This is the first time that the biennale officially invites an architecture group from Iran to its main exhibition: the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 has dedicated a 90m2 space in Padiglione Centrale to VAVStudio, to present their work in line with this year's theme, «Reporting from the Front». Following this invitation and with regard to the exhibition’s theme, VAVStudio decided to dedicate its stall to presenting the achievements of a generation on Iranian architects, which may be entitled the post-revolution generation. These are architects who flourished along with the social transitions following the revolution. 20 years after that, they began to challenge the existing social and professional limits, each in their own individual way
Our childhood was concurrent with the 1979 Revolution in IRAN; a vast socio-political upheaval in the entire country. The subsequent war didn’t give any chance to this altering movement to get on its promised path. The long and frustrating war not only destroyed the majority of the economic and business infrastructures, but more sadly it sucked in an entire productive generation who were supposed to be our connection to our roots. Social regulations imposed by the revolutionary government pushed lots of social activities into private realms. The post-war reconstruction phase with “privatization” as its slogan resulted in the formation of a new wealthy minority around the government, ending up in a drastic social inequality. “The political development” pursued by the reformists was like opening a can of worms; the society was already so fragmented and expectations were so extremely contradictory, that the reformists could not proceed much farther than merely acknowledging the existing condition. The succeeding conservative state drove the country into a period of stagnating isolation. The Iranian society has currently only slowly begun to revive after 2013 presidential election.
Having graduated from the school of architecture, we started our practice on this grey ground. The struggle had just started and the hardest part was to define our relation to such social context. The Government, as the biggest client was promoting a specific style through its handful of favorite design firms, whereas private sector sought to show off wealth and prosperity in a flamboyant European classicist style. Being unsatisfied with the situation, our generation was in pursuit of a third, alternative way of making its contribution to contemporary Iranian architecture. We launched our practice in the midst of the reformist government’s period. When democracy was seeking its path into the architecture through open competitions. After winning a couple of these competitions, we started to claim our position in the discipline. After more friends joined us in collaboration, we picked the name VAV (literally “AND” in Persian) for our enterprise
In a broader view “AND” stands for the way our generation acknowledges its drastically-diverse society and our mission for conjunction. It represents the eclectic identities of ourselves. “AND” represents our praise for democracy and acknowledging different voices. It introduces the possibility of resisting and negotiating at the same time. “AND” represents our openness to collaboration, the belief that no one holds the ultimate answer, but rather that the answer can be found collectively, through listening to one another. “AND” stands for how we live in a paradoxical situation and how much we love the challenge of merging contradictory conditions of a project into one design. It designates the belief that there is always something in the context that could be brought into the text. “AND” implies that we can moderate the forces at work without bias. It shows the way we object and yet stay in the dialogue. “AND” means that we are just a link in the chain; not big ones, but ones that nevertheless want to play an effective role in the process. Moreover “AND” does not suggest any predefined resolution.
Our country has been through its fastest pace of change in the past three decades, and we, in our turn, have been playing our role in the process This exhibition is a narrative of this generation's life and work in the above-sketched context, and of how we played our “AND” role in each of our projects.
Arash Aliabadi, Afshin Farzin, Saman Shamsbeki, Sakhi Shirmohammadi, Amin Tadjsoleiman
Reza Katebi, Nazanin Mojahed, Mahsa Hosseini, Mahnoosh Nazari
Homayoun Askari Sirizi, Khosro Salarian
CARBON Studio,Ali Mirakbari
Majid Saadat Amjad
Arsh 4D Studio (Pantea Eslami, Alireza Sherafati), Bonsar (Mohammad Majidi), Diba Tensile Architecture (Leila Araghian, Alireza Behzadi), Experimental Branch of Architecture Metropolitan (Arash Mozafari, Babak Rashedi, Aqil Bahra, Ashkan Sedigh, Pedram Dibazar, Siavash Ghabraie, Siavash Afshar), Farshad Mehdizadeh & Ahmad Bathaei, FEA Studio (Ensieh Khamseh, Arash Nasiri), Fluid Motion Architects (Reza Daneshmir, Catherine Spiridonoff), Hooba Design (Hooman Balazadeh), Logical Process Office (Elham Geramizadeh, Ehsan Hosseini), Metamorphosis Method (Amirhossein Taheri), Next Office (Alireza Taghaboni), Rai Studio (Pouya Khazaeli Parsa), Shift Process Practice (Rambod Eilkhani, Nashid Nabian), ZAV Architects (Mohamadreza Ghodousi,Parsa Ardam, Fati Rezaiee)
Special Thanks to Golnaz Sarkar Farshi, Hamid Bagheri
There are several battles that need to be won and several frontiers that need to be expanded in order to improve the quality of the built environment and consequently people’s quality of life. More and more people in the planet are in search for a decent place to live and the conditions to achieve it are becoming tougher and tougher by the hour. Any attempt to go beyond business as usual encounters huge resistance in the inertia of reality and any effort to tackle relevant issues has to overcome the increasing complexity of the world.
But unlike military wars where nobody wins and there is a prevailing sense of defeat, on the frontlines of the built environment, there is a sense of vitality because architecture is about looking at reality in a proposal key.
This is what we would like people to come and see at the XV VENICE ARCHITECTURE BIENNALE: success stories worth to be told and exemplary cases worth to be shared where architecture did, is and will make a difference in winning those battles and expanding those frontiers.
REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about bringing to a broader audience, what is like to improve the quality of life while working on the margins, under tough circumstances, facing pressing challenges. Or what does it take to be on the cutting edge trying to conquer new fields.
We would like to learn from architectures that despite the scarcity of means intensify what is available instead of complaining about what is missing. We would like to understand what design tools are needed to subvert the forces that privilege the individual gain over the collective benefit, reducing We to just Me. We would like to know about cases that resist reductionism and oversimplification and do not give up architecture’s mission to penetrate the mystery of the human condition. We are interested in how architecture can introduce a broader notion of gain: design as added value instead of an extra cost or architecture as a shortcut towards equality.
We would like this REPORT FROM THE FRONT not to be just the chronicle of a passive witness but a testimony of people that actually walk their talk. We would like to balance hope and rigor. The battle for a better built environment is neither a tantrum nor a romantic crusade. So, this report won’t be a mere denounce or complaint nor a harangue or an inspirational locker room speech.
We will privilege the use of creativity to take the risk to go even for a tiny victory because when the problem is big, just a one-millimeter improvement is relevant; what may be required is to adjust our notion of success, because achievements on the frontlines are relative, not absolute.
We are very aware that the battle for a better built environment is a collective effort that will require everybody’s force and knowledge. That is why we would like this Biennale to be inclusive, listening to stories, thoughts and experiences coming from different backgrounds:
We would like to invite the practitioners who have the problem of the blank canvas: architects, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, builders and dilettantes, whose work is winning battles on the frontier, any kind of frontier.
We would also like to present cases where organized communities and empowered citizens, sometimes without any formal training in design, have been able to improve their own built environment.
Then we would like to invite key leaders who from their privileged positions, at the top or the bottom of the pyramid, may orient the practitioners in the battles worth to get involved with.
Finally, we would like each country to share with the rest of the world, what are the fights they face at home, so that we can be warned about challenges we might be unaware of but also share some knowledge because we shouldn’t be alone in the effort of improving the places where life occurs.
So, the XV VENICE ARCHITECTURE BIENNALE 2016 will be about focusing and learning from architectures that through intelligence, intuition or both of them at the same time, are able to escape the status quo. We would like to present cases that despite the difficulties (or maybe because of them), instead of resignation or bitterness, propose and do something. We would like to show that in the permanent debate about the quality of the built environment, there is not only need but also room for action.