Art Works Blog

Art Talk with Kara Meyer of Storefront for Art and Architecture

"People don't think about architecture as an export so we wanted to spread awareness about that...." -- Kara Meyer

The Venice Biennale, founded in 1895, is a major multi-month, international, contemporary art exhibition that takes place each year in Venice, Italy. The featured disciplines at the biennale rotate with architecture and visual arts projects presented in alternating years. More than 80 countries are represented at the art and architecture biennales with 30 nations—including the United States--having permanent pavilions. The U.S. Pavilion is managed by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which works closely with the U.S. Department of State and exhibition curators to install and maintain all official exhibitions presented in the U.S. pavilion. More than 475,000 visitors attended the 2013 exhibitions, which featured visual arts projects. The 2014 architecture exhibition, which opened on June 7, will run through November 23. (The competitive application for projects to be featured at the 2016 International Architecture Exhibition is due December 9, 2014.)
Representing the U.S. at this year’s architecture biennale is the installation OfficeUS, a project created by Storefront for Art and Architecture/PRAXIS. OfficeUS, Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 investigates the ways in which the space, structures, and protocols of the U.S. architectural office have contributed to the construction of "Modernity." Since June, OfficeUS has functioned as an active workspace featuring an onsite repository of 1,000 projects from 1914-present representing key architectural developments created by 200 U.S.-based firms working globally. 
We talked to Storefront's Director of External Relations Kara Meyer about how OfficeUS made its way to the current biennial. 
NEA: How was OfficeUS conceived and what is the narrative of this particular project?
KARA MEYER: The project was conceived by Storefront's director Eva Franch i Gilabert along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) architecture professor Ana Miljacki and PRAXIS Journal co-founder and editor Ashley Schafer.
OfficeUS is a combination of both historical research as well as a living, working prototype. We put together a large archive of 1,000 architecture projects, produced between 1914-2014, designed by U.S. firms and realized abroad. Roughly 200 firms are represented, some of which are still practicing. Researched by students at MIT and the Ohio State University, stories were revealed like the production of InterContinental hotels and bringing American comforts to cities around the world as well as the production of U.S. embassies and how that's changed over time. This archive became a library, which surrounds the office. The library serves as a resource to the architects that we've selected to work in the office daily throughout the course of the exhibition. These architects are able to connect to the firms that are still practicing as well as the larger network of architects that we've connected them to through digital platforms. They are studying and understanding the ways in which these projects have been built and really creating a new prototype for the future production of architecture while considering the way these projects have been produced over time. 
NEA: What were some of the challenges and opportunities encountered throughout the process?
MEYER: The timeline we were given for the project was a bit challenging as was the fundraising we had to do to cover the remaining costs of production. That being said, many opportunities came from this. The objective of OfficeUS, was to involve the larger architecture community [in the project] and to really bring everyone together around the concept of how U.S. offices have contributed to the production of architecture globally. The essence of the project really relied on the entire U.S. architecture community coming together and that was the only way we thought it would be successful--to gather expertise [and to] understand everyone's business model and the ways in which all these firms work. We connected with developers, furniture designers, and even delved into technological components to make sure we created a dialogue around the entire production of architecture. 
NEA: How was it working in Venice? 
MEYER: Venice is not the easiest place to put on an exhibition. You're talking about a city without roads! There's a lot to deal with in terms of logistics and shipping and the ways in which the city itself operates. There were a lot of learning curves. We received help from prior U.S. representatives and are happy to pass along our insight as well. 
NEA: Did anything unexpected arise from this project? 
MEYER: Everything was unexpected! We're a small organization and this was a big project for us. With that came lots of opportunity to meet people that we might not have met and bring a different and unique perspective to the biennale.
NEA: Did working on this project change your thinking about architecture in any way?
MEYER: In some ways that [change] was one of the goals for our project. We wanted to engage people outside of the architecture field and wanted to bring attention to the fact that the U.S. is one of the largest producers of architecture abroad and [architecture] is one of our country's biggest exports. People don't think about architecture as an export so we wanted to spread awareness about that as well as offer insight into how we do it [in terms of] the business models, the offices and how, in the past 100 years, these offices have developed. The way in which we work has drastically changed in the 21st century. We have 24-hour offices now and people work globally. 
NEA: What did you personally gain from this experience?
MEYER: I had been a Biennale visitor prior so I definitely got a different experience this time around. We made a lot of really valuable connections. It was a successful project for the U.S. because it was important to make it truly collaborative by involving everyone in the architecture community and it painted a picture of the U.S. architecture community as a whole. 
Interested in applying for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Visit for more information.


Well, a "Biennale" is a "biannual" venture, therefore it cannot "takes place each year in Venice" but only every other year. Otherwise, your report is interesting in that indeed few think about architecture as a kind of export although during colonization "we" did nothing but. And I remember a few "nouveau riche" in Europe who weren't slow in pointing out that their houses (or villas/bungalows …) had been designed by "a student of Frank Lloyd Wright". So while the original US American and Canadian architecture, apart from a few Adobes, is largely European, the sky scaper and a lot of other steel building techniques and the gigantic structures this allows architects to build (including the glass research of a Dow Corning and others) has come "home" to Europe as a kind of intellectual export.

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