Five highlights of the Venice Architecture Biennale

From May 26 to November 25 all eyes in Giardini and Arsenale turn to architecture, and this year’s event reflects on the nature of free and open space

The Vatican’s exhibition features 10 temporary chapels by international architects. Foster + Partners has created this latticework structure held up by crucifix-shaped supports
The Vatican’s exhibition features 10 temporary chapels by international architects. Foster + Partners has created this latticework structure held up by crucifix-shaped supports | Image: Katie Harris

Holy See Pavilion

Inside Foster + Partners sanctuary, which directs visitors’ focus to views of the sea and sky
Inside Foster + Partners sanctuary, which directs visitors’ focus to views of the sea and sky | Image: Katie Harris

This will no doubt be one of the most talked-about events at this year’s Biennale: the first ever exhibit by the Vatican in the architecture category, which will take over a “woodland oasis” on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The island is most famous for its 16th-century Palladian church, which will be joined by 10 temporary chapels by 10 international architects. The goal, says a statement from the Vatican, is to reflect the “universal – indeed catholic – nature of the Church”. Among the major names taking part are Venice practice MAP Studio, whose timber Asplund Pavilion is inspired by Nordic huts and will display a series of drawings by 20th-century Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund; and Foster + Partners, which has created a latticework structure held up by crucifix-shaped supports. “Our aim is to create a small sanctuary space diffused with dappled shade and removed from the normality of passers-by, focused instead on the water and sky beyond,” says a studio spokesperson. Also on show will be buildings by Portugal’s Eduardo Souto de Moura and Japan’s Teronomu Fujimori, who is known for his whimsical treehouse designs. labiennale.org.

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MAP Studio’s Vatican exhibit is this timber Asplund Pavilion inspired by Nordic huts. MAP Studio’s Asplund Pavilion will display a series of drawings by 20th-century Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund
MAP Studio’s Vatican exhibit is this timber Asplund Pavilion inspired by Nordic huts. MAP Studio’s Asplund Pavilion will display a series of drawings by 20th-century Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund

British Pavilion

Architects Caruso St John, artist Marcus Taylor and the British Council have come together to create “Island”, a piazza on the rooftop of the British Pavilion in the Giardini
Architects Caruso St John, artist Marcus Taylor and the British Council have come together to create “Island”, a piazza on the rooftop of the British Pavilion in the Giardini

Architects Caruso St John, artist Marcus Taylor and the British Council have come together to create Island, a piazza on the rooftop of the British Pavilion in the Giardini. Envisaged as a public meeting space with views across the lagoon, the design will draw inspiration from the landscape of Venice itself and the phenomenon of climate change, with the original building’s roof protruding through the floor and suggesting “both an island and a sunken world beneath”. The pavilion will be entirely covered in scaffolding to support the new structure, responding to the Biennale’s theme of free space by contemplating ideas such as isolation and decolonisation. There will also be a series of performances, installations and architectural talks. venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org.

Russia’s neoclassical pavilion will host several exhibits including The Crypt of Memories, a locker-filled gallery containing “lost and found property” including Soviet memorabilia
Russia’s neoclassical pavilion will host several exhibits including The Crypt of Memories, a locker-filled gallery containing “lost and found property” including Soviet memorabilia

Russian Pavilion

Russia’s theme: Station Russia, explores the past, present and future of the nation’s railways through mediums such as film. Shown here is a video still of Seven Days in Seen Minutes, a film by director Daniil Zinchenko
Russia’s theme: Station Russia, explores the past, present and future of the nation’s railways through mediums such as film. Shown here is a video still of Seven Days in Seen Minutes, a film by director Daniil Zinchenko

Inaugurated in 1914, Russia’s neoclassical pavilion is one of the most elegant on show at the Biennale’s Giardini venue. This year, it will play host to Station Russia, which explores the past, present and future of the nation’s railways and the crucial role they have played in knitting together its vast landscape. The pavilion will be transformed into a train station with five halls, where a group of contemporary Russian architects, designers and artists will present multimedia installations. Highlights include a recreation of a 19th-century voksal, a station and pleasure garden in Pavlovsk; and The Crypt of Memories, a locker-filled gallery containing “lost and found property”, including Soviet memorabilia. The final hall will present Seven Days in Seven Minutes, a film by director Daniil Zinchenko documenting a journey on the Trans-Siberian Express, with landscapes glimpsed through a frosty carriage window. ruspavilion.com.

The Finnish pavilion is showcasing Mind-Building, an exhibition on Finnish libraries commissioned by Archinfo Finland. Shown here is ALA Architects’ Oodi Helsinki Central Library (scheduled to open this December)
The Finnish pavilion is showcasing Mind-Building, an exhibition on Finnish libraries commissioned by Archinfo Finland. Shown here is ALA Architects’ Oodi Helsinki Central Library (scheduled to open this December)

Finnish Pavilion

Aalto’s 1970 design for the Helsinki University of Technology in Espoo is part of the Finnish pavilion’s Mind-Building showcase
Aalto’s 1970 design for the Helsinki University of Technology in Espoo is part of the Finnish pavilion’s Mind-Building showcase

In 2016, Finland was named the most literate nation in the world, and it has had a love affair with public libraries for over a century. This cultural heritage is celebrated in Mind-Building, an exhibition of Finnish libraries commissioned by Hanna Harris, director of Archinfo Finland. Staged in Alvar Aalto’s iconic wooden pavilion of 1956 in the Giardini park, it will feature examples of past library architecture (including Aalto’s 1970 design for the Helsinki University of Technology in Espoo) and future developments, such as ALA Architects’ Oodi Helsinki Central Library (scheduled to open this December). There will also be sound and video installations. Dr Anni Vartola, architecture critic and curator of the exhibition, says it will serve as a reminder to all of the civilising influence of public libraries, which are protected by law in Finland. labiennale.org.

Repair, an exhibition by Baracco+Wright Architects and artist Linda Tegg, explores the impact of environmental change on Australia’s landscape in the Australian Pavilion
Repair, an exhibition by Baracco+Wright Architects and artist Linda Tegg, explores the impact of environmental change on Australia’s landscape in the Australian Pavilion | Image: John Gollings

Australian Pavilion

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Denton Corker Marshall’s boxy black granite pavilion, opened in 2015, was the first 21st-century pavilion to be built in the Giardini this century. Its contribution to the 2018 Biennale is suitably contemporary: Repair, an exhibition by Baracco + Wright Architects and artist Linda Tegg, explores the impact of environmental change on Australia’s landscape. Ten thousand plants will be installed inside and outside the pavilion, including 65 species of Western Plains grasslands, only one per cent of which currently survive in their native habitat. Alongside the field-like installation will be an artwork entitled Skylight, which simulates the sun’s energy to sustain the indoor plants. Thirdly, an experimental series of 15 films called Ground willbe showcasing 15 Australian projects that explore the notion of repair, with the films being projected onto the walls. The idea, say the curators, is to rethink the built environment and its relationship with nature. archinfo.fi/en.

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