The Polish Pavilion was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at this year's edition of the Venice Biennale of Architecture. And it's easy to understand why.

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Curated by Grzegorz Piątek and Jarosław Trybuś, the exhibition is entitled Warsaw's Polonia Hotel. The Afterlife of Buildings and presents six major architectural projects designed in Poland in recent years by renowned architects.

The exhibition engages with the theme of this year's Biennale "Out there - architecture beyond buildings" in a literal way. Looking beyond the form given to buildings by architects, the curators of the pavilion question the durability of edifices. Their project tries and forecasts how the passage of time, the changes in social or environmental conditions will affect and slowly modify buildings.
Images hung side by side present prestigious edifices as they are now and as they might be after a major transformation. The 'before' photographs were made by Nicolas Grospierre. The 'after' are collages by Kobas Laksa that imagine a possible future for these buildings.

What is the point of having a second air terminal at Warsaw airport when skyrocketing price of oil makes flying affordable to very few people? When importing bananas from Brazil and rice from Vietnam has become a scandalous luxury? The solution envisioned by Polish authorities a few decades from now is to convert an airstrip into cultivated land and to adapt Terminal 2 to the needs of a large animal husbandry plant.

Could this idea be discarded as a crazy forecast when speculations about the future of Berlin's Tempelhof airport, now officially closed, envision the possibility to turn the 900-acre (365-hectare) site into a luxury spa, some condos, a museum, a park, a trade center or even the centerpiece of a new Olympic bid.

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Terminal 2 - Fryderyk Chopin International Airport, (Estudio Lamela, Lamela y Asociados)

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What's the use of the Metropolitan office building designed by Foster+Partners once the speculative real-estate market faces collapse or in case of a revolution in the patterns of corporate work? Could it be bought one day by the police and turned into a prison? The idea might not be as crazy as it sounds. The building encircles the courtyard (which would become an exercise yard for convicts) in an almost perfect panopticon and the polished surface of the walls multiply reflections, enabling a surveillance from all points of view.

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Metropolitan, by Norman Foster and Partners

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What is going to happen with a monumental university library such as the Warsaw University Library when all the books become digital? Wouldn't it make more sense to restyle the space into a shopping mall?

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Warsaw University Library, by Marek Budzyński, Zbigniew Badowski

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Who needs a monumental Marian shrine like the Sanctuary of our Lady of Sorrow, built between 1994 and 2004, in Lichen when even the last Poles have ceased attending masses? Surely they would prefer Poland's largest church to be converted into an aquatic park, right?

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Sanctuary of our Lady of Sorrow, by architect Barbara Bielecka

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The project didn't stop with a bunch of photos. The building of Polish Pavillion itself - a monumental building raised in the 1930s- is subject to change. The curators re-purposed it into a hotel for the first five days of the Biennale. When i visited, beds were still welcoming visitors willing to have a quick rest and a red sign that reads Hotel was added on the facade of the Polish pavilion.

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The Venice Biennale of Architecture continues until Nov. 23, 2008.

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The blockbuster of the Venice Biennale of Architecture is a quirky 58 minute film by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine.

Koolhaas Houselife visits one of the masterpieces of contemporary architecture: the Maison à Bordeaux designed in 1998 by Rem Koolhaas / OMA.

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The Dutch architect designed this house on three levels with moving walls and sliding floors. The lower level is carved from the hillside as a series of caverns, and serves for communal family life. The middle level of glass is designed to accommodate the husband, who is confined to a wheelchair. The third level is divided into sections for the husband, wife, and children. At the center of each level is an elevator platform that moves up and down between levels.

The movie engages with the Biennale's theme 'Out there - architecture beyond buildings' by trying to uncover what happens after a house that has been plastered all over the glossy magazines is left in the hands of the owners.

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The peculiarity of the movie is that it presents this icon of contemporary architecture through the eyes of Guadalupe Acedo, the cleaning lady, and the other people who look after the building. The charming and devoted cleaning lady struggles with the heavy curtains, the narrow staircase, the either oddly shaped or gigantic glass panels, etc. Clearly this house has not been designed for the people who have the bad idea to live outside of architecture magazines. Once in a while you can hear Guadalupe whisper gems such as: 'If I had money, I would not build a house like this.'

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One of the highlights of the video is this snippet of interview which shows a Koolhaas surprised by Guadalupe's take and treatment of his building: 'You see here two systems colliding: the system of the platonic conception of cleaning with the platonic conception of architecture.'

Meet Guadalupe as she goes up the open lift :

This way for trailer 2.

I'm with you Guadalupe! i lived 3 years in an 'architectural masterpiece', waking up to the sound of tourists ringing my doorbell to get a sneak peek at the inside of the house, trying to figure out where to buy furniture that would fit the stupidly curvy walls and being burgled every single year because the alarm system was so delicate that we had to turn it off most of the time for fear that it would drill holes through the heads of the whole neighbourhood when we got up at night to visit the bathroom.

Guadalupe's experience also reminded me of the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein. I visited the place a few years ago with a local guide who explained us that it had been designed by Zaha Hadid as a working firehouse within the Vitra furniture design and manufacturing complex. However, the firemen found the building impossible to live and work in. Now the edifice is used by Vitra as a showplace for part of its permanent collection of chairs. Looks great on images though!

Check out Gizmodo's interview with Ila Bêka. And if you're in the neighbourhood, the Venice Biennale of Architecture is screening the movie in a stuffy little room of the Italian Pavilion until November 23, 2008.

Edgar Gonzalez is preparing a tour of Spain for the movie but the dates of the screenings have not been released yet. Stay tuned!

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Let's go back to the Venice Biennale of Architecture, shall we?

Because i'm Belgian, i tend to shun the Belgian pavilion in my reports. Well, this time i won't. It was one of the most exciting pavilions of this edition of the Biennale.

The title of the Belgian exhibition is enigmatic: 1907... after the party.

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View of the pavilion from the promenade

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Going through the tunnel

1907 is the year that the first foreign pavilion, the Belgian one, landed in the Giardini of the Biennale. 1907 also refers to the internal volume of the building in cubic metres.

The pavilion celebrated thus its 100th birthday last year. Yet, no festivities were organized in its honour. The project that Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen designed for the biennale pays a tribute to the historical pavilion, highlighting the monument by emptying and wrapping it in a seven-metre-high facade of galvanized steel. The steel structure hides the gem that architecture aficionados have come to see: the Belgian pavilion itself.

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On the other side of the steel facade

You get access to the pavilion by walking through a tunnel. Once you're out of the tunnel, and on the other side of the galvanized wall, the meaning of the second part of the title (After the Party) becomes clearer. Confetti are scattered all over the place and apart from a few chairs thrown here and there, the place is empty and abandoned. There is one artwork hung on one of the walls though. It's Terrasse, a photo by Thomas Demand that the architects originally used as a reference for the 'after the party' atmosphere.

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Thomas Demand, Terrasse, 1998

The 2008 pavilion revolves around the idea that the motor that drives architecture is not to be exhibited, but to be built. The usual models, 3D renderings and plans were therefore not welcome. Instead, the pavilion displays architecture as a reality that can be experienced physically.

Slideshow:

The Venice Biennale of Architecture continues until Nov. 23, 2008.

The Estonian pavilion is on many 'must see' lists. I wouldn't bother to write that you 'must' see it. Truth is you just can't miss it. It's that lemon yellow section of a natural gas pipe that snakes down the Giardini from the German to the Russian pavilion. The sixty-three meters long of real scale elevated gas pipe draws attention to Nord Stream, the controversial Gazprom project to construct a direct pipeline between Russia and Germany. The pipe would run along the Baltic seabed, which could have major political and ecological implications for neighboring countries.

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Gaasitoru/Gas Pipe puts in broad day light the one of the most pressing factors that will determine how the architecture of the 21st century develops is not the quest for beauty but energy.

In spite of the undeniable relevance of the project, getting the authorization to install the pipe in the garden of the Biennale was no easy task. 'When we introduced the project to the board of Biennale, the first reaction was a clear no - the Italians didn't want to see this project, uncomfortable in both essence and construction, on the Biennale,' commented Maarja Kask to Baltic Business News, 'Thanks to the support of the general curator of this Biennale, Aaron Betsky, we were allowed in the end to install the gas pipe if we get permission to from all the states whose pavilion the pipe will pass in front of.' Fortunately, they didn't get any veto from Germany, Canada, the UK, Czech, Slovakia, France, the Northern states, Japan, and Russia.

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The Estonian team address in a bold and tangible way a series of political issues that should be put on the table more often when discussing architecture: the growing imprint of large-scale infrastructure on contemporary landscape, the architect's position and his or her potentially critical role in relation to power; the future of energy, etc.

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Images of the pipeline.

The Venice Biennale of Architecture continues until Nov. 23, 2008.

After a few posts about the Arsenale section of the VVenice Biennale of Architecture , let's go straight to the Giardini, the historic exhibition venue which hosts most of the national pavilions.

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One of the most popular pavilions this year is probably the Japanese one, surrounded as it is by greenhouses, little wooden benches and tea tables for visitors to have a rest.

The pavilion, called Extreme Nature: Landscape of Ambiguous Spaces, is a joint project by ex-SANAA architect Junya Ishigami and star botanist Hideaki Ohba. Its interior is sleek, luminous and looks empty... until you notice the delicate pencil drawings traced on the cream walls. They illustrate an architecture entirely made of natural elements (trees, flowers, other plants, mountains, lakes, etc.). The real nature is just outside the pavilion, in the neatly trimmed garden and inside four vertical greenhouses where Ikebana-inspired garden arrangements grow without air conditioning systems, creating an imperfect artificial environment.

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The pavilion spreads outside its walls, its spills in the garden and it's hard to delineate its exact boundaries. There's no dualistic relationship between inside and outside, between architecture and landscape. The furniture which one would expect to find inside a tea room are distributed in the garden. The doors are left open, not even the temperature difference can be used as a factor to differentiate between the inside and the outside. The only structure built specifically for this edition of thee architecture biennale are the delicate and transparent greenhouses and they are not located inside the pavilion either.

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The Japanese Pavilion itself is made to appear as an artificial environment or an element of topography. The original outdoor space overlaps with the space that emerges between the ephemeral steel structures covered with glass, causing the appearance of a doubled, ambiguous space. The condition of space produced here makes us aware that everything in it - the plants inside and outside, the furniture, the architecture, the topography, and the environment - exists simultaneously.

Previous works by young Ishigami show a similar attention for the smooth blending of nature and architecture. A spectacular example of that practice is the KAIT Studio designed earlier this year for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology.

Slideshow of the pictures i took at the Japanese pavilion last week:

Source for images 1 and 3.

The Venice Biennale of Architecture continues until Nov. 23, 2008.

The Arsenale section of the Venice Biennale of Architecture has many characteristics that makes it stand out from other architecture exhibitions. One of them is that you won't get to see cardboard models and plans. In fact, you can even walk around and inside the 1:1 scale replica of an apartment building with sharing spaces.

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All the furniture and appliances necessary have been fabricated from methacrylate and are embedded with microservers. It's the return of the internet of things, baby!

Hyperhabitat. Reprogramming the World is a research project directed by Guallart Architects, initiated at IaaC (the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) in 2005, with the BCN Fab Lab in collaboration with information designers Bestiario.

The project aims to propose answers to questions such as: Could our world be in habited on the basis of information technology? How could this be organized?

Just like a digital network is made of nodes and connections, Guallart's model is a large-scale attempt to have all the elements of the physical world communicate with each other. The house functions as a small ecosystem, where each object is a piece of a widely distributed intelligence, able to interact with the others. Architecture becomes the interface that enables us to inhabit the world. The connections do not stop at the room level, objects also communicate with the whole building and can even interact with the neighbourhood or the rest of the world.

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The microservers embedded in the objects interact with one another to generate relationships that are displayed as a large-format projection on one of the walls. Line codes can be drawn to suggest relationships or 'line codes' between nodes. In addition a special web platform, to be launched on November 24, will enable people around the world to put forward formulas for reprogramming the world.

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Image Daniel Aguilar

Hyperhabitat is the biggest Internet 0 (a new microserver technology developed at MIT to generate ambient intelligence by linking a series of miniature computers) network ever created. The project also builds upon the creation of and the theory of the multiscale habitat, an 'urban genome' project developed at IaaC that seeks to introduce new approaches to the generation of buildings and cities by restructuring the functional relationships between the constituent parts.

A key objective of this 'reprogramming' of buildings and cities is to use artificial intelligence in order to save energy and achieve a more self-sufficient model of living. As the architect explained to El Pais, the project tries to materialize the socio-economic changes that the world is currently undergoing, we are moving from a financial economy towards a production economy based on removing the price of objects in order to give them value. Guallart added: 'The way to visualize this idea is to build dwellings which are self-sufficient, applying artificial intelligence to buildings.' The architect is obviously aware that working at the building level is not sufficient if one wants to change the socio-economic structure of the world, action would have to be taken by working at the town-planning level (cf. Guallart's Sociopolis project,a neighbourhood designed with a mind set on efficiency, functionality, digital networks.)

Slideshow of the images i took of the installation:

There's a really nice video interview of the architect with views of the workshop where the installation has been entirely developed and built on 3cat24. But you might prefer a video presentation in english than in catalan:

More images on Daniel Aguilar's flickr set, and on the project website.

Hyperhabitat is on view at the Arsenale, Venice until November 23rd, 2008.

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