This Sunday is an homage to all those of intellect who choose to pass on to us their wisdom. I have come home from the Biennale of Architecture in Venice to the sad news of the death of Cardinal Martini. This year Biennale’s theme is “Common Ground”. David Chipperfield’s masterfully curated ideas highlighted the affinities and connections that bind our common global heritage using the earth and its resources to connect the architects of the past and those of the future. It was ambitious but set the foundation for a very interesting exploration of history, innovation and the masters who carry the torch and how they pass it on.

A floating movie house that he intends to travel around the world premiered the movie, “Against All Rules” – directed by Horst Brandenburg – about Ole Scheeren and his radical architecture. Floating in the middle of the Arsenale during the Biennale, the film highlighted the building of the Central China TV headquarters in Beijing in 2002.

Scheeren now lives full time in China and his startling work is well worth seeing in person.

This dome is one of five small buildings filled with wonderful light and space where the designs are, as you can see, QR codes that explain everything in the pavillion. This very clever use of new technology where you are given a tablet as you enter,  lets you “read” the walls to discover the concentration of intellectual capital housed here by design team SPEECH Techoban/Kuznetsov. And if you don’t feel like “reading” the rooms, you can enjoy the soft and serene mood in which to think of other things.

“Three Moments of Illumination” a triptych painted by British artist Ben Johnson in 1998, stands out in a pavillion dedicated to Lord Norman Foster ‘s 1985 HSBC Bank building in Hong Kong. It is notable for being almost entirely illuminated by natural source lighting and has few elevators, relying mostly on escalators that pass between the work areas’ interior. Foster once said:“ I think I see things that others don’t”. A great example of forward thinking use of modular structures.

While in Venice to see the Biennale of Architecture this week, the architecture of the Arsenale itself could not be overlooked. Starting as a shipyard and navel depot with a leading role in the production of ships, during the 16th Century there were 18,000 people working here creating one ship a day.

Here, a picture of the ceiling of one of the depots from the 16th Century and still in perfect condition.

In the Giardini central pavillion of this year’s Biennale of Architecture is a collection of the many designs Lord Foster conceived before his final idea for Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation. A 47 story modular building with 30,000 tons of steel all pre made in Scotland and shipped to Hong Kong to be put up like a toy. The most expensive building of its time. The idea of course that HSBC could move its headquarters if the transition in 1997 to Chinese governance should not go so well. Clearly today an unnecessary concern, China having joined the ranks of great architects and global initiatives, the building is now used for many civic functions in the city. Here the impressive picture of Andreas Gursky taken in 1994.

For the Gateway installation in the Arsenal, Norman Foster brings two interpretations together. Words and images create a black box experience, where projected words, constantly in motion, white on black, are surrounded by thousands of images projecting a global network of artists, architects, photographers, and designers who have influenced our urban world.

At the center of Zaha Hadid’s pavillion is a wonderful pleated metal installation surrounded by abstract building models with tensile structures and light weighted shells she calls Arum (here in the picture).

Hadid pays homage to the historic lineage of collective research and the common history of ideas in the structural logic and materials an architect, or any artist might use, and she recognizes the historic contributions of Frei Otto in this wonderful show.

A master of many talents, while the Biennale of Architecture was on, all gathered on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore for the exhibition of “Carlo Scarpa – Venini 1932-1947”.  This was not to celebrate his great talent as architect, but some say his even greater talent as a master of glass making.  A native of Venice, Scarpa invented many new techniques in the Murano factories while living there. Here two pieces that he designed for Venini out of a show of 300 masterpieces.

Carlo Scarpa, one of the masters of 20th Century architecture used the mandoria, or almond shape in many of his windows. Here the monumental Brion family tomb, recognized as one of his masterpieces took ten years to build and was completed in 1978, the year he died. It is a big complex of five buildings, with the structures merging into the landscape around it. The interlocking open circular windows recall the eclipse of the sun by the moon passing between the earth and the light. Buried standing wrapped in a white shroud as custom for medieval knights, he rests in a hidden corner of the Brion structures.

Curated by Germano Celant, this most interesting show “Small Utopia, Ars Multiplicata” points to mechanical reproductions and how artists have engaged the question of multiples in the past. Shown in the Prada Foundation’s gallery in Venice at Cà Corner, the Foundation’s gift to the city. The presence of so many Duchamp works in a private art institution is striking and Celant makes a wonderful presentation with them, including Duchamp’s transportable version of multiples, his Boite-en-valise.

This is a 1941 piece in which he miniatured over twenty of his works and packaged them in a leather suitcase, that when unpacked was a portable three dimensional miniature retrospective.


Carlo Maria Martini was the Archbishop emeritus of Milan. One of the most open minded and progressive members of the Catholic Church, he was known as a peacemaker in the middle eastern conflicts and willing to speak openly about many troubling issues. Rumors in 2005 had perhaps had him named as Pope but a conservative conclave won out. A rare liberal and intellectual, he recently said that the church was “200 years behind the times” and had suggested that condoms were the “lesser evil” in combating AIDS.  He was open to all people and dialogues, and thousands of people today in the Duomo will come to pay him a thankful tribute for his presence in Milan and the world.