Biennale 2018 – Arsenale

- by Matej Gašperič

Every two years it seems as if a religious event has occurred in Venice. Architects form all over the globe take the pilgrimage route to converge to this sacred place. The occasion, of course, is the famous Architectural Biennale – the showcase of the best & the brightest that the countries of the world have to offer on the field of architecture.

For months now, online and offline, social and regular media has been full of  reviews and commentaries and photos of the pavilions and exhibitions. It is, nevertheless, on thing to see it in the media and something completely different to have an opportunity to experience it first handedly. And since the scope of the exhibitions and related or semi-related events is immense, regardless of much time one chooses to dedicate to it, one can always be sure, that more will be missed than seen.

This blog about the event therefore has no ambition to be a thorough and in depth coverage of the event but rather a brief description or a series of impressions I gather at my fast walk-through on two occasions, I was there.

First touch with this year Biennale was just prior to the opening when I choose to attend the talk titled Architecture Criticism, organized by Catalonian Centre in Venice. The names of the panelists – Glenn Murcutt (Pritzker Laureate and my mentor at GMMC 2011), Juhani Pallasmaa (architect, architectural critic and author of the book “Talking Hand) and William J.R. Curtis (architectural critics, painter, photographer and historian), presented by Estel Ortega, were more than enough to persuade us (my mentor from the student times and Slovene architectural legend Janez Lajovic and a colleague from our studio Luka Čepin) onto one day trip. I wouldn’t want to go into the details of the talk itself (you can find the article I published on that at OUTSIDER) – let me just say, that I always feel inspired by those guys. What came as a bonus was, that I meet in person some fellow GMMC alumni, that I, till then only knew from emails and social media and my companions (Hans and Anne from Norway) from a House Hunting trip from Sydney to Melbourne, that we did in March.

00 Glenn and Juhani
Two legends … Juhani and Glenn

After that the summer passed by and when I already thought that I’ll have to start making the arrangement of another visit myself, a Chamber of Architecture finally organized the tour, which I was more than glad to join. Especially, since it was, once again, lead by a fantastic architect, professor, skilled and humorous narrator, walking encyclopedia and a friend – the one and only – Aleksander Ostan. He didn’t disappoint. Two days passed line no-time and yet again, we have had a great time.

The first day we dedicated to Arsenale.

What appealed to me at the first sight was, that the longitudinal corridor – all 300 meters of it – was empty. It made the exhibition much more transparent and easier to manage the view path. I felt like it also communicated the theme of this year Biennale – FREESPACE.

001 300m

Almost at the entrance, we were welcomed by the amazingly beautiful pavilion of Slovene architect Maruša Zorec. Taking great care not to be biased by her origins or the fact, that I am a great admirer of her work, I can say without hesitation, that it is one of the most beautiful – or even the most beautiful – pavilion at the whole exhibition. Its simple aesthetics represents the stark contrast to so many other pavilions that, by trying to tell everything, actually tell nothing and leave the visitors’ souls untouched. This one it so Maruša and I can as easily envision it to be a part of the Vatican chapels exhibition.

01 Marusa Zorec PavilionSimple aesthetics of Maruša Zorec pavilion could easily find its place among the chapels at San Giorgio Maggiore .

It is interesting how our memory works.
Out of more than one hundred pavilions that followed, one day after I remember only bits and pieces.

Tezuka Architects Fuji Kindergarten, I first time saw many years ago at their lecture at Alvar Aalto Symposium.

A Fiorence-meets-China-style-covered bridge that establishes a new space over water to connects two villages; designed by DnA.

02 DnA Bridge
 Florence meets China

Beautiful monastery conversion into hotel by Eduardo Souto de Moura – my new one-of-the favorite-architects – presented with only old & new aerial photo manifests the simplicity of the exhibition I find to like the most. Too bad I missed his works at our recent trip to Portugal. But on the other hand, that proves to be a good reason for yet another trip there.

03 Eduardo Souto de Moura Monastery2Hotel
Next time in Portugal, I’ll make sure, that I do not miss that one.
Source: ArchDaily; photographer: Louis Ferrcira Alves

Disappointment at the exhibition of Alvaro Siza, the great master of architecture whose works I had the opportunity to admire just a week ago.

A beautiful construction of a suspended bridge – I tried my best but I simply can’t remember who are the authors of that one.

04 Suspension Bridge
If this bridge is ever to be build, I’d love to visit it.

Regarding the pavilions, let me first mention a Slovenenian one.
I found its dedication to water as well as its simple form quite appealing. Unfortunately, the interaction that aims to attracts the visitors is kind of unclear, demanding a lot of reading, which does not suit the visitors that aim to fly through hundreds of exhibits. And there is no visible feedback to ones interaction. The connection with the Plečnik’s (Slovene most famous Architect) proposal for the parliament is also communicated only half way underlining the general impression of a half finished work with not well considered user experience.

05 Slovenian Pavilion_myPhoto
Serenity of Slovenian pavilion.

Beside those, only three more pavilions at Arsenale attracted my attention.

Argentina’s that, with a combination of the mirrors and perspective fantastically simulate and immerses the visitor into the vast open space of Argentina’s steppes.

06 Argentina Pavilion _Horizont

Dubai’s that focuses on the urban space and life behind the shining bright skyscrapers that we are so familiar with.

And, last but not least, the Chinese pavilion that recaps all the previous exhibits and add some, proving that China will soon not need to relay on the imported global star architects but will become an architectural superpower of its own.

07 China Pavilion

To be continued…


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