JULY 2018

Photographs by Henrik Blomqvist


ExtraValextra followed Luca Cipelletti, one of the most brilliant architects of the Italian panorama, to discover the latest edition of the Venice Biennale

ExtraValextra: What did you think of this year’s Architecture Biennale?

Luca Cipelletti: in the past ten years, architecture biennials have started ‘competing’ with art biennials, with more installation-based projects which are better understood by the general public. This often created surprising results. This year is no exception, and the current edition confirms this trend, even though it often takes longer to understand the curatorial meanings across the two central pavilions – which are often clearer upon reading accompanying texts. This Biennale is titled ‘Freespace’, leaving the concept of space open to interpretation and therefore the result, even though not immediately comprehensible, is never monotone but on the contrary rather varied, with two routes. On one side, “Close Encounters”, a focus on memorable architecture from the past, presented by contemporary practices, on the other, “The Practice of Teaching”, centers on the results of architectural teachings. 



EV: The Swiss Pavilion was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. In the Pavilion, a change of scale gives a sense of confusion: when and how, in your opinion, have the curators been able to convey this message?

LC: the feeling of disorientation offered by the Swiss Pavilion is really surprising, because it plays on the immediacy of out-of-scale perception. It features oversized doors which lead to miniature environments, there are difficult passages, with sudden changes of volume in the relationship between human and space. It may seem conceptual for people operating in the field, and playful to the general public. I believe this Golden Lion is completely deserved, for the ability to communicate a complex concept in a way that can be understood by everyone. 

EV: We particularly also liked the Dutch Pavilion. The concept of Locker Room (where one changes into something else) is challenging and provocative at the same time. What do you think about this?

LC: the theme of “locker room conversation” is current but also rich of memories. From Donald Trump to the famous room 902 of Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel (reproduced inside the pavilion), which John Lennon and Yoko Ono opened up to press in 1969, to make their peace proposition echo across the media. Visitors are invited to take their clothes off, wear a pajama and start a conversation “in bed”, which becomes public with the coming and going of the pavilion’s visitors. I think that certain things can only be said in specific contexts, and the amplification of whispers can have amusing outcomes. It is something that must be tried. Henrik Blomqvist, my travel companion, tried it together – it really works!

EV: There was a lot of discussion around the Vatican Pavilion on the Island of San Giorgio. What’s your opinion?

LC: The Vatican Pavilion represents one of two big news of this edition. It’s the first time that the Vatican (considered as a ‘state’) takes part to a Biennale focused on architecture. I found this surprising, a project of great quality, but also ambitious, decadent, even populist at times. The presentation features 11 chapels by different architects, produced at 1:1 scale and in styles that fit together well. Perhaps this shows that the Catholic Church is only one: it is global, but can still develop aesthetically on a local scale, escaping the international style. It’s an example of the “Think Global, Act Local” concept. I also consider this project to have an impressive scale for a country’s debut, almost creating an alternative to the multiple Pavilion set up of the Giardini della Biennale at the Giardini di San Giorgio, featuring architectural project which are very different but united under the aegis of the Holy See.  



EV: Crossing the lagoon, there is another project worth mentioning…

LC: The other big news for this edition of the Biennale is also located across the Lagoon, on the Giudecca, not far from San Giorgio. I found amusing and at times exhilarating that the Vatican’s debut coincided with the first appearance of a new pavilion, rooted in gay culture, elegantly titled “Cruising Pavilion”. It features a careful and very sophisticated curatorial investigation – often with rightly artistically pornographic results – of the cruising, explored as environments and architecture that have a ‘use’ that is very specific, therefore worthy of analysis. Both on a real dimension – with the construction of a red-light “illegal cathedral” – and on a virtual one, condemning the way several countries’ authorities control gay communities with oppressive and homophobic purposes. I have no doubt that this is one of the projects that best fit the Free Space them explored throughout this Biennale.


EV: What’s your favourite Pavilion of this Biennale, and why? 

LC: traditionally, the exhibition’s theme is reflected throughout the central Pavilions with the curators’ exhibition, while it is usually more difficult to see it in the more independent national participations. My favourite project is the Chilean Pavilion, in the Arsenale. I didn’t only find it extraordinary in itself, but I also thought it fit this year’s theme better than any other. “Stadium” narrates the story of the Santiago stadium, which in 1979 accommodated about 40,000 citizens who had occupied some areas of the city. The city’s blueprint was reproduced across the stadium’s structure, so that each citizen could ‘sit’ exactly on the piece of land they had occupied and finally receive an ownership certificate from the state. It’s a theatrical installation, emotional, brutalist and very sophisticated, that conveys the change of scale and sense of significance and belonging. It does a great job communicating the idea of taking back a physical place in the city, translated into a different architecture hosting the distribution ceremony. 

EV: What tour would you suggest to someone who doesn’t work in the architectural field?

LC: given the scale of the Biennale, a selection is necessary. Starting from the Giardini I would certainly start from the Swiss Pavilion (Golden Lion), continuing with the British Pavilion where Marcus Taylor and Caruso & Partners [Caruso St John?] have left the structure completely bare, building an external scaffolding complete with ladder, leading up to a huge terrace surrounding the tip of the original roof. From here, you can see the entire lagoon. I’d continue with the Dutch Pavilion, leading on to the central pavilion where I’d focus on the room dedicated to projects by Peter Zumthor, almost encyclopedic in the heterogeneity of materials used and in his design approach. In the central pavilion, I also liked Cino Zucchi’s elegant interpretation of some of Luigi Caccia Dominioni’s projects, a high quality  feat of museology. I’d also recommend the rooms which feature Carlo Scarpa, who in 1972 invited 4 masters of architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Louis Khan and Isamu Noguchi), to propose 4 projects (which were never realized) for the city of Venice. At the Arsenale, see the Chilean pavilion, and projects by Botta and Riccardo Blumer. Heading towards the San Giorgio for the Vatican Pavilion, and to the Giudecca for the Cruising Pavilion, a stop by the Le Stanze Del Vetro (the glass rooms) is a must: the foundation affirms the highest quality of its cultural offering with an exhibition about Cirva, a historic foundry based in Marseille. 


EV: How do you consider the Biennale as a tool? What does it communicate, and how?

LC: a Biennale’s task is not to convey trends, or explain what to do or not to do in architecture: a didactic, academic approach is essential. The objective should be to make us think, and to stimulate a vision that us useful both to planning and to understanding architecture. Architecture is not a niche discipline, it transcends our daily lives, our history and our interests. It works its way inside and outside all of us, whether we want it or not. Because of this, the expressive language of an architectural exhibition must work across the different levels of communication to visitors – which I am hoping will continue growing, in particular with more interest from the general public.