Interview: Murat Tabanlioglu says this year’s Venice Biennale managed to touch “not only architects, but everyone”
DesignMENA speaks to Murat Tabanlioglu, co-founder of Turkish architecture firm Tabanlioglu Architects and curator of Turkey’s first-ever pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale about his curating experience and his thoughts on concept of the biennale.
DesignMENA: Tell us a little about what it’s like to curate a pavilion at the Venice Biennale. I am aware that it the first time you have taken on this responsibility, what was the most challenging part?
Murat Tabanlioglu: Venice Biennale is a top event among architectural scenery in the world. The Biennale is mostly known for its Art Biennale, but over the 15 years the Architect Biennale which is held every two years has increased its recognition. For this year Rem Koolhaas, the curator of Venice Biennale of Architecture called us and came up with a new idea. With this new idea conducted, more visitors came to the Biennale and more journalists participated in the show
For Turkey, it was our first time and that’s why it was very important for us. It is very special the be selected as the curator of Turkey’s first architecture exhibition at the Venice Biennale, especially the theme “Absorbing Modernity” which is very significant aligned with my personal remembrance and architectural background. Rather than leading a historical interpretation of a modern period in Turkey, our exhibition “Places of Memory” challenges to explore the main theme of the biennial through understanding and experiences. Furthermore, it is the first time that a Turkish architect made it in the Architect Biennale in Venice.
DM: While brainstorming the concept for the pavilion and its presentation, how did the process work in terms of co-coordinating with Rem Koolhaas? Or was it simply like following a theme?
MT: Rem called us with a totally different brief this year, he said it should not be about architects but about the architecture. It was challenging because until this year it was a show of many architects.
The idea of the project focuses on three distinct areas of Istanbul that have a strong influence and made my memories, as well as many other Istanbulites of my age. With the scientific committee members and participanting exhibitors, we have discussed these places that acted as inceptions during different stages of my life and, at the same time, the city’s life. We tried to perceive the concept of place itself, combined with the subjective visions of each exhibitor. The works interact with each other via different approaches based on different scales and mediums. The whole process was transparent and I believe the result came out to be very interesting.
Rem was aiming to collect a world archive covering the last century and I trust we add to this collection on our part, with the personal and urban story of Istanbul, with architecture being the main reading tool.
DM: There has been a lot of controversy about this year’s Venice Biennale under Koolhaas. Many have commented that the Biennale did not exhibit any actual architecture while others said it was a breakthrough of all the previous years. What is your opinion on his approach for the Biennale and do you think the idea came across successfully?
MT: As I said in my previous response, it was a very different concept, but because Rem wanted it to be different he opened his archives. He has been working on this issue for many years with Harvard University.
I believe this year’s show attracted visitors from diverse groups, not only architects but touched everyone, which is very clever, because people live in an architectural world but don’t talk about it as we architects do all the time. I think it’s a great success to merge daily life with architecture, deep in its details, and make them aware about what has happened, how things are, what’s going on and how will our lives and architecture appear in the future. Browsing the wide archives, people learned, remembered, and even questioned their wills about the environment and living.
What we saw at the Biennale is a result of years of his and each contributor’s experience.
DM: What is your opinion on the concept of ‘Fundamentals’ and do you think this year’s event was able to fully to convey the state of architecture today?
MT: The main exhibition of Rem Koolhaas was very magnetic and informative. Yet it is not possible to cover everything, but he managed to involve national pavilions to compensate, in a way. All national pavilions contributed the subject, the survey, in their own way, showing the national characteristics and their own fundamentals in architecture, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions, and ways of remaining local.
Tabanlioglu Architects also launched its book at the Venice Biennale this year. It is “based on interviews by Luca Molinari with all the team members, also covering several essays on the defined subjects, related to the content of the exhibition,” Tabanlioglu explains.