Venice (2) the national pavilions

Out There: Architecture Beyond Building is the motto of the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale. The national pavilions also make their contribution to this theme, which can be taken in a socially engaged or a more abstract and conceptual direction. Here are some striking pavilions selected by the ArchiNed editors.

Photo taken from the short film Flagrant Délit by Madelon Vriesendorp.

Flagrant Délit

Amongst all the young, experimental, activist, ‘out there’ and ‘beyond’ offices in the Italian pavilion in the Giardini (which included many Dutch contributors), a number of old masters have been included. In general, most of these oldies show early – ‘Before Building’ – drawings and paintings. The most convincing (and moving and funny) is the small gallery by Madelon Vriesendorp. Splendid drawings (including all the originals for Delirious New York), an extremely enjoyable, thirty-year-old cartoon Flagrant Délit – in which Lady Liberty turns out to be the real instigator of the skyscraper family drama – and last but not least a fascinating table containing some of Vriesendorp’s collection of dolls. At last Lady Madelon steps out of the shadow of Rem Koolhaas. We want more. (PV)


The Japanese, too, also opted to leave their pavilion empty and play a game with inside and outside. Architect Junya Ishigami designed a series of elegant greenhouses, filled with graceful trees and flowers, which he arranged around the pavilion. An ode to the glass architecture that graced the first world expositions. Delicate pencil drawings cover the walls inside. Drawn flat and lacking perspective, the plants, gardens and basic architecture conjure up a pure paradisical dream world, as light and ephemeral as a floating dandelion seeds. (LH)


Visitors to the Belgian pavilion can be recognised by the confetti in their hair. Kersten Geers and David Van Severen put the pavilion itself on display by erecting a seven-metre-high double wall of galvanised steel around it. A long corridor leads to the service entrance of the empty building designed by architect Leon Sneyers and constructed in 1907. Inside, the official entrance opens onto an enclosed court. Inside and outside merge with each other without any clear hierarchy. The Belgians enjoy a belated celebration of their pavilion’s centenary with cheerfully colourful confetti on the floor. (LH)


A red carpet, two honeymoon beds and a hotel lobby have temporarily transformed the Polish pavilion into Hotel Polonia. Hanging on the walls are six portraits of recently completed buildings in Poland designed by renowned architects and photographed by Nicolas Grospierre. Photo-montages by Kobas Laksa show the afterlife of buildings. Just like this pavilion, the buildings on display are just temporary homes for occupants who will soon move on. ‘Architecture beyond building’, say the curators, means that a building must be able to lead a series of lives one after another. The spectacular and often surrealist montages show how a library, a church, a terminal, a gated community, a giant office complex and a commercial centre can become more interesting after a change of function. ‘Just as a shoebox becomes a more interesting object if photos are stored in it.’ The Polish pavilion was awarded a Golden Lion for the exhibition. (HdH)


The British pavilion is noteworthy for its straightforward architecture exhibition. Sturdy wooden models are presented in front of design drawings and large-format photos of completed buildings. A welcome change at this ‘beyond’ biennale. (LH)


Can architecture contribute to a better world? Yes we can, claim the curators of the German pavilion. With some ten projects by artists, engineers and architects, this pavilion shows how behavioural changes can be influenced by ‘pin-pricking’. The exhibition Updating Germany: Projects for a Better Future goes ‘beyond’ architecture with proposals for an ecological and more sustainable world. Worthy of a special mention is the contribution by Ton Matton, a Vinex refugee currently residing in the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He attached apple trees to drips in his Technical Paradise. Better get there quickly because the apples are proving popular as a fresh snack for weary visitors. (HdH)


America, too, grabs the attention with a big gesture. Co-curator Teddy Cruz draped a huge curtain in front of the American pavilion. The authoritarian Classical facade is hidden behind a photo of the metres-high fence along the Santiago Border, erected by Americans to keep out immigrants from South America. Inside the pavilion the Americans show their socially engaged nature. The land of starchitects clears the way for grassroots movements in which architects adopt the role of activists, developers and ‘facilitators’ of a more ‘inclusive’ urban development. The exhibition participants adorn themselves with grand titles like the Center for Urban Pedagogy, The Edible Schoolyard (which planted a herb garden right behind Cruz’s curtain) and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center. (LH)

Gas pipe

You can’t be clear enough when making a political statement at a circus like the biennale, as the tiny country of Estonia understands all too well. In response to controversial plans by Gazprom for a pipeline between Russia and Germany, curator Ingrid Ruudi decided to show what that means. She extended a 1:1 gas pipe from the German to the Russian pavilion and, in the process, effectively cut off the public domain (the pathway through the Giardini). Two economic superpowers communicating by means of a gas pipe, an apt reflection on contemporary geopolitics. (PV)