All About Ideas: The British Pavilion in Venice Puts 10 Architecture Teams' Thinking Processes Under the Spotlight

All About Ideas: The British Pavilion in Venice Puts 10 Architecture Teams' Thinking Processes Under the Spotlight
Smout Allen, Waiting for the sonic boom at CLUI’s Desert Research Station

It could be the sign of a change of mood in the architecture world. Britain won't promote a starchitect's lifetime achievement at the 13th Venice International Architecture Biennale opening next week. No one will be using the pavilion as a manifesto for their unique vision. Instead, "Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture" will gather ten young architecture teams who will share the outcomes of research projects that have taken them to places as varied as Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and the USA.

From the start, the aim of "Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture" has been to nurture architects' practices rather than to produce quantifiable results. The exhibition takes its motto from Albert Einstein: "if we knew what we were doing," the scientist famously said, "it would not be research, would it?" The belief subtending the project is worth remembering in this period of austerity — funding grassroots research is the only way to foster true change.


aberrant architecture, Ross Anderson and Anna Gibb, Darryl Chen, dRMM, Forum for Alternative Belfast, Public Works, Urban Projects Bureau, Owen Pritchard, Elias Redstone, Liam Ross and Tolulope Onabolu, Smout Allen and BLDGBLOG, and Takero Shimazaki / Toh Shimazaki Architecture all answered the British Council's open call for the pavilion with an idea — not for a building or grand concept  — but for a line of investigation.

Elias Redstone went to Argentina to study how local practitioners were developing their work in the aftermath of a brutal economic crisis; Smout Allen and BLDGBLOG spent some time with the L.A.-based Center for Land Use Interpretation, while Darryl Chen went to China to see whether Beijing's bohemian community Caochangdi could be a viable model of urban planning for the UK.

"One thing we are aiming to do is show the importance of ideas and thinking, as part of the design process," Vicky Richardson, commissioner of the British Pavilion and director of Architecture, Design, Fashion for the British Council, told ARTINFO UK recently. 

The ten teams' discoveries will be displayed in a "Research Emporium," and their proposals for change, inspired by these first findings, will be shown in a "Takeaway" section. But these are likely to only be a first step. The drive behind this unconventional pavilion is to plant seeds, and it might take years for them to come to fruition.

At the Olympic Ceremony, Britain didn't pick a household name to light the Olympic cauldron. Seven unknown fledgling athletes were given that honor, highlighting the country's faith in its youth. The concept of "Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture" takes the same approach. Big events of the Venice Biennale type can, and perhaps should, be used to celebrate and encourage the work of the practitioners of the future — not only to congratulate those who have already made their mark.

"Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture," British Pavilion, 13th Venice International Architecture Biennale, August 29 to November 25, 2012