16.09.2012 Cordula Vielhauer

Space Condensates: Biennale 2012

It's easy to lose track walking through the many national pavilions at the Architecture Biennale and the over sixty contributions at this year's Common Ground Exhibition, since many of the contributions are exhibitions in themselves. We have picked out some outstanding contributions and allocated them to a common theme. The first of these is: Space Condensates – the architects of these contributions have succeeded in compacting the specific qualities of an area of the Common Ground in a manner creating unique spaces for perception.
Even when it rains, it's as though the sun was rising here: visitors coming out of the Press Centre in the Arsenale area in Venice are greeted by a large sculpture by Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus (Lisbon). The open and closed arches of Radix, a structure clad with rusting steel panels on the outside and with a golden shimmer inside, are a continuation of the arches of the shipyards of the Gaggiandre. The sculpture is a focus inviting a consideration of all sorts of further relationships – both historical and spatial. Even an echo of Carlo Scarpa's patio roof structure of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini can be identified. This is not the first contribution of the Portuguese brothers to the Architecture Biennale: back in 2010 they presented an entire room in the Central Pavilion filled with abstract models of their own projects.
Ensemble composed of contributions by Eduardo Souto de Moura (1-3) and Álvaro Siza (4-6)

Not far away, just before entering the Giardino delle Vergine, visitors cross the contribution by Eduardo Souto de Moura: an open-sky pavilion containing three small adjacent spaces with sand-coloured walls along a corridor. Successively larger window openings disclose views of sections of the harbour area located opposite – a great three-dimensional viewing experience. Souto de Moura's work and the contribution by Álvaro Siza only a few steps away, were planned as an ensemble. Siza frames some old plane trees with three walls set up staggered to each other, as if they were works of art: the smoothly finished walls in Venetian red and the light-yellow gravel on the ground form a background for the play of light and shade of the leafy trees. At the same time, Siza abstracts the tangle of alleys and canals of Venice and creates a model space with reference levels changing between abstract urbanity and paradisiacal garden.
Walking around inside the Arsenale, several contributions can be discovered that work with the exhibition space itself: Peter Märkli (Zurich) places delicate bronze sculptures next to the massive brick columns of the Corderie, exploring the relationship between the standing human figure and the column as its architectural counterpart. Valerio Olgiati (Flims) spans a Mies-inspired ceiling between these brick supports, and together with a large illuminated table, creates a concentrated space for studying the personal sources of inspiration of numerous architects: these images that refer to something important for their architectural work are called 'pictographs'. They depict a variety of things like works of art, antique sites, architectural icons or everyday objects.
The contribution by the Irishmen O’Donnell + Tuomey (Dublin) made of stacked wooden planks forms a kind of sculptural passage in the Arsenale: Vessel (craft, ship, container) is the ambiguous title of this object that can function as passage, chamber or light structure. The plank-stacked structure has an almost sacral air about it, and is clearly in conversation with the layered brick construction of the Corderie. By their use of wood, the architects however also make reference to the local tradition of shipbuilding. Many model studies, various sectional models of own and other reference structures, as well as literature citations make up an individual world of interrelated content.
Komuna Fundamento is the name of a contribution by Kuehn Malvezzi (Berlin) in the constructed language Esperanto. It starts off as a stumbling block made of grey bricks on the way to the Central Pavilion of the Giardini. The platform disrupts the central axis of the grounds and at the same time creates a popular place to linger. A small tree offering some shade lends it an additional quality as well as expressing the garden theme of the Giardini within a horizontal enclosure. Inside the pavilion, a grey brick installation directly relating to the platform, presents itself in a diagonal arrangement, slowing visitors down and encouraging them to take a look at exhibited photographs by Candida Höfer and Armin Linke. The apparent monumentality of the high walls however turns out to be an illusion: the thin bricks are actually laid 'the wrong way round', i.e. upright, more like tiles than bricks .

The spatial tension inherent in this threshold situation is however irritated by an installation by Alison Crawshaw (London) that also dominates the entrance area. This installation is dedicated to unlawful building practices in Rome and turns components used for an informal extension of a meeting room into a new façade for the Biennale Pavilion. An apt illustration of the fact that you can be almost anything on the Common Ground – but not alone.

Image credits: Cordula Vielhauer
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