhibitions in the framework of the Biennale, such as Arch Moscow, Under the Roof of Home and Lifestyle, I can only hope that you will have time enough to visit them all and be able to find your way of living.

Bart Goldhoorn


General partner of Biennale



         

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