A sense of social purpose drives this year’s Venice biennale, and while good intentions don’t always translate into good ideas, the best combine usefulness, economy and beauty
by Rowan Moore
One of Block Research Group’s ‘beautiful, delicate’ vaults. Photograph: Italo Rondinella/La Biennale di Venezia
Architects are insecure about their usefulness. They work with buildings, which are generally large, expensive, long-lived and important to life, but it’s not always obvious what is significant about the specifically architectural aspect of their work – the refinements and rearrangements to the functional object that might otherwise come into being without architects’ help. If they have some influence over large budgets, it is developers or politicians who usually make the real decisions. At best, an architect can be like a jockey on a horse. Often, he or she is more like the groom, who puts nice plaits in its mane and tail.