Venice Biennale 2018: Phil Coffey for the Architects’ Journal

DogesBye bye Venice. Leaving in a taxi …The Doges Palace, those columns, those capitals … full of stories … one purportedly portrays the seven deadly sins. Here are mine from the last 24 hours.

Envy. Is a terrible thing…and I’m full of it for the first installation at the Arsenale – an essay in construction and light. I’d have been happy walking in, pushing this heavy wheel of wonder around for four hours and catching a flight home, but after discussing his work, orientation, solstices, stone, structure and celestial movement with an out-of-breath Níall McLaughlin, I decided to stay and take a look at some of the weaker follies to feel better about myself.

Lust. Outside the empty pavilion, spoken-word artist Kate Tempest was asked what her eagerly awaited opening poem was to be about. ‘I thought I’d bring something different to this architectural trade fair.’ Trade fair? I’m not sure the curators would be happy with that label. This is, of course, different to MIPIM. There’s a charming lack of lust for power or money. This is architecture as an art form and this biennale feels like our art is back with a bang. Highlights were Zumthor’s delicious models and Caruso St John’s deep and powerful elevations in the Italian Pavilion … and Kate’s words, which did exactly, what she said they would do.

Wrath. We’ve enjoyed the usual Italian hospitality, warm and welcoming unless you wear shorts to the ever pleasant Monaco terrace – as Jonathon Falkingham discovered. When plumbing the depths of sartorial manners in such a (lack of) fashion you will suffer the significant wrath of the usually mild-mannered waiters. Norman had no such problem, dressed impeccably in a pink shirt, chinos and suede slip-on shoes on the table next to me for my final lunch. Venice suits Lord Foster; he moved with effortless grace and speed between the tables, so elegantly in fact that he stole my water taxi to the airport.

Gluttony. Good to have a long lunch of scallops, clams and spaghetti at the Galeon, located between both major biennale locations. Architecture chit chat with the Howells, Bloxhams, Monaghans, Allfords and Bevans with some innocent drive-bys by many a sunburnt architect and engineer. Ate and drank too much and felt even more gluttonous later when bumping into the new-look Sam Jacob at the British Council Party. I had thought his recent photograph lying down at the RIBA had made him look thin through a trick of perspective, but it turns out our shared gym is working, for him at least. Good exhibition at 66 too, and not quite as far as Venice, or half as expensive.

Greed. Water taxis. On arrival as a group of four to the new water taxi terminal, we were greeted by a rather forceful bouncer who rudely split us into two boats, for their greater gain. 180 euros shared between myself and Duncan of Arrant Land, and that’s only the beginning. Anywhere you go it’s a minimum 70 euros, and everywhere you go, in case you didn’t know…there’s water in the way. In defiant protest, we voted with our tired feet and caught the cheaper alternative, a water bus back from the Giardini, wrong bus, wrong canal, wrong stop. Got off. Hailed a taxi. 70 euros to cross 100m of water. I could have swum it in six minutes. That’ll teach ‘em.

Pride. If you are going to curate a biennale, you’d want to take a look at this one as a case study. A strong selection of architects, a strong theme that is interpreted in many different ways. ‘Freespace’ has got us thinking and talking and has given confidence to the simple things and discussions in architecture. So bravo Grafton Architects. I’m not a big fan of the word ‘proud’, but they should be proud of this.

Sloth. Apologies to the Architects’ Journal for agreeing to blog and then rustling up just the one entry.