french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
responding to curator rem koolhaas’ prescribed theme of ‘absorbing modernity: 1914-2014’, the french pavilion at the venice architecture biennale addresses the topic through four connected exhibitions. as a country which had a profound influence on the modernist movement, ‘modernity, promise or menace?’ elaborates upon several contradictions that signified the invention of modern architecture, in response to the expectations and demands of society.

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the centerpiece of the exhibition focuses on villa arpel, an example of utopian architecture
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the centerpiece of the pavilion is the first display which focuses on villa arpel, a structure that features prominently in jacques tati’s 1958 film ‘mon oncle’. the house is presented in the form of a 1:10 scale model, together with original preliminary sketches completed by its architect, jacques lagrange. the film, and consequently the gallery itself, examines the relationship between the promise of a life made easier by machinery and the actual realization of this utopian vision.

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the house is presented in the form of a 1:10 scale model
image © designboom

 

 

the second area studies the life of jean prouvé, the cross-disciplinary architect, designer and ironsmith who, despite his influential theories and visions, often failed to fully develop the range of structures that he had imagined. born into a family of artists, prouvé worked with a number of modern architects, from robert mallet-stevens to le corbusier. the display centers on his extensive research of the metal curtain wall, a project he was able to refine with his knowledge of workshop and production methods.

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
detail showing the approach to the dwelling
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another installation studies in more detail the subject of prefabrication, asking whether the idea is an ‘economy of scale or monotony?’. using le corbusier’s thesis of ‘industry taking over construction’ as a starting point for discussion, the presentation reflects on post-war france’s relationship with techniques which aimed to offer the population cheap and high quality living accommodation. through looking in more detail at state-led designs for large scale projects, the display considers the involvement of major construction companies, and the public works department – the only sectors capable of making the necessary investments.

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
landscaping shown in further detail
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the final piece of the exhibition examines the outcomes of social housing as a consequence of ‘state-driven modernity’ – another utopian project undermined by complex social nuances. through examining population movement patterns such as the middle-class leaving the city for family houses in the suburbs, the presentation looks at the advent of residential neighborhoods constructed on the outskirts of major french cities, and their subsequent decline in popularity. since the 1980s, a major effort has been undertaken ensure that these developments are made more livable. however, pertinent issues such as isolation and poverty, problems that born out of generous intentions, remain.

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the exhibition displays a range of the dwelling’s original sketches
image © designboom

 

 

 

‘modernity, promise or menace?’ was given a special mention from the biennale jury who praised the project for addressing the successes and the traumas embedded in its utopian visions of modernity.

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
original drawing completed by jacques lagrange
image © designboom

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the structure that features prominently in jacques tati’s 1958 film ‘mon oncle’
image © designboom

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the second area of the pavilion studies the work of jean prouvé
photo by andrea avezzù / courtesy la biennale di venezia

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the display centers on prouvé’s  extensive research of the metal curtain wall
image © designboom

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
social housing is considered as a consequence of ‘state-driven modernity’
image © designboom

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the presentation looks at the advent of residential neighborhoods constructed on the outskirts of major french cities
image © designboom

french pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the entrance to the french pavilion – ‘absorbing modernity: 1914-2014’
photo by andrea avezzù / courtesy la biennale di venezia

 

 


an interview with curator jean louis cohen at ‘modernity: promise or menace?’
video courtesy of ‪la ‬b‪iennale di ‬v‪enezia ‬

 

 

 

modernity: promise or menace?
featuring: eugène beaudouin, vladimir bodiansky, maurice cammas, robert camelot, raymond camus, maurice crevel, jacques lagrange, marcel lods, jean de mailly, eugène mopin, jean prouvé, charles ricome, jacques tati, louis-bernard zehrfuss
commissioner: institut français, ministère de la culture et de la communication – direction générale des patrimoines, in collaboration with the cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine
curator: jean louis cohen
venue: pavilion at giardini, venice