Venice (1) the Dutch pavilion: Talking and Working

During the opening days the Dutch pavilion was brimming with (invisible) ideas. The theme of the installation by curators Ana Dzokic and Marc Neelen (Stealth.ultd) and Saskia van Stein (NAi) was to reflect once again on the Faculties (in the sense of capacities) for Architecture. What is architecture capable of, ‘before and beyond building’? What alternative practices are there and how can these be incorporated into architectural education?

Such questions were exhaustively discussed by some fifty national and international guests through a number of ‘discussion media’ (round table talks, speed dates, keynote lectures and a workshop). But apart from all the talking, there was mostly work to be done. An editorial board of seven (3 male-female team from Volume, Jeanne van Heeswijk / Dennis Kaspori, Peter Lang, Miguel Robles-Duran, Piet Vollaard) were working – with assistance from embedded journalist Billy Nolan – on a book designed and printed on the spot by one lone woman (bravo Coralie). In addition, a three-man video team filmed, edited and streamed the discussions; Arjen the chef took care of the catering; Erik the production assistant kept a watchful eye on the different configurations of the space; and a handful of students spent the whole day moving crates and cables around. The pavilion was furnished for the occasion with a few thousand white foldable crates, which made it possible to rearrange the space each day to suit the new conditions and function of the installation. There was, in short, plenty going on, and no images adorned the walls. Well, that’s not quite true since there was one picture of the burnt-out shell of the architecture faculty in Delft, which prompted the decision to debate those faculties.

The activities inside the Dutch pavilion started three days before the actual opening with a festive dinner in which all those building in the Giardini were invited to reflect on the theme. The next day was all action with no fewer than five round-table discussions. So by the time the official opening took place on Friday, the Dutch talking-working unit was well and truly up and running.

A feat of Olympian proportions was also accomplished on that opening day. Amidst all the action, Jord den Hollander set a world record for marathon interviewing by conducting 25 speed-date interviews back to back without a break in tropical conditions (around 30 degrees Celsius and humidity exceeding 90%). And what’s more, every date was an interesting conversation. Respect Jord!

The day after the opening was reserved for five keynote lectures, and the working week finished with a workshop for students entitled Future Faculty in which they elaborated ideas for a new architecture faculty building. And speaking of that faculty, Saturday afternoon was also the moment for Ronald Plasterk and Wytze Patijn, Minister for Culture and Dean of the Faculty respectively, to launch an ideas competition entitled Buildingforbouwkunde.

During a week of post-production the exhibition itself will be compiled from a series of video fragments of the discussions. In addition, the definitive version of the book will be made; visitors can take it away for free while those who stayed at home can download it from the website

ArchiNed, for that matter, was represented not only on the editorial team (Piet Vollaard) but also on the film crew (David Lingerak), while regular ArchiNed translator Billy Nolan was also on board. As a gesture of solidarity with these diligent colleagues, the other ArchiNed editors decided to find out what else there was to experience beyond building in Venice. And they weren’t the only ones. In addition to the many Dutch exhibitors it seemed as if all the country’s big shots had been airlifted to Venice for the occasion. As Allard Jolles of the Chief Government Architect’s Office rightly noted during his speed date, it was somewhat odd for people who are practically neighbours to fly all the way to Venice to speak to one another, and in a foreign language at that.