Book Briefs #39: More Biennale Publications

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews (though some might go on to get that treatment), but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than find their way into reviews on this blog

On Sunday, November 25th, the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale wraps up its six-month run. Back in June I featured a half-dozen publications, including the main catalog, from my visit to the Biennale when it opened in May. Not all exhibition catalogs were available at the time, so here are a few that followed (with one from the 2016 Biennale): on the Australian, Chinese, Catalan, and Spanish pavilions.

Repair: Australian Pavilion, 16th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2018 edited by Mauro Baracco, Louise Wright | Actar | 2018 | Amazon / IndieBound
How does one translate an exhibition or installation into book form? It's a particularly pertinent question for the Australian Pavilion, one of my favorite pavilions from this year's Biennale. Called Repair, the pavilion focuses on the role of architecture in repairing natural systems and generally creating "good" environments. Baracco+Wright Architects, with Linda Tegg, filled the pavilion in the Giardini with transplanted grasslands, drawings attention to the threatened plant community in Australia. Accompanying the plants are lights that enable the plants to thrive indoors and Tegg's short films about buildings projected on the walls when the lights are down. It's a highly immersive exhibit that involves sight but also movement, touch, thermal comfort, and interactions with others exploring the planted interior.

Baracco and Wright didn't strive to create a catalog to the pavilion. They used it to go beyond "the limitations of exhibition" and unpack the Repair theme "through the diverse lens" of their team and some invited authors. Essays and interviews make up the first half of the book; strands of ecological thinking and indigenous culture permeate these texts. Following them are fifteen projects as well as more information on the Repair exhibition's design and realization. The projects are documented fairly traditionally, but they do include stills from Tegg's videos, linking the book and exhibition. My favorite project is the oldest one: Robin Boyd's Featherston House from 1967. Boyd brought nature indoors, creating a series of platforms over the sloping landscape and beneath the translucent roof: a clear precedent for Repair's transplanted landscape.

Architecture China: Building a Future Countryside by Li Xiangning, Mo Wanli, Rebecca Gros | Images Publishing | 2018 | Amazon / IndieBound
Another 2018 favorite, the Chinese Pavilion (located at one end of the Arsenale) focuses on the rural, presenting many projects that run counter to the common view of China as the land of "weird" contemporary architecture. These are my kind of projects: AZL's Internet Conference Center, Rural Urban Framework's Angdong Hospital, Vector Architects' Captain's House, and other buildings that fit sensitively into their contexts rather than standing out from them, screaming for attention. The catalog documents many such projects (most built) in six typological categories (dwellings, production, cultural, etc.) plus the same number of installations built especially for the exhibition.

RCR Dream and Nature: Catalonia in Venice by Pati Núñez, Estel Ortega | Actar | 2018 | Amazon / IndieBound
Each Venice Architecture Biennale is made up of three components: the International Architecture Exhibition, the national pavilions, and collateral events. Since Catalonia is a region of Spain, its contribution falls under the last category. Situated on the island of San Pietro di Castello — halfway between the Giardini and the end of the Arsenale where the Chinese Pavilion is found — the Catalan "pavilion" is removed from the rest of the Biennale. In turn, the 2018 contribution is an immersive installation that further removes visitors from the exhibition and the city to express how Pritzker Prize-winning RCR (the trio of Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta) views dreams and nature in one project: La Vila. In June I described RCR Dreams and Nature as a "somewhat hazy environment crafted from various plastics" with low levels of illumination and videos projected on suspended discs. It's a tricky exhibition to translate into book form.

The book starts with some color photos of a few RCR projects followed by a handful of essays from the curators and some big names in architecture: Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Pedro Gadanho and William J. R. Curtis. The longest essay is by Jordi Pigem (none are very long, since the book is English, Spanish, and Catalan), who looks at the cosmology, or "flowing, creative, dynamic and living process," of RCR at La Vila. The last half of the book consists of the "visual episodes" that were suspended in the "hazy environment" at the Biennale. Although the circular, bubble-like images are removed from the immersive space, as pages in a book the images allow readers to spend more time with them, poring over the imagery but also the words accompanying them. Even so, these glimpses into the dreams of RCR are still impenetrable at times — as they probably should be.

Unfinished: Ideas, Images, and Projects from the Spanish Pavilion at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale by Iñaqui Carnicero, Carlos Quintáns | Actar | 2018 | Amazon / IndieBound
Back in 2016, the Spanish Pavilion won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation with Unfinished. The exhibition compiled unfinished projects in order to provoke reflection on how Spain  had responded to the post-boom real estate crisis. Curators Iñaqui Carnicero and Carlos Quintáns wanted to generate debates on new strategies that have emerged within this period. Accordingly, some of the images were mounted on an armature that would raise to facilitate presentations and discussions. What stood out for me were projects like the Restoration of the Old Church of Corbera D'Ebre, which consisted of an ETFE roof over the ruins of the old church. This and other projects are documented in the book through photos and drawings, making up about half of the catalog, with the rest featuring photographic responses to the crisis, essays by some Spanish critics (unfortunately bios are not included in the book), and interviews with architectural voices from outside of Spain (Barry Bergdoll, Kenneth Frampton, Sou Fujimoto, Martino Stierli, etc.). Like the Chinese Pavilion, Unfinished veers away from the high-profile projects that garnered the most attention but detracted from the more sensible solutions born from history and crisis.