U.S. Pavilion Commended in Venice

General / People / Places / September 4, 2012

For the first time in the history of la Biennale di Venezia, the jury at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition has made an award to the U.S. Pavilion.  “Spontaneous Interventions” earned a special mention, with the jury noting that it was impressed with its “celebration of the power of individuals to change society in small but effective ways,” and also saying that the “unpretentiously simple presentation was a delight.”  A+A recently interviewed John Hartmann and Lauren Crahan of Freecell, the Brooklyn-based design and fabrication studio, who were among many on the award-winning team.

Who was involved in the design?

The design was developed through many discussions and interactions among the curator, Cathy Lang Ho, the co-curator, David van der Leer, the exhibition designer, Freecell, and the graphic designer, M-A-D.

Its theme?

The theme of the show was, of course, “Spontaneous Interventions,” and the exhibition design wanted to capture the spirit of people taking charge of their own surroundings to make change. That is why the system of banners pulled from the sky was developed. For every action there is a reaction, and also why the banners are weighted with a counterweight that reveals first a problem, then a solution.

The intent of the design?

The intent of the exhibition design is to have a democratic space that plays on the historic image of a hall filled with flags. Here, the flags aren’t out-of-reach conquests, but instead are actionable strategies that can be grabbed and used to enact change.

Its inspiration?

Much of FreeCell’s work experiments with ideas of physicality, so having the visitors having to work a bit is in keeping with FreeCell’s philosophy.

The challenges involved?

The problem of hanging 124 projects, and the solution of hanging 124 projects, are closely related. Since we needed a lot of space to show the work, the walls were out of the question. Other challenges included designing the mechanical geometries for the banners and pulleys and making sure the counterweights were properly weighted so the banners would return to position but not snap back.

The materials?

The materials are simple double-sided printed fabric, nylon rope, pulleys, and sand-filled counterweights. The exhibition system also needed a steel truss fabricated in Italy. The truss spans the length of the room in order to hang the banners, since each ceiling has a skylight. But all these pieces are the framework to display the ideas. The real material of the show was the incredible content provided by the 124 participants.

How long to install?

The making of the parts started a few months ago. The actual installation of the parts in the pavilion took about three weeks. In keeping with the spirit of DIY, many of the banners were brought to Venice as carry-on luggage.

Why do you think it won the award?

This exhibition marks a change in both the type and method of work displayed in the U.S. Pavilion. Typically four to six singular designers are presented through drawings, models, and videos. This year Cathy Lang Ho had the vision to show more than a hundred projects and a desire for the exhibition to be not just a display, but an installation experience. The display system attempts to support her unique vision, which made the show something the jury noted and commended.

For more on la Biennale, go to http://www.labiennale.org/en/biennale/index.html

For more on Freecell, go to http://www.frcll.com/

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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