U.S. Pavilion Pushes Boundaries of the Venice Architecture Biennale

The curators of the U.S. Pavilion bring a working architectural office to the Venice Architecture Biennale.

From his high perch as director of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, Rem Koolhaas told the world that the field of architecture is in crisis, and asked the event’s curators to look critically at Modernism and try to see with fresh eyes the fundamentals of architecture itself. Many pavilions responded with historiographic exhibitions documenting their country’s modernist experients in the last 100 years. Many of them read like glorified encyclopedia entries. By contrast, the curators of the U.S. Pavilion—Eva Franch i Gilabert, Ana Miliački, and Ashley Schafer of the New York-based OfficeUS—have created a working architectural office whose eight "partners" are actively engaged in wide-ranging research with the goal of constructing a new agenda for future architectural production.

U.S. Pavilion Pushes Boundaries of the Venice Architecture Biennale - Photo 1 of 5 -

The central rotunda of the Palladian pavilion has been turned into a break room for both visitors and “partners." The round platform, which seems to be made of granite, is in fact a spongy material that makes for a surprisingly comfy nap. Photo by Paul Clemence.

These researchers and theorists have their work cut out for them. They are charged with surveying the production of American architects working abroad in the last 100 years, from Wright’s Imperial Hotel to Gehry’s Guggenheim and beyond. In addition, the researchers are expected to go far beyond forms and typologies to consider the culture of U.S. architects and how they participated in the exportation of business practices, design processes, ethics, and ideologies.

U.S. Pavilion Pushes Boundaries of the Venice Architecture Biennale - Photo 2 of 5 -

A curtain of mirrored metal helps erase the building’s historical references and also “dematerializes” the building by creating the sense of a porous connection between interior and exterior. Photo by Paul Clemence.

To that end, the OfficeUS has filled the U.S. Pavilion with all the trappings of a working architectural office, from drafting tables to shelves lined with project binders. However, they must share their files with the general public, who can access the same binders as the researchers themselves.

U.S. Pavilion Pushes Boundaries of the Venice Architecture Biennale - Photo 3 of 5 -

A mirror on one of the pavilion's interior walls dissolves the boundaries between interior. The reflective surface of the drafting table amplifies the effect. Photo by Paul Clemence.

To create a working space for the partners, New York-based architecture firm Leong Leong has transformed the separate rooms of the rather stodgy—even kitschy—Palladian-style pavilion into what Franch i Gilabert calls a "continuous surface." White plasterboard walls and strategically placed mirrors help "dematerialize" the building, she says, giving the impression that you are moving through a single, meandering room. At the same time a set of semi-transparent, modular drafting tables, also by Leong Leong, helps link separate spaces into an apparently continuous, if quirky, whole.

U.S. Pavilion Pushes Boundaries of the Venice Architecture Biennale - Photo 4 of 5 -

Co-curator Eva Franch i Gilabert stands in front of a wall lined by "project folders," which document the most important and ambitious projects by U.S. architects completed overseas in the last century, from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and beyond. Photo by Paul Clemence.


U.S. Pavilion Pushes Boundaries of the Venice Architecture Biennale - Photo 5 of 5 -

Designed by New York-based architecture firm Leong Leong, the pavilion’s modular drafting tables contain objects ranging from architectural models to archival magazines half-hidden under the tables' semi-transparent surfaces. Visitors are encouraged to sit at the table, touch the objects, and read the same project folders used by the pavilion’s researchers. Photo by Paul Clemence.


Last Updated

Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.