Venice Architecture Biennale 2012 – Giardini Highlights

Last week I arrived in Venice along with rain, high tide (1.4m – thats my shoulder height!) and a 15-degree temperature drop from the week prior. Despite this Venice is stunningly beautiful and provides the perfect venue for the Architecture (and art) Biennale. Lucky the Biennale is not only on ‘Common Ground’ but also on higher ground.

The International Architecture Biennale is the world’s largest celebration of architecture, providing a venue to collectively exchange ideas and reach out to the community.

David Chipperfield, director of this years Biennale describes the theme of Common Ground as one that explores the “concern of continuity, context and memory, toward shared influences and expectations, and to address the apparent lack of understanding that exists between the profession and society.” Source.

Common Ground intends to allow participants to focus not on individual and isolated motivations but rather explore, through individual and personal experience, the shared commonalities that will shape and define the direction of architecture culture.

Importantly, this year’s theme addresses social sustainability and the need to re-engage with the users of architecture. Hopefully less about architects and more about architecture and the audience we intend to cater for. The name Common Ground implies inclusivity and anti-elitism and the Biennale gives opportunity for up-comers like Aberrant and Justin McGuirk to create discourse and present their ideas alongside the likes of Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster.

Over the next couple of weeks I am based in Venice, if you happen to be visiting the Biennale during this time be sure to come say hi at the Aussie Padiglione! I’d love to show you around and direct you towards my favourite exhibitors.

I will post a number of following articles highlighting my favourite moments from the Biennale. Below are the most memorable projects from the Giardini National Pavilions.

Australian Pavilion – Formations, New Practices in Australian Architecture.


Curated by Anthony Burke, Gerard Reinmuth and Toko Concept Design, Formations explores the current fascination with the reconstruction of the architect. The pavilion highlights the work (and unique formation) of 6 different organisations including Richard Goodwin, archrival, healthabitat, supermanoeuvre, 2112 AI and 3RRR as they respond to the various forces reshaping the profession. The pavilion explores the possibly of architecture to develop into broader realms of research, collaboration, urban design, medicine, art and media.

The most engaging work is that of archirival who create a public and engaging arena in the form of outdoor foosball tables. The exhibit creates a positive venue and explores the theme of rivalry and its transformation into a forum for play, productive interaction and discussion.

Austrian Pavilion – Hands have no tears to flow


Created by Wolfgang Tschapeller, Rens Veltman and Martin Perktold, hands have no tears to flow is an interdisciplinary study of thought, action, architecture and art. The exhibition is associated with the human body and investigates the socio-political function of architecture as a mirror of society. Interestingly one questions, is the construction of site no longer the building, but the body?

The pavilion is animated with digital figures projected onto walls that react and mimic the movement of spectators. The human figures become an eerie being (like ourselves), familiar and yet so foreign. The installation is less about architecture and more about the people who exist within the work of architects.

Belgian Pavilion – The Ambition of the Territory


Curated by AWJGGRAUaDVVTAT, The Ambition of the Territory outlines a conceptual framework to reimage the future development of Europe given its current financial, ecological and political crisis. The focus is on reinventing and redistributing dynamics, power and wealth between the traditional west and emerging markets. The goal of the project is to determine welfare systems as redundant and foster a growth in prosperity.

Various architects, urban planners and designers present their work through a series of drawings, documentation of research and design studies. The exhibition seeks to question contemporary society by making the spectator aware of their own imperfections.  Maps and images re-consider the definition of territory via inventive, efficient and productive means as opposed to the traditional zoning principles.

Brazilian Pavilion – Conviviality


Curated by Lauro Cavalcanti, Conviviality steps away from the traditional exhibition design of displaying photographs, plans, perspectives or memorials. The motivation of such is to eliminate exclusivity and autonomy and to instead focus on spatial and physical emotion.

Once of my absolute favourite, the exhibition displays the beautifully emotive work of two important architects. ‘Riposatevi’ by Lucio Costa and ‘Peephole’ by Marcio Kogan. ‘Riposatevi’ allows the spectator to rest on hammocks among guitars with can be played. “The same people who rest in hammocks can, whenever necessary build a new capital in three years’ time.” Lucio Costa. ‘Peephole’ encourages the spectator to look through fragments of life. It focuses on the unique sensation of space that can only be provoked through experience. The installation recognises the infeasibility to depict architecture and a suggestion that it can only be described through memory.

British Pavilion – Venice Takeaway.


Curated by Vicky Richardson and Vanessa Norwood, Venice Takeaway highlights the work of 10 firms from across the globe. The projects focus on the research of international issues from Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Thialand and the USA. The research includes the provision of housing, design of schools, urban planning and design, and the competition system.

Another of my favourite exhibits, Venice Takeaway is a reminder that research, observation and asking questions is just as important to the industry as building. Albert Einstein said, “If we knew what we were doing, it would not be research, would it?” Several participants explore the role of the architect and the profession’s relationship and perception to the public. The work of Open Charter titled the image of the architect examines how the perception of the architect varies around the world. It allows architects to reflect upon why and how this will affect the future of our profession.

Canadian Pavilion – Migrating Landscapes


Curated by 5468796 Architecture and Jae Sung Chan, Migrating Landscapes looks at the global concerns of migration. The exhibition questions the socio-political border, idea and attitude surrounding migration. Throughout the pavilion 18 personal experiences of im/migration are expressed via architectural models and short videos.

The videos and models are displayed among a wooden, malleable infrastructure representing the abstraction of the physical, economic and political conditions that shape individual identity. It portrays subjective stories that are tied together in a collective unsettlement.

Czech and Slovak Pavilion – Asking Architecture.


Curated by Jan Pernecky, Asking Architecture presents the work 18 artists and creative groups rather than the work of architects. The pavilion explores the potential for themes of architecture to be explored and addressed by those outside the industry and questions how this unconventional shift might infiltrate the industry to better respond to the shifting motivations and forces affecting architecture.

The installation relies on the virtual and augmented reality and only reveals the work after the spectator approaches the collateral communication presented on the wall.

Danish Pavilion – Possible Greenland


Curated by Minik Rosing, Possible Greenland explores the need for the artic region to undergo dramatic changes in response globalization, internal demographic forces and climate change. Various installations within the pavilion investigate opportunities to create new connections and interactions between Greenland and the rest of the world.

The installations tend to focus on forming new infrastructures, cultivating new resources, new ways of habitations and new social, cultural and political opportunities. The below images show one project in the form of an airport.

Dutch Pavilion – Re-Set: New wings for Architecture


Curated by Ole Bouman, Re-Set is the sequel to the Vacant NL exhibition of 2010 that explored the quantity of empty buildings available for reuse. Re-Set develops possibilities for transforming (renovating and conserving) existing or under-used space.

Full height fabric throughout the pavilion frequently moves and changes to evoke new spatial qualities and use. Every hour a new situation occurs, allowing the installation to provide a new outlook on existing foundations.

Egyptian Pavilion – Egypt, Motion Rotation and Ascent


Curated by Tariq Al Murri, Egypt, Motion Rotation and Ascent explores brick as a common element in the civilization of mankind. The exhibition recognises the first mud brick as created by an early Egyptian. This moment is symbolic of the beginning of architecture consciousness.

The pavilion contains brick structures representing the first domes and arches as important moments in building development. Singular bricks exist throughout the pavilion and allow the spectator to create their own structures.

Finnish Pavilion – New Forms in Wood


Curated by Juulia Kauste, New Forms in Wood highlights the importance of wood as Finland’s preferred building material. The exhibition highlights nature and the forest as an enduring source for inspiration in art and architecture.

The pavilion highlights the work of 5 young Finish architects as they reimage the use of wood and explore its future potential. Beautify constructed timber models communicate various possibilities.

French Pavilion – Grands & Ensembles


Curated by Yves Lion, Grands & Ensembles explores the issue of working-class districts in France. Through a series of intense and personal videos of the inhabitants of these territories, one can visualise their struggle to viably function within an area of development exclusion and misunderstanding.

The pavilion conveys human spirit and energy as the facilitators and operators of change.  Grands & Ensembles portrays a town with a population of 300,000 – 400,000: European, French, and part of the Paris region, but not found on any administrative map. A hypothetical project supported by a new housing and transport model, transforms the excluded territories to constitute a new backbone to the dense urban network. The pavilion explores the hope for developing such areas into future viable social and economic destinations.

German Pavilion – Reduce/Reuse/Recycle


Curated by a team of Architects and designers Reduce/Reuse/Recycle explores architecture as an inadequate resource for the ageing and declining population of Germany. The exhibition space highlights a number of projects with explore new design and development opportunities with reduce, reuse and recycle as paramount.

The pavilion seeks to provide a global appreciation towards resources and highlights the need for architects to create buildings that use less energy and new methods of processes.

Greek Pavilion – Made in Athens


Organised by the Hellenic Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Made in Athens focuses on the strong contradictions of contemporary Athens. The exhibition seeks to expand the opportunity for talented young architects during a time of economic crisis. Two themes exist within the pavilion; one concerns the local urban tradition with a particular focus on housing and the other is the current fragmentation of public space.

Created by local architects and creative groups, the exhibition contains 8 narratives and strategies for the city of Athens. The common ground is a common goal to reshape Athens in crisis.

Thank you for reading and be sure to check out the next article which will cover the remaining Giardini National Pavilions. Please feel free to contact me on if you would like further information or photographs on any of the exhibits. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


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