PLAN 88: Article
SA+P at the Venice Architecture Biennale

Curating National Pavilions and Introducing New Technology

SA+P is well represented at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, open now through November 23.  The US Pavilion was co-curated by architecture professor Ana Miljacki; the Kuwait Pavilion was curated by alumna Alia Farid (SMVisS’08); an installation of new technology from the Senseable City Lab is a key component in the Central Pavilion; and the Biennale’s highest honor – the Golden Lion – went to the Korean Pavilion, co-curated by alumnus Hyung-Min Pai (PhD’93, Architecture).

Directed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, this year’s Biennale features an exhibition called Elements of Architecture that brings together past, current and future versions of building fundamentals – such as the floor, the wall, the ceiling, etc. – in rooms that are each dedicated to a single element.   In a room focused on ‘Fireplace’, the Senseable City Lab is exhibiting a new technology that creates microclimates around individuals. 

Originated by research fellow Miriam Roure and developed into a thesis project by alumnus Leigh Christie (SMACT’14), ‘Local Warming’ uses WiFi-based motion tracking and ceiling-mounted infrared heating to target individuals with spotlights of warmth, keeping them comfortable while the space around them is maintained at a lower temperature, thus saving energy. 

The largest portion of the Biennale, titled Absorbing Modernity, calls upon each country’s pavilion to show, in its own way, the erasure of its national characteristics in architecture in favor of the almost-universal adoption of modernism between 1914 and 2014.  

For Kuwait’s pavilion, Acquiring Modernity, Farid investigates the arrival of modernity in Kuwait through a number of buildings and projects commissioned by the state as ‘modern status symbols’, with a special focus on Michael Ecochard’s Kuwait National Museum. The investigation analyzes the current conditions of these buildings towards understanding the impact of modernity on local culture ¬–whether modernist ideals were assimilated, altered, neglected, rejected – and what those reactions convey about contemporary society in Kuwait.  The installation is accompanied by a bi-lingual research publication, a film and a joint installation with the Nordic Pavilion.

The Korean Pavilion examines the role of architecture in the region’s post-war polarization using architecture as a key to discovering new narratives of the peninsula's complex past, present and future.  Pai and his co-curators Minsuk Cho and Changmo Ahn invited a group of architects, urbanists, poets, writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers, curators and collectors to explore the architectural intersections and divisions between the two countries and to extend that exploration to the global state of architecture itself.  Recognized by the judges as ‘research in action’, Crow’s Eye View provides alternative points of view to a discourse that has been largely carried by Western-centric narratives. 

For the US Pavilion, Miljacki and her co-curators – Eva Franch i Gilabert and Ashley Schafer – chose to examine the US influence on global practice in terms of standardized protocols and office organizations. Called OfficeUS, the exhibition looks backward and forward at once, reviewing archival material from the era while also converting the pavilion into a working architecture studio. 

Through an international open call to  young architects, the curators assembled an international group of eight design practitioners to serve as partners in an experimental office headquartered in the US Pavilion. The OfficeUS partners are actively working there for the six-month duration of the show, surrounded by a Repository of material describing both the US offices that built abroad and their key projects. Led by PhD candidate Michael Kubo and alumnus Juan Jofre (MArch'14), more than twenty architecture students from SA+P participated for nearly ten months in the research and production of this 'archaeology' of global practice .

Over the course of the Biennale, the OfficeUS partners will rely on the material in the Repository in order to produce 25 projects framed by 25 OfficeUS issues – one for each week of the show – deciding over the course of each week how they want to rework history into a contemporary object that reflects the past while also projecting into the future. They are collaborating with a group of 90 satellite offices around the world, connected through the OfficeUS website, and with visiting experts who are staging a series of workshops related to each topic. 

Collectively designed by NY-based architects Leong Leong, graphic designer Natasha Jen/Pentagram and technology consultants at CASE, the pavilion comprises four rooms surrounding a central space.  Modular worktables snake through each of the four peripheral rooms while the central room, called the workground of the future, contains a circular bed reflecting the curators' belief that practice has now evolved to an era when work and play are merging. Aroma-master Christophe Laudemiel created a custom scent for each of the five rooms, evoking the time and place of its era. 

OfficeUS was commissioned by the Storefront for Art and Architecture on behalf of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State. The project was developed in collaboration with PRAXIS journal and with students from SA+P’s Department of Architecture and the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Partner Lars Müller is publishing four catalogs about the exhibition and media partner Architizer is host to a series of online articles exploring the many layers of OfficeUS.