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Postcards from Venice

ABP's Professor Philip Goad is part of the creative team behind the Australian Pavilion at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, entitled 'Augmented Australia'. Philip is keeping us posted on the Biennale from his front row seat.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Image: New Zealand Pavilion at Palazzo Pisani by Philip Goad

Another sweltering day in Venice and another day at the 14th International Architecture Biennale.

The national pavilions this year are intriguing, in large part because of the tight theme set by Rem Koolhaas that all reflect on a hundred years of modernism. And some do it better than others.

The German pavilion is suitably severe but smart – they re-built at full-scale an ultra-modern 1960s courtyard house (originally built in Bonn) inside their existing ultra-severe Classical pavilion. It feels like LA meets the Third Reich but somehow it works as a compelling statement of two opposing ideas. And the Chancellor's Mercedes is parked out the front! By contrast, the British pavilion was a disappointment. Their look at the 1960s felt like a conventional museum display and not a convincing one at that!

The Israel pavilion was decidedly more interesting: huge sand pits with robotic arms tracing modernist urban plans across the face of Israel in the sand, then over-tracing with plans that superseded those. Finally, the robotic arm would trace the sand clean. Modernism would disappear entirely.

And not all the pavilions have been at the Giardini or the Arsenale. One of these and another favourite of mine is the New Zealand pavilion located in Palazzo Pisani a Santa Marina. Entitled 'Last, Loneliest, Loveliest', the exhibit comprises an abstracted Maori meeting house placed within the palazzo's entry hall. Many of the NZ projects emphasise the importance of the ocean to Maori architecture but also the clever way in which 20th century architects have adapted many of these ideas to their recent work. At the entry to the exhibit, there's a miniature timber meeting house with its doorway gaping like a mouth and inside is a 3D printed model of the Auckland War Memorial: the Maori meeting house has eaten Classicism! A nice touch.

There are also other architectural exhibits not related to national pavilions dotted around Venice at the same time. One of these, and stunning in presentation, is 'Gotthard Landscape – the Unexpected View' at Palazzo Trevisan degli ulivi in Dorsoduro, a collaboration between architects Burkhalter Sumi, Prof Christophe Girot (Landscape Architecture, ETH), Prof Urs Fanger (HfG Ulm) and the Landscape Visualization and Modelling Laboratory (LVML) at ETH, Zurich. All about the construction, infrastructure and landscape related to the longest alpine tunnel in the world, the exhibit was an experiment in 'landscape as abstract digital sculpture'. Technically brilliant and also good to look at! That's all just for now, I've deserved a spritz and a rest from this architectural overload. More soon from Venezia.

Ciao

Filippo (Philip)   

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Image: Korean Pavillion by Philip Goad

Just had to write and tell you about the awards ceremony at the Venice Architecture Biennale held last Saturday in the open under a giant white tent in the Giardini. Phyllis Lambert, heiress to the Seagram whisky fortune (and influential in getting Mies to design the famous New York skyscraper) and founder of CCA (Canadian Centre for Architecture) won the Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement for her contribution to architecture – the award was specially made by this year's Biennale Creative Director Rem Koolhaas. She gave a lion's roar at the end of her acceptance speech!

Korea won the big gong (Gold Lion) for their exhibit which pitched together the diametrically opposed modernisms of North and South Korea. Chile won the Silver Lion with its brilliant account by Pedro Alonso (PUC) of prefabricated concrete. But it was the three special mentions that were amongst my favourite pavilions – Canada, France and Russia.

Canada focussed on the architecture of the indigenous Ninuvit territory in its far north, documenting its present settlements (which look like mining towns) and then proposed new buildings for these remote near-arctic communities.

France was elegantly simple – four 'failures' of modernism, which despite their flaws have become much loved or admired icons like France's massive postwar housing schemes, its ventures into precast concrete, the wonderful aluminium panels of Jean Prouve's prefabricated houses, and the architectural star of Jacque Tati's film 'Mon Oncle' (1958), the modernist house which causes so much comic grief to M. Hulot.

The Russian pavilion entitled 'Fair Enough' was an ironic look at how it might be possible to 'sell' the heroic Constructivist projects of the 1920s. The pavilion was decked out like a trade show complete with glamorous hostesses in mini-skirts and long red hair, and people 'selling' communal housing as wellness centres or even private jails. All tongue in cheek, it was actually a welcome relief amongst the various earnest national showings elsewhere. More soon, it's so hot here in Venice, I need a rest!

All the best from Venice,

Philip (Filippo)

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Image: 3D printed models of the exhibited buildings situated outside the Australian Pavilion by Philip Goad

Another frantic day at the Venice Biennale's vernissage and I visited a series of national pavilions and found connections to ABP!

In the US pavilion, which had as it's theme 'Office US', one hundred years of American architects practicing around the globe and our new ABP building by Boston-based NADAAA and John Wardle Architects was featured. In the Chile pavilion in the Arsenale I met Pedro Alonso who was curator of their award-winning exhibit, a complete global history of prefabricated concrete panel development and Chile's role in that history. Pedro is a staff member at PUC in Santiago, our collaborators in the MSD Travelling Studio program.

I then attended the official opening of the Malaysian Pavilion also in the Arsenale, which featured the work of several ABP alumni, including Boon Chee Wee, Tan Loke Mun and Firadaus Khazis Ismail. And then to top off a very busy day, I attended the Australian Commissioner's cocktail party in the courtyard of the Conservatorium of Music in Palazzo Pisani, a spectacular space and a wonderful event to celebrate Australia's presence in Venice. ABP's Alan Pert and Paul Walker were also there, great to catch up with colleagues from back home. All the best from Venice, more updates soon!

Ciao,

Philip (Filippo)

Friday 6 June 2014

Image: Nils Koenning

The Australian Pavilion was officially opened yesterday at the 14th International Architecture Biennale in Venice by The Australian Ambassador to Italy, His Excellency, the Hon. Mike Rann.

Together with another of the Pavilion’s Creative Directors, Rene van Meuuwen, I stood in front of the brilliant orange 'Cloud' structure to address more than 150 excited Australians. The crowd comprised valued ABP colleagues, as well as numerous faculty alumni, including John Denton of DCM, architect of the new Australian Pavilion currently under construction in Venice just across the canal from our temporary ‘Cloud’.

Beneath the 'Cloud' are 23 steel podiums which support trigger images for the exhibit, 'Augmented Australia'. Scores of people used their smart phones and tablets to activate the images of unbuilt Australian architecture that celebrate one hundred years of modernism.

The specially designed App, 'Augmented Australia' is proving very successful. Visitors can access fly-throughs, 3D models and interviews with architects and critics, as well as full-scale geo-positioned models of the 23 featured projects that are located all over Venice.

Projects like the Griffins' ziggurat-shaped unbuilt 'Capitol' in Canberra and Mulloway Studio's (Un)common earth, a scheme for a World War II memorial also in Canberra come to life through the exhibition. They show Australian architecture as it might have been and in a new and innovative medium, Augmented Reality. The exhibit also features 3D printed models of each project that appear as tiny golden tourist mementoes that one might take home from La Serenissima, Venice, home of the city's famous symbol, it's golden lion.

Ciao!

Philip