Scattered across the lagoon-facing parkland behind the great Santa Maria Maggiore church, you will find eleven temporary pavilions commissioned by the Vatican. The pavilions have been designed by renown international architects, including Norman Foster, Smiljan Radic, Edouardo Souto de Mora and Terunobu Fujimori. It is a rare collection of contemporary sacred architecture and the first time Vatican takes part in the Venice Biennale.
The Skogskapellet by Gunnar Asplund was the guiding reference, that architectural historian Francesco Dal Co gave to the eleven invited architects. They have all imagined a small, spiritual space within a forest-like environment, the structure connecting to the site. Away from the tourist crowds of Venice, the whole area indeed is a beautiful place for quiet contemplation, as well as an opportunity to witness some exquisite designs. The concept of the pavilions follows the Serpentine Summer Pavilions format.
Apart from the size of the plot (seven by ten meters) given to each pavilion, the architects responded to the brief with a range of interpretations of religious iconography. Norman Foster used wooden struts engineered for an airy tent like space where three crosses form the central supporting system for the pavilion. Shrubs planted on the sides of the building will grow over the summer months to slowly transform the atmosphere of the space. Spanish architects Flores Prats and Chilean architect Smiljan Radic (who did the Serpentine Pavilion in 2014) provided spaces with more abstract religious symbolism.
Perhaps the most direct response to Asplund’s forest chapel is Terunobu Fujimori’s pavilion, which from the outside looks like a summer cabin of unusual, childlike proportions. Constructed directly on the ground, its sturdy structural beams form a cross inside in the same way as in Foster’s more open space.
These pavilions provide a great opportunity for observing details, materials and structures, as well as the larger historical and artistic dialogues in which they so clearly take part. The choice of architects presented in the Vatican’s exhibition area demonstrate a will to take part in contemporary cultural and artistic debates. The Vatican’s introductory participation is one of the highlights of this year’s Biennale. It also makes you think how sacred spaces must be hugely inspiring commissions for architects, perhaps anticipating also a new kind of spirituality needed for the planet.
Every year Arcaid Images presents an award to the architectural photographer whose winning image of the built environment exceeds in both photographic and architectural merit. This year the overall winner was Portuguese photographer Fernando Guerra, with his stunning image of the EPFL Quartier Nord in Ecublens, Switzerland.
Upon first glance, the awarded image compels not only in terms of linear composition and dynamic use of light, but particularly due to the human element that instils the building with a sense of life. In an interview while driving from his hometown Lisbon to do a shoot in Fátima, Fernando Guerra sheds some light onto his working methods.
Guerra’s interest in photography stems from a young age, picking up his first camera as a 16 year old. Unsure of his artistic voice, young Guerra shot everything around him in an effort to find exactly what interested him in the surrounding world. He eventually trained as an architect and whilst working in Macao for 5 years, Guerra became increasingly enchanted with documenting street life. It is easy to see the influence of his early passion for street photography when looking at his winning Arcaid image, blending the rigidity and grandeur of traditional architectural images with the pulse and humanity found on the street. Indeed, Guerra believes his own style to be a sort of hybrid between certain elements of architectural and street photography, emerging out of the conceptual problems he encountered during his architectural education.Read more
Artist and activist – Ai Weiwei’s collaborations on global architecture projects
At a recent Royal Academy event architect Daniel Rosbottom compared Ai Weiwei’s use of brick in his buildings with the sunflower seeds in the famous Tate Modern installation: “each brick is different, but also part of a multitude”. Ai’s poetic sensibility in the way he uses materials can be evidenced at RA’s retrospective, on until December 13, where a small separate exhibition tells the story of the studio and home he designed in the Beijing suburb of Caochangdi for himself and the series of brick houses around it.
With Swiss architect Simon Hartmann and expert on Chinese art Philip Tinari, Rosbottom spoke about architecture as part of Ai’s art and activism, drawing parallels with minimalism in the way the buildings make you think about spatial volumes. As Rosbottom points out the debt to artists like Donald Judd might be unconscious, but the play with proportion and spatial tension is similar.
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