Observations: Intelligent anarchy for the UK

 

The Venice Biennale is the Olympics of architecture. But it's not just about the profession's heroes this year – those architects picked by the architectural grandee, Sir David Chipperfield, to exhibit in the vast Arsenale at the end of August. At the British Pavilion's concurrent Venice Takeaway exhibition, the great game of architecture will be about intelligent anarchy.

Here, in the Giardini, the British Council-curated Takeaway has been designed to help jolt British architects out of an apathy characterised by the recent uncontested “election” of Stephen Hodder as the new president of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

One of the Takeway's projects has been mounted by dRMM Architects, whose principal Alex de Rijke is also the new professor of architecture at the Royal College of Art. He's highlighting the 450 hectares of artificial lakes and islands at IJburg in Amsterdam (see below), and its estates of floating homes.

De Rijke and dRMM are one of the 10 sets of architectural “explorers” picked to exhibit at the Venice Takeaway. The other projects include a 1980s scheme that built 508 prefab primary schools in and around Rio de Janeiro; and Caochangdi, an alt-socialist village on Beijing's Fifth Ring Road.

De Rikje's offering, The Dutch Way, is about creating “waterhoods” – sets of floating buildings in the tidal and flood-risk areas of Britain. He's already in talks with Mike Luddy, managing director of London's Royal Docks, to explore the possibility of creating a series of waterhoods in London.

Britain knows relatively little about sophisticated waterside or floating architecture: the rash of flashy, quick-buck developments that have encrusted our coasts and estuaries in the last 20 years show just how witless our architects and planners can be when confronted with water.

However, Britain's first tidal floating home, on the Thames, was given planning permission this year. It was designed by a talented young practice, Baca Architects, one of the very few British designers with a specialised focus on water-margin architecture.

At IJburg, order and anarchy work together: floating gardens and sheds; motorboats and small yachts bob alongside the houses. There are no mothballed gin-palaces, and no trace of the grimly aspirational ennui radiated by Britain's “luxury” marina developments.

Venice Architecture Biennale, 29 August to 25 November (www.labiennale.org/en)

Comments