New Zealand architecture takes its place on the world stage at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, which launches on 28 May. Official exhibitions from 62 countries will compete for attention at the six-month event, which attracts a quarter of a million visitors and is regarded as the ‘Olympics of architecture’.
The Commissioner of the New Zealand exhibition, Tony van Raat, director of the Architecture Research Lab at AUT University, says participation in the Biennale is a unique opportunity to profile this country’s architecture.
“If we want to test our architectural thinking, contribute to the international debate about architectural issues, and raise awareness of New Zealand’s design capabilities, the Venice Biennale is the place to do it,” van Raat says.
New Zealand’s 2016 Biennale entry, Future Islands, has been produced by a group of architects and exhibition designers led by creative director Charles Walker, Co-Director of the Colab research unit at AUT University, Auckland, and associate creative director Kathy Waghorn, of the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture and Planning.
Walker, whose exhibition concept was selected in an open competition contested by 15 teams led by New Zealand architects based here and abroad, says representing this country at the world’s most influential architecture event is an honour and a challenge.
“This is only the second time New Zealand has had a national exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale,” Walker says. “Other countries have been going to the Biennale for decades, but it’s still new for us.”
“We hope Future Islands has a freshness that will stand out in the full-on Biennale environment,” Walker says. “The exhibition expresses the diversity of contemporary New Zealand architecture, and of modern New Zealand society.”
The exhibition consists of 22 island-like forms, some of them several metres in diameter, suspended in two rooms in the exhibition venue, a palazzo near the Arsenale, the historic Venetian boat building complex.
The ‘islands’ – shells of fibreglass, carbon fibre or infused hemp – were made by Core Builders Composites, the Warkworth-based company that builds yachts for Oracle and other America’s Cup syndicates.
Arranged on or around the islands are than 100 models representing 50 New Zealand architectural projects. These projects are the work of a wide range of New Zealand designers – architects from large practices and small firms, graduates and students – and vary in type, scale and purpose.
“Many have been built, some have not yet been built, and others are purely speculative,” Walker says. “The importance to architecture of speculative work is something we want our exhibition to convey.”
“The island metaphor is a means to do this,” Walker says. “Islands have always been seen as sites of possibility. They hold the promise of alternative ways of living, and that prospect is now more attractive, and necessary, than ever.”
Walker says Future Islands’ multiple tellings of New Zealand’s architectural story was also influenced by a book he has long admired, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a 1970s novel in which fifty-five imagined cities are revealed to be versions of one city – Venice.
“We liked the idea of using the structure and allegorical nature of the book to hint at a connection between two island places, Venice and New Zealand, and we were inspired by the levity of Calvino’s writing,” Walker says.
“We want to make our point, but not belabour it, and have designed Future Islands to be a sensory experience. We hope it will be an attractive exhibition that will intrigue visitors and hold their attention in a Biennale crowded with events.”
Exhibition associate creative director Kathy Waghorn says that while Future Islands is about architecture’s possibilities, it’s also about architects’ responsibilities.
“Architecture is changing and its condition is as unsettled as the world in which it occurs,” Waghorn says. “But architects should be optimistic that they can make a difference. They are well equipped to offer alternative solutions to contemporary economic and environmental challenges.”
Wagner says this concern is compatible with the theme of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. That call to arms theme, chosen by the Biennale’s overall director, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, is Reporting from the Front.
“Like Aravena, we believe architects, wherever they are practising, have to put themselves forward, if the world is to have a sustainable and equitable future,” Waghorn says.
New Zealand’s participation in the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale was instigated and organised by the New Zealand Institute of Architects.
The Future Islands creative team also includes architects Jessica Barter and Maggie Carroll (Bureaux), Jon Rennie (Athfield Architects) and Rewi Thompson; craftsman builder Stephen Brookbanks; architectural model maker Minka Ip; and video projectionist Bruce Ferguson.
Future Islands is being staged at Palazzo Bollani, Castello, Venice. It will have its official launch during the Biennale Vernissage on 26 and 27 May, and will be open to the public from 28 May to 27 November, 2016, Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm.
The exhibition can be followed at http://venice.nzia.co.nz/
For further information, or an interview opportunity with Tom Linn, contact: Penny Hartill, director, hPR 09 445 7525, 021 721 424, firstname.lastname@example.org