Out of all of the exhibits at the Venice Biennale this year, I spent the most time sitting and playing inside the pavilion of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Along with being interactive, dynamic, and quite beautiful, it was a celebration of a well-known Dwell obsession: the countless possibilities of the wooden slat.
Walking from the direction of the French and Japanese pavilions, visitors were greeted by an explosion of wooden 1x4s lining the trees of the entry pathway. (Formerly the pavilion of Czechoslovakia, the building was designed by Otakar Novotn back in 1926.)
Titled 'Natural Architecture,' the exhibit was born out of a concept developed by architects Martin Rajnis, Jana Ticha, and Irena Fialova. Their manifesto: to break away from the prevailing reproduction of architecture in museums and showcase a form of experimental building that focuses on the natural, experiential, and social role of architecture.
I was first drawn to the space on the right, which was transformed into a workshop-playroom with the same 1x4 wood pieces that were the building block unit used to construct the pavilion. The mirrors lining the walls magnify the size and airyness of the play space.
On the other side, a set of sculptural, geometric hangings are suspended from the atrium.
One reason why I enjoyed being here for so long was because it was a continuously morphing exhibit. In a span of a half hour, three teams of children spontaneously formed, which meant three different wooden towers were built and toppled.
Sound was an important part of the pavilion as well - there was a constant racket from the clattering of wooden slats and the chattering of bustling families.
A neatly-framed spiral staircase leads the way to a second balcony level atop the central hallway that overlooks the ground floor on both sides.
A clean connection detail shows how the parts of the staircase are vertically held together.
The atrium spreads sunlight on the second floor, where an audience space is laid out for viewing Czech films.
"Architecture is undergoing a crisis. Our buildings no longer satisfy people. It is necessary to start to create differently: in place of design and aesthetics to take inspiration from the deeper laws of nature," says Martin Rajniš. The description of their concept is a little on the enigmatic, archi-babble side, but the exhibit does convey a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about an underlying honesty of building construction and material.