SSeveral Berliners were surprised when the jury of the Architecture Biennale, which was only now able to meet due to the pandemic, announced that the Golden Lion for the best contribution would go to the architects’ collective Raumlabor and its “floating university”; many did not even know this building before. Two years ago, the team, founded in 1999, had built a temporary “university” that floated like stilt houses over the water in a jungle-like rainwater collecting basin behind the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport together with students from various European universities future coexistence were discussed.
The “floating university” is a typical project for Raumlabor: the collective has repeatedly played on overlooked or abandoned places. A famous project was the “Kitchen Monument”, an inflatable room that looked like a gigantic balloon from a distance and that you could enter through an air lock: Up to sixty people could celebrate, eat or play there. At night the object, which was inflated in backyards and under motorway bridges, shone like a greeting from a utopian future into the city. Looking back, many room laboratory projects seem visionary: the conversion of the “House of Statistics”, a GDR concrete monster, shows how, instead of tearing down a building, the existing building can be converted in a climate-friendly way so that even small workshops, shops and shared apartments can nestle . “Urban forest living”, in which the houses hang in the trees, but the land underneath remains communal property, is still one of the most beautiful comments on the land issue.
The world after climate change
Room laboratories that are influenced by Situationism and are mostly made of wood and scaffolding are also aesthetically impressive. The “floating university”, for example, looks like a picture of life in a changing climate: Sometimes the water basin lies dry, then the buildings stand like stranded ships on the cracked clay floor. Sometimes, when the basin fills with rainwater, you have to balance over footbridges in the houses like in Venice at Acqua alta, which are then reflected in the water, an image that flickers back and forth between beauty and disaster.
The Golden Lion for the best pavilion goes to the United Arab Emirates for a contribution to “green” concrete production, in which a salt compound (MgO) obtained from the desalinization of seawater is used to bind. The environmental friendliness of the material is undisputed, the human friendliness of its use on the construction sites of the Emirates is not. It is strange that Lina Bo Bardi, who died in 1992, was posthumously awarded a Golden Lion for life’s work – there would be enough living architects like the ninety-one year old building visionary Renée Gailhoustet who would have deserved the award. The biennale runs until November 21st.