The Architecture Biennale in Venice is the select place for architects to impress their peers and potential clients from all over the world with their most stunning projects. For this post, I selected 6 installations which are really worth a close look. These socially responsible projects are not only an asset for their local community. On top of that, they are beautifully presented in Arsenale and Giardini. 4 of these were selected for the Freespace exhibition by the curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell. The other 2 are located in the national pavilions.
Fuji Kindergarten – Corderie – Arsenale
Even before you have seen the model of Tezuka Architects, it puts a smile on your face. The sound of children playing in the Arsenale makes you wonder where the kids are hiding. The kindergarten is shaped like an oval with a perimeter of 183 m. The building is almost completely open and therefore, according to the architect, just a roof. There are no boundaries or acoustic barriers. The 500 children are free to run around on top of the roof, to slide down to the garden or to climb the trees that grow through the building. It must feel like heaven for them. The goal of the architects is to change the children’s lives and teach them how to live in this world. Adding a small dosage of danger stimulates them to help each other. The Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo was the winner of the 2017 Moriyama RAIC International Prize.
The multimedia installation at the Biennale brings the kindergarten alive. A video of children running around and sliding down is projected on the large white model with the delicate white figurines and furniture. The sound of the children playing is almost hypnotizing as you want to follow them and watch their next move. Even after you have seen it multiple times and you know where they will be going next, it’s difficult to leave. After all, they are children, so maybe they’ll do it different next time. The excellent scenography tempts you to travel to Japan and visit the kindergarten to see if it’s as impressive in real life. In the meantime, you can watch the entertaining TED talk of Takaharu Tezuka with plenty of pictures and video fragments of this kindergarten (on the site, click ‘works’ and then ‘educational buildings’).
The Songyang Story – Corderie – Arsenale
Xu Tiantian of DnA_Design and Architecture developed 7 projects which are beautifully integrated in the mountainous landscape of Songyang County in China. She realized these in close cooperation with the village communities, the municipal government, and local craftspeople as part of the rural revitalisation of the area. The projects include a tea house, a bamboo theatre, a pedestrian bridge, a hakka museum, a brown sugar workshop and a traditional dyeing studio. The buildings are inspired by the local heritage and use traditional construction elements. For the construction of the bamboo dome for the village of Hengkeng, she used a low-tech approach that takes the rapid growth and bendable quality of the material into account. Xu Tiantian also designed a simple wooden structure for pedestrians to replace the stone bridge for vehicles over the Songyin River. In the middle, a square planted with trees is now a shared cultural space for the two neighboring villages Shimen and Shimenyu.
The 7 projects are presented in Venice with wooden models, which immediately gives you a sense of nature. The accompanying video and pictures give you an idea of the challenges, both architecturally and socially. I particularly liked the bamboo theatre in the middle of a forest (which features in the banner above this article). It must be magical to watch a performance there. I was also impressed by the testimonies of the citizens which are now connected by the bridge. The committed approach of the team converted the villagers from opponents to advocates. If you would like to know more about these 7 projects, you can find an interesting article with plenty of pictures and videos on the website of ArchDaily.
Liquid Light – Corderie – Arsenale
The new Sala Beckett theatre (Obrador Internacional de Dramatùrgia) in Barcelona has been designed by Flores & Prats. The team completely restored the old workers’ cooperative, which dated from 1924, and which had been abandoned for almost 30 years. The renovation and expansion of the existing spaces took years of research and design. The architects’ aim was to maintain the building’s spatial design and decoration, preserving the unique qualities of a historical building, while proposing new usable, contemporary spaces for the Sala Beckett theatre. A remarkable example hereof is the hole in the roof, due to the decay, which now plays a prominent role in the new cultural center. The ray of natural light changes the atmosphere of the building depending on the time of the day and the year. The exhibition title ‘Liquid Light’ refers to this concept.
The installation in the Arsenale consists of 2 parts. The front shows a fragment of the Sala Beckett at real scale. The best part is however at the backside of this panel. It’s like a treasure trove for architects. You can follow the creative process of the team in deciding how to restore this site. The walls are covered with an inventory of the elements which were found inside the abandoned building. Each significant part has been carefully collected, from the frames to the doors, the polychrome tiles, rose windows, the stratifications present in the masonry fabric and the plasterwork. You can browse the numerous drawings, watch the detailed study models or look at the pictures from the old cooperative. It’s a unique layout where you can easily spend an hour examining every detail. If you want to see the result of the restoration, why not attend a performance in the theatre on your next trip to Barcelona.
Caritas – Central Pavilion – Giardini
Architecten de vylder vinck taillieu won the Silver Lion for a promising young participant at the Architecture Biennale 2018 with their Caritas project. The motivation of the jury mentioned ‘a project that possesses a confidence thanks to which slowness and waiting allow architecture to be open to future activation’.
The Caritas project contains the restoration of an old psychiatric clinic in Melle (Belgium) in the middle of a park. Even though the necessary adaptations have been made to ensure the stability of the half-demolished building, the roofs are still open as well as the holes in the walls. The floors have been replaced by gravel to let the rain seep through and the windows on the ground floor were lowered to the ground. Inside, the team installed greenhouses that are used for therapy sessions and workshops. This unusual concept of using a half-demolished site as a functioning center is beautiful in its simplicity. Within the context of a psychiatric center, this emphasizes the fact that the inside, from a building or a person, is more important than the outside. It’s the combination of both that makes it a unique entity.
The first thing you notice when you enter the room in the central pavilion is the smell of cedar. It immediately attracts your attention to the large pictures that are mounted on the wooden structure. The size of the pictures gives you the feeling that you’re actually walking through this half-demolished building. Once you’ve read the information card, you’re bound for a second tour of closer inspection. I find it a very intriguing concept and I hope I will be able to visit it on an open day in the near future. If you attended the previous Architecture Biennale, you might already have admired the work of this team at the Belgian pavilion as you can read in ‘Review of the Architecture Biennale 2016: Belgium’.
Infinite Places – French pavilion – Giardini
The architects and curators Encore Heureux explore places which experiment with collective processes and community building. They selected a diverse set of 10 projects from all over France. The Hôtel Pasteur in Rennes for instance was originally a science faculty and later used as a dental school. When architect Patrick Bouchain launched his fairground university, the city agreed to initiate a citizen reappropriation of the site. Local initiatives can now use the place free of charge, as long as they are self-financing and they leave some trace of their time there. Sport workshops, French courses for refugees and fire brigade training have already been organized. A similar concept is ongoing at Le Centquatre in Paris. Artists hold art exhibitions while dancers (from tango dancers to break dancers) and students from the nearby drama school perform in the central halls of the former funeral home.
The French pavilion shows hundreds of objects which were collected from the different locations on its high walls. Beneath, you will see beautiful models enhanced with video projections on small screens. The description of the projects will give you some food for thought. You will start wondering why there isn’t such a place where you live. In line with the projects in France, the team created a temporary community site called Esperienza Pepe. The former military barracks on the Lido island are now open for local and international cultural activities. You can find the program on the website of the pavilion.
Mind-Building – Pavilion of Finland – Giardini
Curator Anni Vartola dedicated the Finnish pavilion to the architecture of libraries. The public library is the ultimate ‘freespace’: a publicly funded place of learning that is open for everyone, for free. The small wooden pavilion of Alvar Aalto shows models and information of 17 library buildings of different times. It starts from the 1881 Rikhardinkatu Library and leads up to Oodi Helsinki Central Library due to open in December 2018. ALA Architects designed a striking building with glass and steel structures and a wooden façade. Oodi’s wide range of services and facilities will be available to residents seven days a week, from early in the morning till late in the evening. This concept is similar to that of Querini Stampalia in Venice (more info in my post ‘7 authentic libraries that will amaze you in Venice’).
The pavilion is designed as a temporary public library with an original book trolley and a red information point. The detailed information about the projects hangs against the walls in a beautiful set-up. Similar to a real library, it’s the perfect place to sit down and relax for a few minutes. While reading the books or the signs, you can also charge your phone at the variety of cables. If you can’t make it to Venice, you can consult the entire catalog online. You can also find more information in my post ‘Preview of the Architecture Biennale 2018: Finland’.
Besides these concrete projects, architects and countries also use the Biennale as a platform to present concepts or to launch new ideas in line with the Freespace theme. In this context, you can find my favourite pavilions in my post ‘7 pavilions you cannot miss at the Architecture Biennale 2018’. More practical information is also available in the post ‘How to prepare your visit to the Architecture Biennale 2018’. Finally, you can find a list of all the articles related to the Architecture Biennale via this overview page.
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