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VENICE — To make a grand statement as a patron of new architecture, it used to be enough to commission a world-class architect — Rem Koolhaas, say, or Frank Gehry or Richard Meier — to build you a house. Not anymore, apparently. Now, any design-junkie billionaire worth his Barcelona chairs must hire a whole team of superstars, judging from two projects on display at Next: 8th International Architecture Exhibition 2002 here. (The event, organized by the Venice Biennale, is mounted in alternate years from the International Exhibition of Art and is a must-see for the design set, including Miuccia Prada, the Guggenheim Museum’s Thomas Krens, Amman Resorts financier Rumi Verjee and The New York Times’ Herbert Muschamp.)
The Millennium House in Qatar, commissioned by Sheikh Saud, the Minister of Culture of the State of Qatar, dominated the first section of the exhibition, Next: Houses. The Sheikh, who belongs to the oil-rich royal family, originally hired architect Arata Isozaki to design a single room to house a collection of modernist furniture, bought from an Indian maharaja who had commissioned it in the Thirties. But in the end, Isozaki created a 215,000-square-foot circular villa. (An average Sam’s Club warehouse store is 125,000-square-feet). Within Isozaki’s overall plan, Marc Newson, Philippe Starck, Achille Castiglione, Tom Dixon and Ron Arad were nominated to design individual rooms. Artists Anish Kapoor, David Hockney, Richard Serra, Jeff Koons and Elsworth Kelly were also chosen to supply artworks.
Half a world away in Guadalajara, Mexico, a vitamin supplement mogul, Jorge Vergara, has even larger plans. The founder of Omnilife has committed $500 million of his own fortune to build the JVC Center, a culture, convention and business center at the city’s edge, spanning 600 acres and overlooking a national ecological preserve. Vergara’s hand-picked team of 11 architects — each designs one major building — presents an international who’s who, including Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Toyo Ito (who won the top prize in Venice for another project, a Relaxation Park in Torrevieja, Spain), Daniel Libeskind, Tod Williams & Billie Tsien, Carmen Pinos and Philip Johnson.
Johnson’s contribution is a children’s museum. “Since I’m in my second childhood now, I can enjoy it,” said the wily old dean of American architecture, on a CD-Rom interview. His building will be based on his experiments with four Platonic shapes: the cone, the square, the triangle and the cylinder.
A party to publicize the JVC Center, on the Giudecca Saturday night, was one of the biggest bashes of Next, swarming with architects, as well as film director Alfonso Cuaron (his hit “Y Tu Mama Tambien” was produced by Vergara) and local socialites Marie Brandolini and Toto Bergamo-Rossi. No expense was spared on the Cipriani catering, the custom-made plates and even the snappy eco-friendly cutlery molded of pasta.
The only thing missing was the host — Vergara himself. He was stuck in Dallas where his brand new Boeing 737 jet was grounded by radar problems.
“This is what you get for $40 million,” he reportedly complained to an aide in Venice. “Maybe I should send it back.”