Sorry i've been a bit lame and vague in keeping up with my reports from the Venice Architecture Biennale. I'm going to post a couple more stories about the event then we'll move on with our life.

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Image by Eric Mairiaux

Just like two years ago, the Belgian pavilion was the one i liked the most. This has very little to do with my nationality. I entered having no idea of what i'd find there and was almost immediately struck by the simplicity and charm of the exhibition.

This year's Director of the Biennale Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA invited participants to explore the relationship between architecture and human occupation. No one has taken the theme as literally as Rotor at the Belgian Pavilion. By focusing on the mundane and the overlooked details of architecture, the collective brought poetry, history and emotion to the biennale.

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Two double flights of stairs. Image by Eric Mairiaux

Called Usus/Usures, the exhibition investigates a specific phase in the life of construction materials: the time when they are subjected to use and are gradually re-shaped by human beings passing through them, walking on them, touching, pressing, stroking, scratching or holding them.

Photo by Eric Mairiaux

The Rotor collective spent years touring public buildings in Belgium to document and collect sections of walls, banisters with chipped paint, wooden floors, stained carpets, tired stairs, elevator cabins, plastic chairs, door handles, windows, and other worn out fragments of buildings. A selection of them hang on the white walls of the pavilion. Taken out of their original context, the objects looks like minimalist sculptures.

Rotor's interest in fatigued bits and pieces of architecture started as a study to evaluate the viability of a resale network for construction and demolition waste. Their concern, however, was not entirely ecological:

Like any product, they also elicit an aesthetic evaluation and, indeed, an emotional one. Traces of wear play a crucial role in this. They frequently evoke a sense of repulsion from potential buyers, but occasionally evoke attraction and even fascination.



With wear and tear, the material gains a new dimension that is both physical and situational.


A few pictures i took. Image on the homepage by Eric Mairiaux.

Usus/Usures is a project by Lionel Devlieger, Michaël Ghyoot, Maarten Gielen, Benjamin Lasserre, Tristan Boniver, and Melanie Tamm, in collaboration with Benedikte Zitouni and Ariane d'Hoop.

The Venice Biennale of Architecture runs until 21st November, 2010.

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Keeping up with the visit to the exhibition of the Venice Architecture Bienniale at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni:

A nail house is a Chinese neologism for homes belonging to people who refuse to move out and make room for estate development. The most famous case is the one of Wu Ping and Yang Wu who declined during two years to sell their house to the developers of a shopping mall under construction in Chongqing. The developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter deep pit around their home. The family turned down an offer of 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000), but eventually settled with the developers in 2007.

Nail house in Chongqing (image)

Architect Caruso St John and artist Thomas Demand are paying homage to the Chongqing nail house with a project currently exhibited inside the Palazzo delle Esposizioni during the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus

The Nagelhaus (nail house in german) is the winning project of a competition to redesign the Escher Weiss Platz, a former industrial area in Zurich undergoing a dramatic transformation that involves new commercial developments, new cultural institutions, and even new inhabitants. Caruso St John and Thomas Demand propose to reconstruct the Chinese Nail House in the square, under a road viaduct, and to open it to the public as a 24/7 restaurant. The modest building would appear as an archaeological fragment of a street that stood there previously.

Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus, Project for Escher-Wyss-Platz, Zurich, illustrations by Martin Mörck (2010)

The reconstruction of the nail house is also a social experiment that explores how migrating forms can bring new life into an overlooked urban setting. The experiment takes a particularly interesting meaning in a country ill at ease with immigration. Only a few months ago, a referendum has backed a proposal to ban the construction of new minarets.

The Nagelhaus project is facing controversy in Zurich, with the right-wing populist SVP trying to prevent its construction. The party has obtained the requisite number of signatures to force a referendum and the matter will be voted this month. Looks like the brave little Chongqing nail house will have to face yet another battle.

Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus

The installation at the Biennale consists of the reconstructed house, built to look like a Demand paper model and squeezed under the roof of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, as well as illustrations of the restaurant under the viaduct.

The inside of the Nagelhaus looks like the hidden side of a theater set.

Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus, Project for Escher-Wyss-Platz, Zurich

Adam Caruso and Thomas Demand interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

Also at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni: Tom Sachs at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

Tom Sachs, Untitled (Modular Man with Syringe), 2001

After the Arsenale, let's move to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to explore the rest of the Biennale exhibition. As i mentioned yesterday, Kazuyo Sejima, this year's Director, has invited some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world to participate to the Venice show.

View of the exhibition room

Tom Sachs, who made a career revisiting contemporary icons such as Prada and the atomic bomb, has been given a large room to exhibit his take on the work and legacy of Le Corbusier.

The most recognizable piece is his handmade version of the landmark of modernism that is the Unité d'Habitation. Le Corbusier had conceived this massive housing block as a universal housing solution for cities that were facing a severe postwar housing shortage. The architect had planned to erect hundreds of Unités all over Europe. Each of them would have accommodated 1000 to 1200 people. 4 bastardized versions of his Unités were completed in Rezé near Nantes, Berlin, Briey and Firminy. Only the Cité Radieuse (radiant city) in Marseille was built exactly according to his designs.

Tom Sachs, Unité (detail)

Tom Sachs, The Radiant City, 2010

The construction was so innovative for the time that people in Marseille called the Cité Radieuse La Maison du Fada (French - Provençal, "The House of the Mad"). Corbusier's work is equally admired as it is reviled. According to Corbusier's detractors, the public housing projects inspired by his theories have had the effect of isolating poor communities in soulless high-rises and severing the social ties necessary to a community's development.

Tom Sachs's drawing of the Unité d'Habitation

Sach's handmade Unité is part of a complex body of sculptural, mechanical, and video works. One of them is McBusier, a sculpture that brings together Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye (1928-31) and a McDonalds drive-in; each of them is monitored by security cameras and connected by a racetrack.

Tom Sachs, McBusier, 2002

The meeting between the two buildings is less heretic than it might look at first sight. Villa Savoye is the first significant residential building to incorporate the automobile in its architecture. The approach towards the house was best experienced when arriving by car (via) and the driver could even park his vehicle under the pilotis.

Tom Sachs, McBusier, 2002 (detail)

Talking about Villa Savoye and the drive-in, the artist explained: "The first represents a kind of ideal, but failed, modernism, the second the more successful, but greedy and corrupt, consumer version."


Tom Sachs, The Radiant City, 2010

Tom Sachs, Nutsy's Deluxe Racing Set, 2003

Tom Sachs, The Open Hand Monument

Image on the homepage by designboom.

More Tom Sachs: Tom Sachs at Sperone Westwater, Artissima (intro), Sony Outsider (Gajin) and Tom Sachs in Milan.



What makes the Venice biennale so special to me is that part of the exhibition takes place in the Arsenale, a complex of shipyards and armories that used to be the largest industrial complex in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution. The wikipedia entry reads like a novel: different areas of the historic naval yards each produced a particular prefabricated ship part or other maritime implement. The parts could then be assembled into a ship in as little as one day. The navy owned a nearby forest that provided the Arsenal's wood supply. In 1593, they even had Galileo work as an external consultant.

The Arsenale on google maps

The biennale exhibition occupies only a part of the Arsenale called the Corderie. Built in 1303, restored in the 16th century, this 6400 sqm surface used to host the manufacture of hawsers, cables and thick ropes.

Unlike most critics and visitors, i can't say that the exhibition of 12th biennale of architecture is particularly exciting. Call me a masochist but i missed being slapped in the face with crucial issues such as the rise of the megapolis, unrestrainable traffic, sustainability, the necessity to provide shelter for populations fleeing conflicts and natural disasters, etc. I missed the overdose of information we were submitted to in 2006. I also missed the extravagance and the speculation of the 2008 edition. The 12th biennale of architecture is mostly about aesthetics and celebration of the discipline.

What i did enjoy more than any other year however was the way Kazuyo Sejima -who directed the event this year- played with the architecture of the Corderie. There was air, grace and gaiety:

Olafur Eliasson has visitors take a leap in the dark where water hoses hanging from the ceiling spray water around in spasms that appear to be frozen in time and shaped with each flash of the stroboscopic lightening (Domus has a video.)

Olafur Eliasson, Your split second house, 2010. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

An enormous room was filled with tiny chairs for people to sit and watch video of architects being interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist.



Anton García-Abril and Ensamble Studio disrupted the scale and harmony of the Corderie with two enormous concrete I-beams that appear to keep their balance thanks to the mere power of a rock and a coil spring.

Anton Garcia-Abril - Ensamble Studio, Balancing Act, 2010. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Studio Mumbai, Work-Place. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Studio Mumbai has piled up wooden building elements over models, tools, materials, samples and tiles in one of the big exhibition spaces of the Arsenale, creating a feeling of intimate, welcoming and controlled chaos. The space speaks of an architecture more akin to craftsmanship and physical labour than neat plan drawings and models.

Studio Mumbai, Work-Place

Studio Mumbai, Work-Place. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Studio Mumbai, Work-Place

Studio Mumbai, Work-Place

Swiss architects Valerio Olgiati defends with a stunning tunning 1:33 model his view that architecture does not have to be primarily contextual. According to him, architecture can grow out of an idea or concept that are completely separate from any context.

Valerio Olgiati, Perm Museum XXI, Perm, Russia, 2008

architecten de vylder vinck taillieu, ordos 100

architecten de vylder vinck taillieu is showing the fascinating model of an un-built project, a large house in Ordos, Mongolia. The dwelling was part of Ordos 100, a project, conceived by Ai Weiwei and curated by Herzog and de Meuron, where 100 young architects were invited to design 100 villas in 100 days. Mirrors placed underneath the model allow for a look inside the house.


architecten de vylder vinck taillieu, ordos 100

Kazuyo Sejima had invited artists to share with the public their perspective on space and architecture. Interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space, Janet Cardiff takes over one of the last rooms of the Corderie with The Forty Part Motet, an audio installation based on the Renaissance choral music Spem in alium nunquam habui by Thomas Tallis (1514-1585). Forty separately recorded voices are played through forty speakers strategically placed in an oval so that the listener can sit in the center of the choir and feel the sculptural construction of the musical piece.

Janet Cardiff, The Forty Part Motet , 2001

You can't conceive an architecture without R&Sie(n), right? The French studio is showing ' thebuildingwhichneverdies ', a research laboratory of light intended to analyze human beings' physiological adaptation to the dark. The structure also explores solar activity and the evolution of the ozone concentration in the stratosphere (more information and photos in designboom.)

R&Sie(n), thebuildingwhichneverdies, 2010. Image R&Sie(n)

... and of course there was that Cloudscapes by Transsolar + Tetsuo Kondo.

The 12th Intl. Architecture Exhibition, directed by Kazuyo Sejima and titled People meet in architecture, runs until 21st November 2010.

Just back from Venice after a visit of what was my fourth and definitely not favourite Architecture Biennale. Mind you, I'm in a minority here, most of the reviews i read so far were very enthusiastic.

I still have to go through the hundreds of pictures i made, the catalogs, leaflets i grabbed and notes i scribbled. Before i come back to you with a fleshier report, here's a quick and easy post about Cloudscapes, one of the most talked about works presented inside the Corderie, a 319 metres long space once used to make ropes and cables for the Italian navy and now hosting a part of the main exhibition.

Transsolar + Tetsuo Kondo, Cloudscapes, 2010. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Architect Tetsuo Kondo has teamed up with German climate engineering firm Transsolar to fill a closed space inside the Corderie with clouds. Clouds, after all, are part of our architecture: they frame outdoor space and filter natural light.

Transsolar + Tetsuo Kondo, Cloudscapes, 2010. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Transsolar + Tetsuo Kondo, Cloudscapes, 2010. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Visitors can experience the cloud from below, within, and above as they climb up 4.3 meter high helical ramp erected in the center of the room. The cloud is based on the physical phenomenon of saturated air, condensation droplets floating in the space and condensation seeds. The atmospheres above and below the cloud have different qualities of light, temperature, and humidity, separating the spaces by a filter effect. The cloud can be touched, and it can be felt as different microclimatic conditions coincide.


The cloud is created through climate engineering. Three layers of air are pumped into the room: cool dry air at the bottom that keeps the cloud floating, hot humid air in the middle to fashion a dense fog and hot dry air at the top.


More information in this short interview of founder of Transsolar Matthias Schuler and silent Tetsuo Kondo by Hans Ulrich Obrist:

Matthias Schuler and Tetsuo Kondo interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

And here's a video of the cloud experience with comments from Matthias Schuler in german:

See also Diller and Scofidio's Blur Building for the 2002 Swiss Expo.

The Venice Architecture Biennale continues until 21 November, 2010.

I found most of the exhibitions i saw at the Arsenale, Venice's sumptuous ex-dockyard, to be quite disappointing. Especially the Italian Pavilion. God! What happened there? What have we done to deserve such an embarrassingly pompous exhibition?


There, i've said it.

The biggest sow at the Arsenale, however, is international and takes place at the spectacular building called the Corderie, a 319 metres long space once used to make ropes and cables for the Italian navy. The theme this year is a bit of a catch-all (as it is often the case in Venice). "Fare Mondi // Making Worlds is an exhibition driven by the aspiration to explore worlds around us as well as worlds ahead. It is about possible new beginnings--this is what I would like to share with the visitors of the Biennale," explained artistic director Daniel Birnbaum in his statement.


One of the most striking artworks for me was Pascale Marthine Tayou's installation Human Being which fills in a gigantic room with a bric-a-brac of objects, furniture made of recycled material, colourful figures, videos and urban noises that re-creates the activity of that small village that we call our world.



At first, the wooden huts on stilts evoke a shantytown or maybe an African village. As you come nearer, however, you realize that the windows of the dwellings act as screens that show activities taking place around the world, there are workshops, small manufactures, people walking down the street or sitting around a meal. It's both joyful and mysterious.



The space is inhabited by strange little figures. Their hair are masterfully entangled with lovely hairpins or feathers, their round bodies are wearing strips of old cloth or Flemish lace. Sometimes they also have bright jewellery on. They gather in little clusters. Each group following a different fashion. Some of them seem to be conversing in tight, knit clan as if they were plotting. Others seem to welcome you inside their circle.



Pascale Marthine Tayou was born in Cameroon, he now lives in Belgium but travels around the world with his artworks. He trained as a lawyer, not an artist. He's a nomad, his identity is split between locations and the paths he could have or did take. That's a condition that the installation tries to reflect.



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