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The Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz once wrote that the non-Western world was "condemned to be modern." This uncompromising verdict headlines the Mexican pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture. The Dutch architect and thinker Rem Koolhaas has perceptively curated the Biennale this year around the theme "Absorbing Modernity." This could have been an invitation to boastful displays of grand monuments and much arcane and pompous theorizing about architectural modernism. Happily, most of the 65 national pavilions highlight what Paz identified as the key aspect of modernity, something more important than awesome buildings or routine elections: the capacity for self-criticism.

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