National Pavilion UAE - Modern and Contemporary Architecture of the National Pavilions in the Biennale di Venezia – Giardini & Arsenale/By Azza Abou Alam
  • Modern and Contemporary Architecture of the National Pavilions in the Biennale di Venezia – Giardini & Arsenale/By Azza Abou Alam

    As Paolo Baratta, chairman of the La Biennale di Venezia, briefed interested visitors about 2014’s edition of this major event, he states the title “Absorbing Modernity 1914–2014” has been proposed as a title or common theme for the contribution of all the pavilions for the 14th International Architecture Exhibition. Rem Koolhas, director of this year’s Biennale elaborates by saying that the 65 participating countries – in the Giardini, at the Arsenale and elsewhere in the city – will examine key moments from a century of modernization (1914-2014), and they too shall contribute in part to the overall research project, titled as Fundamentals. Despite the installations being radically different in outcome, the homogenizing process of globalization appeared to be the one that ties the visuals together. With that being said, I had a clear preference as to what would make a pavilion a successful one, and that would be a defined relationship of the national pavilion to its title and initial intention in addition to this year’s Biennale overall theme, and these terms were clearly portrayed in the Spanish pavilion.

    They say, “Leave the best for last” but that clearly was not the case when I first entered the Giardini. The Spanish pavilion is found at the main entrance of that particular sector of the city, my first encounter with this year’s national pavilions and my favorite thus far. Titled “Interior” and curated by Inaki Ablos, Spain’s national pavilion forces visitors to direct their attention to the value of interior spaces and their relationship to the Spanish climate, culture, tradition and environmental related issues. It can also be viewed as an analysis of Spain’s 20th century traditions that date back to Roman and Arab traditions as well as defining the important traditional elements in Spanish architecture and narrowing them down to four, which are courtyards, shade houses and green houses, grottoes, and thermal baths. In theory, that is a direct link with Rem Koolhas’ general theme of Fundamentals but the Spanish pavilion team made it their own i.e. identifying their own version of fundamentals in Spanish architecture. These four traditional elements are related to environmental factors and its awareness and they currently are a modern concern to Spanish architects.

    As visitors walk by the Spanish pavilion, the first encounter would be a relatively small building that is homogenous with its surroundings with vines growing on the brick façade (Figure 1). It is devoid of any relationship with the interior thus far except for the title of the exhibition that is, ironically, a literal window to the inside (Figure 2). The journey within the exhibition then takes place by walking through a maze like layout creating more interior spaces within one, further highlighting the power of interiors (Figure 3). Once arriving at the center of the maze, visitors encounter the back of the punctured exhibition title that gives them a view of the outside (Figure 4). There are 12 zones repeated throughout the maze-like layout where each zone illustrates a certain project related to the four previously mentioned traditional elements of Spanish architecture where we can see the repeating themes of underground spaces and the use of water. Each zone consists of a three-dimensional image with a corresponding sectional drawing of the building and framed photographs (Figure 5). The striking three-dimensional images wrap around the floor and extend onto their own ceilings, recreating the interior space depicted and further enhancing the sense of enclosure (Figure 6). The sections demonstrate the importance of the interior volumes in buildings as well the thermodynamics of the space, which relates back to the four traditional architectural elements (Figure 7). They illustrate the flow of energy within the building as well as air and light circulation. Finally, the framed photographs in each of the zones do not depict the project in the zone itself but related buildings with similar feel (Figure 8).  There are one hundred framed photographs in total, for one hundred years, which is a direct reference to the 14th International Architecture Exhibition’s title “Absorbing Modernity 1914–2014.”

    The 2014 Spanish pavilion at the Venice Biennale has successfully linked  its main concept, displayed content and the Biennale’s adjoining themes (Fundamentals and Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014). The exhibition starts out with a brief explanation to the visitors about traditional architectural elements (courtyards, shade houses and green houses, grottoes, and thermal baths), which is considered an introduction or a threshold that prepares visitors for what is coming next. It gives visitors the underlying connections between the projects displayed as well as informing them of basic elements of Spanish architecture. Nevertheless, choosing interiors specifically as opposed to architecture and exterior stresses on the roots of the rich Spanish heritage in that field specifically and that dates to the Roman and Arabic era. The exhibited spaces show how modernity and contemporary design are directly linked and are sensitive to their past, even if it was not clearly visible to the public. In addition, the constant reminder of environmental issues and influence is illustrated throughout the zones in the exhibition. Such concept led Spanish architects to create unique spaces instead of following modernity blindly and that is clearly visible in the selected displayed projects. Each of the projects has a unique feel as well as site-specific materials used and that is what identifies Spanish architecture form others. Last but not least; the Spanish pavilion highlights the fact that interiors are just as important as any other element in architecture. Even though the pavilion seems closed off from its surroundings at first glance, visitors then realize that the title of the exhibition itself gives you glimpses of how others are reacting to the displays inside as well as what to expect once you enter. Just like any other interior space, this subtle hint of an opening frames the adaptation of visitors to the interior space, which is usually a receptive and reactive one, and so showing hints of that adaptation is a key element that adds richness to the entire pavilion.

    In my opinion, the Spanish pavilion at the 2014 La Biennale di Venezia has created a successful composition that clearly communicates its concept and  connects it with this year’s underlying theme of the exhibition. A clear concept is stated by explaining the four main elements of traditional Spanish architecture and is displayed in the zones of how it is influencing modern and contemporary architecture. As a result, it illustrates the importance of Interiors in Spanish architecture and ties it back to its traditional roots. These four main elements are considered the Fundamentals of Spanish architecture, which coincides with Rem Koolhas’ theme for the Biennale, while displaying them in a modern context relates to the pavilions’ concept of “Absorbing Modernity 1914–2014.” The Spanish pavilion, this year, uniquely created connections with the main themes as well as design an exceptional interior space that cannot be dismissed.

    By Azza Abou Alam

    Figure 1: Front entrance of the Spanish pavilion, Giardini, Venice

    Punctured title of the Spanish Pavilion, view to the inside

    Figure 2: Punctured title of the Spanish pavilion, view to the insideDistribution of zones in the plan of the Spanish pavilion

    Figure 3: Distribution of zones in the plan of the Spanish pavilion

    Center of the maze

    Figure 4: Center of the maze/zones, back wall of the punctured title of the Spanish pavilion, view to the outside

    Typical view of one of the zones with its 3 elements

    Figure 5: Typical view of one of the zones with its 3 elements


    Figure 6: Three-dimensional image


    Figure 7: Sectional Drawing



    Figure 8: Framed photographs

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