From an indoor garden to a winding maze, the national pavilions at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale seek to immerse the viewer in a series of experiential exhibitions that both investigate and champion the impact that architects and design have on society – we pick our top 10 of the most thought-provoking presentations
Taking place on alternating years to its art-focused sibling, the Venice Architecture Biennale (running until 28 November 2018) brings together 63 countries to present ideas on architecture and design through national pavilions and a programme of collateral events and exhibitions. This year’s edition, entitled Freespace, is curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, and revolves around the idea of what role architecture plays in day to day life.
Here, we round up our top 10 favourite pavilions and why we love them.
Curated by Nuni Brandão and Sèrgio Mah
Commissioner: Direzione Generale delle Arti
The Portuguese pavilion focuses on public architecture to articulate the social, economic and cultural implications and importance of architecture in public spaces. It does so by showcasing 12 building projects from across the country that have been constructed in the last decade. The curators say public infrastructure “is in line with the idea of civilizational evolution and progressive social equity. It simultaneously rebuilds and rehabilitates the form of the city, and qualitatively and culturally renews public space.” The exhibition investigates the importance of public spaces at a time where the economic crash limited funding yet the government spent millions on these buildings.
Why we love it: the mixture of media (films, diagrams, models and photographs) creates an engaging and immersive display.
Nordic Countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden)
Curated by Eero Lundén and Juulia Kauste
Commissioner: Reetta Heiskanen, Museum of Finnish Architecture
The Nordic pavilion has, unsurprisingly, a strong focus on nature and the environment. Step inside to find large inflatable blobs that change in response to the conditions of their surroundings. Factors affecting this include carbon dioxide levels and temperature: sensations of hot and cold make the blobs change colour, while fluctuating CO2 levels cause the ‘blobs’ to ‘breathe’, by slightly changing their size. These white, translucent objects are connected to the ceiling via vein-like pipes and the audience is invited to interact by pushing and playing with them. Lundén has said their aim was to “re-establish a relationship with architecture, because quite often we see buildings and that’s it.”
Why we love it: the pavilion’s futuristic plastic objects take on a life of their own and the experience is like being inside a living, breathing creature.
United Arab Emirates
Curated by Dr Khaled Alawadi
Commissioner: Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has presented a display of hanging models of landscapes, showing insight into daily life in the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain (the UAE being comprised of seven emirates). Each one demonstrates a different aspect of city life: residential areas, urban blocks, streets and alleyways, as well as natural landscapes. Curator Dr Khaled Alawadi, who specializes in the design of sustainable cities, describes the exhibition as “an excursion into these humane and under-celebrated areas of the UAE, highlighting the interplay between the physicality of architecture and places, and the dynamic choreography of everyday life.” To investigate these various typologies and places, the exhibition uses a series of photographs, typological maps, graphs of behavioural data, architectural drawings, case studies, and three-dimensional models.
Why we love it: in a country that is more generally known for its artificial and futuristic urban landscape, this exhibition focuses on the human factor, through its people, rather than buildings.
Curated by Marianne Birthler, Lars Krückeberg, Wolfram Putz and Thomas Willemeit
Commissioner: Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community.
Unbuilding Walls is, you guessed it, centred around the topic of the Berlin Wall, which it uses as a starting point for the exploration of the impact of walls: from physical ones to those created by ideologies and policies and the consequences of such divisions. Using a maze of black walls and projections, the exhibition highlights issues such as the danger of nationalism (from 20thcentury Germany to the present day), even brushing upon Brexit and the American Presidency. The black walls, which double up as information boards, mix with white floor stripes, making one feel slightly lost in a dream-like space. The intention, as curators GRAFT and Marianne Birthler have explained, “was to create free spaces.”
Why we love it: the maze of plain black walls is immensely impactful, and speaks of division better than any words can.
Curated by Gerald McMaster and David Fortin
Commissioner: Canada Council for the Arts
In UNCEDED Voices of the Land, the pavilion stays true to its name and focuses on Canada’s natural elements, specifically on issues of its conservation and protection. This comes as no surprise once one realises the architect behind it, Douglas Cardinal, is also a philosopher and human rights activist. Eighteen indigenous architects and designers from Turtle Island have also each created a captivating installation on winding screens. The experience is an immersive one, with the curators explaining that one “can’t look at a building without hearing the dances. You can’t look at a building without seeing the landscape behind it or beside it, you can’t look at a building without hearing the voice of the architect and them referencing their families.”
Why we love it: the pavilion embodies the love and care its participants have for Canada, and this love is tangible.
Commissionner: Janet Holmes à Court AC
Australia’s pavilion, entitled Repair, is a collection of living vegetation that helps articulate the variety of the world’s ecosystems and landscapes. The rooms are empty apart from plants and a couple of benches. Over 10,000 plants were used to create these vegetative islands, the visitor able to walk between them and get lost in a soothing and contemplative microcosm of sorts. Repair seeks to highlight the importance of making architecture compatible with our fragile earth, with a message to cities to develop, but not at the expense of the planet. “There is a role for architecture to actively engage with the repair of the places it is part of: the soil, hydrology, habitat, connections, overland water flow, microorganisms, vegetation and so on,” the curators have stated.
Why we love it: We love the reversal of norms in this exhibit: the curators have brought the outside inside.
Curated by Matīss Groskaufmanis, Gundega Laiviņa, Evelīna Ozola, Anda Skrējāne
Commissioner: Jānis Dripe, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia
Together and Apart: 100 Years of Living, is a four-part exhibition that studies the impact of residential apartment living, from the social to ecological – indeed, nearly two thirds of Latvians live in high-rise buildings. Divided into four sections (‘The Distance’, ‘Promise’, ‘Heat’ and ‘Self’) the exhibition is entirely grey. It fills a concrete room, with sheer curtains dividing up the space, which is composed of models of building exteriors and interiors, photographs, writing and diagrams. The aim, as the curators explain, is to “highlight the parts of the apartment building that cannot be reduced to a private sphere and an individual apartment.”
Why we love it: the pavilion reveals interesting aspects to apartment living that aren’t widely talked about, such as how it changes the social interactions of a neighbourhood.
Curated by Seongtae Park
Commissioner: Arts Council Korea
The Korean pavilion uses the case studies of four national buildings by the government-established Korea Engineering Consultants Corp (KECC) to demonstrate the longstanding impact that Korean 1960s government policies had on Korean society. Spectres of the State Avant-garde questions the role of architecture to the state, and how buildings can be used as propaganda tools. Spectres of the State Avant-garde presents a story but is also an investigation, curator Seongtae Park explain: “By exorcising its contradictory legacies, we may discover, beneath the ashes of the State Avant-garde, clues for building new forms of civic space for the post developmental and post-national society today.”
Why we love it: There’s a great juxtaposition of old and new. The pavilion creates a story that is true to the history of Korea in the past century, yet also embraces the futuristic style that has become so iconic of the nation.
Curated by Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin, Sébastien Eymard- Encore Heureux
Commissioner: French Institute with Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture
As the name suggests, Infinite Places – Building or Making Places?, is about space and its use. It asks whether we need to build or create spaces, that is: what makes a place? Is it the buildings, or lack of, the people, items or something else entirely? The exhibition uses a large variety of everyday objects and adheres them to the wooden walls of the space to surround the viewer. The pavilion focuses on abandoned buildings and the importance of reusing them through 10 projects between 1650 and 1977 in France. The curators say these projects are “third places” and that, to them, “the integration of non-programmatic spaces, the creation of spaces of freedom or for citizen appropriation are proof that certain spaces accommodate social experiments.”
Why we love it: the liveliness and relatability of this exhibit creates a real sense of familiarity with the domestic mess.
Curated by Caruso St John Architects, Marcus Taylor
Commissionner: Sarah Mann, Architecture Design Fashion British Council
The British Pavilion comprises an empty house covered in scaffolding, with only the peak of the roof exposed. Visitors are invited to walk up the scaffolding and onto a wooden platform, where this exposed peak takes on the appearance of an island. The exhibition brings to the fore various discussions, the curator states, that illustrate the “many ways to interpret the experience of visiting an island and the state of the building suggests many themes; including abandonment, reconstruction, sanctuary, Brexit, isolation, colonialism and climate change,” and various ideas of a nation as a physical and as a metaphorical island. “It is forward looking whilst acknowledging the past, whether good or bad.”
Why we love it: the scaffolding and wooden platform bring to the fore their own probing questions, but the view from the top, nestled amongst the trees, of the surrounding Giardini and Venetian lagoon is something special.