Biennale megaphone: [Un]Restricted Access

Biennale megaphone: [Un]Restricted Access

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Apr 11, 2012
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The Architecture Biennale in Venice recently granted the design competition [UN]RESTRICTED ACCESS exhibition space for its awarded finalists.

The Biennale runs from August 29th to November 25th, 2012, and will serve as the first stop of an international tour of the competition's top, innovative concepts and accompanying photo exhibit. As the registration period draws to a close on May 1st, collaborators reflect on what has already become a profound international conversation.

Itself a biannual tradition, the Open Architecture Challenge has collected with its incoming registrant teams stories of people drawn irresistibly to the mission of [UN]RESTRICTED ACCESS. These voices hail from all across the world - resonant with hope, admiration, and reverence for the prospect of redeveloping ex-military bases. The Challenge already represents 60 nations, over 330 teams finding meaning in healing after a military withdrawal.

Pouya Khazaeli Parsa is an architect in Tehran, an environment where the creative class operates in an invisible capacity.

“Despite the fact that it is not supported by government, and that intellectuals leave the country day after day, this "hidden layer" is still strong, affecting society and attracting the new generation."

Among the underground rumblings roam works in literature, poetry and cinema – of recent note, the Oscar-winning film by Asghar Farhadi, which received little, if any, recognition in Iranian outlets. A Separation is one of many outlets for creative unrest in Iran, "but sometimes it prevails in other creative branches, such as architecture." [UN]RESTRICTED ACCESS, Pouya observes, has struck just such a chord with the Iranian design community.

Of the 330 teams registered for the Challenge, Iran alone accounts for 24 as of this posting. India carries 28 registrants, Indonesia and Mexico each bring eight. Egypt carries five.

Habi Girgis is an Egyptian graphic designer. His chevron-inspired logo design has become the icon for Unrestricted Access since Habi was selected for the Challenge Identity RFP last Fall. In the process of refining the logo, Habi related how the struggles in Egypt left him little choice but to bring his talents to the table.

"I've always had this dream about converting military spaces to public spaces,” says Habi. “Maybe because I live in a country where most of the military bases are in prime locations and civilians don't have the right to use these spaces. You need special military permissions to visit national parks, virgin beach shores or to use personal boats on the river or in the sea."

Habi notes the improbability of conversion for much of these areas; in Egypt the military is an expanding presence. Nevertheless, Habi is eager to step up. "The idea of the competition inspired me and gave me hope."

Katherine Westerhout is an American photographer known for her work with abandoned spaces. Some of her subjects are old military installations, but each print captures a sublime other world. Katherine became fascinated with the Challenge and contributed some of her prints for visual support and dialogue. The cement stalactites at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, and the trussed-out and cavernous Hunters Point Steel Shop in San Francisco, cry out against their own neglect.

As designers, Katherine concedes, it’s an uphill battle to preserve and respect the spatial qualities, while making them accessible to more people. But she highlights examples of successful interpretations, such as late artist David Ireland’s treatment of what is now the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County, California.

The Center, a retreat for artists with independent, grant-funded projects, is just one example of a successful reinterpretation of military spaces. “It’s a great idea to see that kind of reuse. A very well-imagined and well-utilized space.” Image searches for the Center now bring up dozens of wedding photographs.

To be sure, [UN]RESTRICTED ACCESS is billed as a Challenge – an open dialogue between designers the world over to surmount obstacles facing the built environment, together.

Challenge Details and EXTENDED DEADLINES

Registration fees are on a sliding scale between professional teams ($50), students ($25) and developing nations (free), though no interested designer will be turned away for lack of funds. Registration closes May 1 (extended), the entry deadline is June 1 (also extended).

Designs will be judged by a panel of interdisciplinary professionals, including: architects Tom Kundig and Bahram Shirdel; ecosanitation NGO head (and actress) Patricia Arquette; and author and former boy soldier Ishmael Beah. Winners will be announced in July and will be exhibited in Venice for the duration of the exposition.

Finalists (and Founder's Awared winner) will be awarded prizes including: 2012 Autodesk Revit Suite, Sketchup Pro and CASH.

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