Aravana, who in addition to his role at the Biennale is also the recipient of the 2016 Pritzker Prize – the most prestigious award bestowed on architects – is, however, also concerned to throw new light on the (built) environment: just as archaeologist Maria Reiche obtains a fresh view of the Peruvian steppe using a simple ladder, giving her a new vantage point from which to study the famous Nazca lines, Aravena understands architecture as a tool and strategy for visualising new perspectives and concealed features. The photo of the archaeologist taken by travel writer Bruce Chatwin thus adorns the exhibition poster for the 2016 Architecture Biennale.
At the main exhibition at the “Arsenale”, and at the Biennale pavillion in the “Giardini”, Aravena has assembled 24 exhibits by different architectural practices and institutions he trusts to pursue these strategies. The selected participants were charged with addressing a “specific issue” and presenting solutions to them.
The results are impressive: right at the beginning, visitors are welcomed in a limestone vault created by ETH Zürich. This is followed by a documentation of traditional Chinese villages, prepared by Chinese Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu as a highly aesthetic collection of materials and building techniques. The Austrian Marte.Marte practice is showing models of (engineering) structures carved into concrete blocks that reveal the complex landscapes of the Alps – the weighty concrete cubes with their finely chiselled models hint at the challenges involved in bringing architecture to this environment. Beneath the word “Neubau” in neon lettering, German architects BeL have laid out a cityscape made of blue Styrodur showing compacted house building solutions. “Lightscapes” is then the name given by the engineers at Transsolar to their light installation planned for the Louvre Abu Dhabi that imitates the sun’s rays.
Aravena is also contributing personally. At both the Arsenale and the Biennale pavillion, visitors first pass through a room with walls made up of hundreds of layers of old plasterboard, while a sea of metal profiles hang from the ceiling – all scrap inherited from the last Art Biennale: a self-reflexive element, a powerful artistic comment that reveals an otherwise unnoticed aspect of the Biennale – its wasteful “underside”. It’s an angle we really like at Wilkhahn – after all, robust design that is well-thought out in every respect is just as much a key part of our business as is the responsible use of resources.