Arsenale Entrance by Alejandro Aravena, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 | Yellowtrace
Curator Alejandro Aravena used over 90 tonnes of recycled waste (generated by the Venice Art Biennale 2015) to create two introductory rooms for this year’s architecture event. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Arsenale Entrance by Alejandro Aravena, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 | Yellowtrace
Entrance installation by Alejandro Aravena. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Introductory Room at Arsenale, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Introductory Room at Arsenale. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Building Knowledge by Anupama Kundoo, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 | Yellowtrace
Anupama Kundoo unveiled a prototype house that can be built in just six days using Lego-like blocks of a material called ferrocement. Installed inside the Arsenale.

Armadillo Vault Beyond Bending Block Research Group Eth Zurich, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Photo by Iwan Baan | Yellowtrace
‘Beyond Bending’ presented by ETH Zurich is an installation conceived by Block Research Group. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Aequilibrium Suspended Walkway by C+S architects, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 | Yellowtrace
C+S architects installed a suspended red walkway entitled ‘Aequilibrium’ within the corderie of the historic Arsenale.

Designing the Complexity by Studio Marco Piva, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 | Yellowtrace
‘Designing the Complexity: Materials, Colours, Textures’ by Studio Marco Piva was presented inside the Scuola Grande Della Misericordia. Photo by Luca Casonato.

Forests of Venice Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Swedish studios Kjellander + Sjöberg and Folkhem installed a timber pavilion between the Venice Biennale venues, in tribute to the 10 million trees used to build the city’s foundations.

Vara Labyrinth Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 | Yellowtrace
Vara Labyrinth Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen.

 

This review of Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 was written for Yellowtrace by Michelle Tabet – an independent Strategy Director and Creative Director for ‘The Pool’, the Australian Pavilion in Venice. Hooray! Visit Michelle’s website, or follow her on Twitter.

 

The Venice Architecture Biennale is arguably the world’s premier architecture and urbanism event. The Architecture Biennale is still considered the ‘poor cousin’ to the Art Biennale but it’s hard not to notice the growing interest in large format events celebrating architectural culture around the world. Just this past year, we have seen the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, and this September we all await with baited breath the launch of London’s first Design Biennale.

So what are these large events all about? Well, some would argue these events have a trade show dimension to it – it’s about showcasing national architectural and design output, giving a platform for architects to show their work to the world. While that may have been the case in the past, this Biennale – curated by Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena – was definitely more about engaging in a global conversation. His theme ‘Reporting From the Front’ invited national participants to consider what battles were being fought in their country and how architecture can help improve the lives of the many.

The response to the invitation was wide and varied. Some used the lens of architecture and space to tackle issues of geopolitical importance, others focused on local solutions, led by the community for the community. And others ignored the theme altogether and investigated a topic that is important to their nation in other ways.

 

Related Articles:
Highlights From Venice Architecture Biennale 2014.
All posts relating to Venice Biennale on Yellowtrace.

 

Australian Pavilion The Pool by Aileen Sage Architects. Photo by Brett Boardman | Yellowtrace
Australian Pavilion ‘The Pool’ by Aileen Sage Architects with Michelle Tabet. The pavilion’s main room features a water-filled pool measuring 60 square meters. Photo by Brett Boardman.

Australian Pavilion The Pool by Aileen Sage Architects. Photo by Brett Boardman | Yellowtrace
Little swimmer at the Australian Pavilion in Venice. Photo by Brett Boardman.

 

It’s fair to say that The Pool, created with co-creative directors Amelia Holliday and Isabelle Toland of Aileen Sage Architects, presented a pretty unorthodox interpretation of the theme, focusing on the creation of a public space rather than a survey of Australia’s best pools, whatever that means. Our approach had always been to create a piece of architecture, in dialogue with the Denton Corker Marshall-designed pavilion, as a place of exchange and storytelling.

As a Creative Director, you think a lot about what it means to represent your country. This is both an honour and a huge responsibility. What is the right angle for the exhibition? The right tone of voice? How do we represent a whole profession and a whole nation? The reality is that there is no ‘right’ show, another creative team would have approached things differently and their efforts would have resulted in a different experience, equally valid and relevant. To us, this further demonstrated the subjective nature of architecture: it means different things to different people.

 

Australian Pavilion The Pool by Aileen Sage Architects. Photo by Brett Boardman | Yellowtrace
Australian Pavilion ‘The Pool’ by Aileen Sage Architects with Michelle Tabet. Photo by Brett Boardman.

Australian Pavilion The Pool by Aileen Sage Architects. Photo by Brett Boardman | Yellowtrace
Australian Pavilion ‘The Pool’ by Aileen Sage Architects with Michelle Tabet. Photo by Brett Boardman.

The Pool Australian Creative Team (Australian Pavilion by Aileen Sage Architects). Photo by Alexander Mayes | Yellowtrace
The Australian Creative Team – Amelia Holliday, Michelle Tabet and Isabelle Toland. Photo by Brett Boardman.

 

Building on this idea of subjectivity, we approached eight prominent Australians (Tim Flannery, Ian Thorpe, Romance Was Born, Christos Tsiolkas, Anna Funder, Hetti Perkins, Shane Gould and Paul Kelly) who told us their personal story about architecture through the device of the pool. It was important that these represented a cross section of people, engaged in public life for different reasons. When we contacted these kind volunteers, willing to lend their voice and their profile to our project, a lot of them told us they didn’t know anything about architecture. But in fact, they did. We all experience space, we all experience public realm and private space and the difference between the two. And in a lot of senses, thanks to their ability to capture an audience and tell a good story, their stories framed more accessible and engaging narratives than if we’d resorted to more traditional ways of talking about architecture.

 

Spain Pavilion Winner of the Golden Lion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Spain Pavilion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Spain Pavilion Winner of the Golden Lion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Spain Pavilion was the winner of the Golden Lion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Gabinete de Arquitectura Breaking the Siege. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Gabinete de Arquitectura’s exhibition designed by Solano Benítez, Gloria Cabral and Solanito Benítez, was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Swiss Pavilion by Christian Kerez | Yellowtrace
Christian Kerez built an inhabitable structure inside Switzerland’s Pavilion. Photo by Oliver Dubuis.

Swiss Pavilion by Christian Kerez | Yellowtrace
Swiss Pavilion by Christian Kerez. Photo by Oliver Dubuis.

Home Economics British Pavilion | Yellowtrace
The British Council presented the exhibition Home Economics in the British Pavilion.

Home Economics British Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Home Economics exhibition in the British Pavilion.

Serbian Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Serbian Pavilion features bright blue interior modelled on a ship’s hull, to symbolise young architects’ difficult crusade to find employment. Photo by Luke Hayes.

Romania Pavilion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Romanian Pavilion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Nordic Pavilion by Sverre Fehn. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Nordic Pavilion. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu | Yellowtrace
Nordic Pavilion by Sverre Fehn. Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu.

Baltic Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Venice Biennale’s first Baltic States Pavilion investigates post-Soviet infrastructure. Photo by David Grandorge.

Czech & Slovak Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Czech and Slovak Pavilion explored whether Soviet-era architecture should be saved or demolished. Photo by Ben Markel.

Slovenian Pavilion by Dekleva Gregoric | Yellowtrace
Dekleva Gregorič transforms Slovenian Pavilion into cocooning library dedicated to home design.

 

I’ll leave the tasks of reviewing and critiquing our approach to others and focus instead on my learnings from the experience of the Biennale as a whole. The most successful exhibitions in my view were the ones that considered the physical, intellectual and emotional load created by a visit to the Biennale. Imagine visiting 60 museums in one day and you’ll start to understand how desperately overwhelming the experience is.

The exhibitions that were successful in my view were the ones that explored a single concept or idea in an immersive experience. These exhibitions considered not only what you would take away intellectually, but also emotionally. I would add to that those that opted for simplicity and an economy of materials also resonated with me. It might be because I was time-poor and exhausted, or because the archi-speak is lost on my simple soul, but I couldn’t help but think that the tools of the architects are not always the tools of good storytelling.

Lastly, the exhibitions that considered the general public as well as the initiated audience were best communicated. After all, the Architecture Biennale is as much about the architect-to-architect discourse as it is about positioning architecture as an intrinsic part of culture and a nation’s cultural output. To maintain relevance, architecture must speak to and resonate with the public.

Others will have investigated every nook and cranny of the Biennale in much further detail than I. As I ventured outside of the Australian pavilion, I was glad to become one of the general public, taking in the exhibits at face value, with the energy and enthusiasm of a casual visitor. With this mindset, these are the ones that resonated most with me.

 

Uruguay Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Uruguay Pavilion.

Uruguay Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Uruguay Pavilion.

Uruguay Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Uruguay Pavilion.

 

Uruguay was represented by a pan-Latin American team of architects who explored the idea of architecture as a condition for survival. Named ‘Reboot’, the execution of their idea was brave and beautiful in its simplicity. The pavilion was divided into two intimate spaces, separated by a curtain of bubble wrap. On one side, a pile of rubble, excavated in situ, spoke of the connection to Venice and the Giardini in particular, a Napoleonic project built on the fabric of ancient Venice. In this rubble are vestiges of old pottery as well as the usual dirt you’d expect to find. On the other side of the curtain, you discover a hand-drawn charcoal mural, very likely drawn by an illustrator or a cartoonist, depicting two tragedies in Uruguayan history where architecture was the invention of necessity: as a shelter from guerrilla warfare and as a means for survival after a plane crash that rocked the nation.

 

Fair Building Exhibition Installation Polish Pavilion | Yellowtrace
The ‘Fair Building’ campaign/ installation in the Polish Pavilion focuses on better working conditions on building sites. Photo by Maciej Jelonek.

Fair Building Exhibition Installation Polish Pavilion | Yellowtrace
Polish Pavilion. Photo by Maciej Jelonek.

 

Poland presented another brave and bold exhibition called ‘Fair Building’, one that tells the story, in one infographic, of the hardships experienced by those employed in the construction industry. It shows in unequivocal terms the price some pay for the realisation of great (or not so great, as the case may be) architecture. The main room is dark and filled with scaffolding, creating a palpable sense of oppression. I left marked but the power of the message, coming from an often-ignored side of our industry.

 

Irish Pavilion Losing Myself | Yellowtrace
‘Losing myself’ exhibition inside the Irish Pavilion. Photo © Niall McLaughlin Architects and Yeoryia Manolopouplou.

Irish Pavilion Losing Myself | Yellowtrace
‘Losing myself’ exhibition inside the Irish Pavilion. Photo © Niall McLaughlin Architects and Yeoryia Manolopouplou.

Irish Pavilion Losing Myself | Yellowtrace
‘Losing myself’ exhibition inside the Irish Pavilion.

 

Another tearjerker was the Irish pavilion in the Arsenale. Called ‘Losing Myself’, the installation is presented by Niall McLaughlin Architects and curated by Yeoryia Manolopoulou and consists in a grid of mounted projectors facing down and projecting an abstract collage of brain imagery, infographics as well as footage of people’s hands pressing against frosted glass, as if trapped within. I love the way in which this exhibition interprets the front in a different way, the front of a massive ageing population, facing both physical and mental deterioration. It conveyed the stress and the anguish of being in space once familiar and no longer so, and does this without using conventional architectural representations. A gripping look inside the minds of those experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Contrary to Oliver Wainwright’s (the Guardian’s architecture and design critic) assessment of this year’s Biennale as a ‘souped-up pre-school show’, I found moments of incredible intensity and emotion in the exhibitions. To me this marked a more mature and braver engagement with architecture as a part of life rather than a specialist disciplines for the select few.

 

Related Articles:
Highlights From Venice Architecture Biennale 2014.
All posts relating to Venice Biennale on Yellowtrace.

 


 

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Team Yellowtrace is a small and highly dedicated bunch of cool kids who assist in the production of design stories, general admin and correspondence associated with each and every post. The team works tirelessly behind the scenes, providing invaluable support to the Editor In Chief. Extreme love and respect to the power of ten!

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