Interview with British pavilion curators at Venice Architecture Biennale

– Il Giornale dell’Architettura, March 2016

2016 Curatorial Team_British Pavilion_Venice Architecture Biennale_(l-r) Shumi Bose copia

What was your first reaction to the announcement that your team has been chosen as curator of the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016?

Shumi Bose, Jack Self e Finn Williams: being selected by an illustrious jury is an enormous honour; it is a unique opportunity to present alternative models to conventional architecture, and that is very exciting. Representing your country also brings responsibilities. We felt an obligation to make the pavilion relevant for the people of Britain (and not just British architects), and to put forward powerful, imaginative, rigorous and practical proposals.

What is the aim of this British Pavilion? And how do you plan to interpret Aravena’s main theme?

SB, JS, FW: “Reporting from the Front” is not like previous themes. Aravena is not asking about the state of architecture, but about the state of society. The front-line of architecture in Britain today is unquestionably our extreme housing crisis. But for us this isn’t so much a crisis in the number of homes we are building, as a crisis in our forms of domestic life. Our exhibition, Home Economics, takes the home as its starting point, and uses the universal lens of time to frame how varied durations of occupancy are radically affecting the way we live. Over the last decades our family structure, patterns of work, the presence of technology in the home, as well as mass mobility (particularly within the EU) has changed enormously. We feel architecture has at times struggled to keep pace. Home Economics addresses how we design, finance and construct housing in the United Kingdom and puts forward five provocative models for radically new forms of architecture.

According to your experience, how can architecture contribute to the urgent questions about the future of housing? And what is the situation in UK about this topic?

SB, JS, FW: for almost half a century, Britain has not built enough new homes each year. At the same time, we have seen a transition from an economy based on production to an economy based on debt. This has polarised wealth in society, and made it increasingly hard for people to live in affordable, quality homes in a location of their choice. Architecture has played a leading role in cementing these new power structures – and so it has just as important a role if they are to change again. In Britain especially, the domestic realm is where many of our societal beliefs are expressed, and we think it is an excellent base from which to examine, if not completely ‘resolve’, the housing crisis and changes in the way we live. In this case, we have engaged not only architects, but also financial institutions, developers, planners, artists, filmmakers and a diverse range of practices to really understand what are the possibilities for the architect to intervene.

You’re planning to convert the British Pavilion into a series of full scale domestic spaces: an immersive space which proposes new futures for the British home. Tell us a bit more about this…

SB, JS, FW: the so-called “1:1” model was previously a very popular exhibition form during the early Modernist period, because it allowed the visitor to directly experience a new form of architecture. This eventually became adapted for commercial purposes, such as “house of the future” formats, and today survives primarily in the form of the IKEA showroom. Architectural plans and maquettes communicate largely to a specialist audience, but our aspiration is to create an exhibition of alternatives that everyone can understand. We believe that to communicate about new types of life in the home requires a full-scale interior.

Who are the British architects involved in the exhibition?

SB, JS, FW:  our participants reflect the diversity of the UK; all the architects and artists principally live or work in the UK, even though they have diverse backgrounds. The four main teams are: Åyr (an art collective with members from Italy, France and Mexico); Dogma (led by Italians Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara) with Black Square (Maria S. Guidici); British-Venezuelan architect Julia King; and the London and Scandinavian architecture firm Hesselbrand. In addition to these people, an important role is played by our London-based graphic designers, OK-RM.

What should visitors expect from this British Pavilion? Why should this Pavilion be remembered?

SB, JS, FW:  home Economics challenges you to think about how you relate to your home and how we live today. We hope the visitor will be open to considering radically alternative forms of life, particularly framed through considerations of temporal occupancy rather than function or convention. Home Economics is, as far as we know, the first architectural exhibition to be curated through time of occupancy in the home. The five rooms each represent specific periods – hours, days, months, years, decades. When time is used as a primary design driver of architecture, the results are unprecedented. What it means to be ‘at home’ for a few days is totally different from what it means to be ‘at home’ for several decades. Finally, the models that we have developed are grounded in reality. It is our hope that this exhibition will lead to innovative built work and that its legacy will be much longer than the period of the Biennale.

ZM