Yale arch presents at Venice Biennale

The theme of this year’s Venice Biennale architecture festival is “Common Ground.” Yale students and professors who had work in the festival won no prizes.
The theme of this year’s Venice Biennale architecture festival is “Common Ground.” Yale students and professors who had work in the festival won no prizes. Photo by Natasha Thondavadi.

With the start of the Venice Biennale international architecture festival, Yale student work is on view in a prominent global forum.

The Venice Biennale, which the city of Venice introduced in 1896 to serve as a global symposium for the arts, has served as either an art or an architecture festival in alternating years since 1980, said School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern, who served as chair of the prize committee. This year’s festival, which officially kicked off Wednesday, brings together a wide variety of international architects and critics but is widely influenced by Yale in several aspects, he said.

Sir David Chipperfield, who taught a studio class at the School of Architecture last school year, directed the Biennale, which featured the work of 119 architecture firms from around the world. Among the selected architects was professor Peter Eisenman, who taught a course examining the work of 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Piranesi along with professor Matthew Roman ARC ’09.

Eisenman, in turn, invited his students — at the time in their second year — to contribute to his exhibit for the festival, the first time Yale students have displayed work at the Biennale since 1991.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Common Ground,” chosen to emphasize architects whose work relies heavily on cultural context and the architectural tradition, Stern said.

Eisenman, inspired by his Piranesi seminar, invited three other groups to develop interpretations of Campo Marzio — famously depicted by Piranesi — in addition to the Yale students: architect Jeffery Kipnis and his students at The Ohio State University, his firm Eisenman Architects and Pier Vittorio Aureli, who will teach at the School of Architecture this year, Roman said.

“Just as Piranesi’s Campo Marzio was an interpretation of Rome, these projects are an interpretation of Piranesi’s interpretation,” said Brian Butterfield, the director of exhibitions at the school. “None of them were meant to be literal, just as Piranesi’s was not a literal interpretation of Rome in any way.”

The students’ component of the exhibit asked them to imagine a 3-D landscape based on Piranesi’s 2-D interpretation, Stern said, creating a link between the past and the present inherent in Chipperfield’s chosen theme.

“A tension arose when designing the third dimension because we were torn between what we know and what we have to imagine,” said Daisy Ames ARC ’13, a student in Eisenman and Roman’s seminar who assisted in presenting the project in Venice, in a Thursday email. “This tension is visible in the 3-D printed model because there are instances where we have invented buildings, spaces, and figures that appear completely palpable but have never existed before — ever.”

The Yale students’ model provided the historical foundation for the three modern interpretations created by Eisenman’s other collaborators and became the showpiece of the exhibit, Roman said, adding that graduate work is rarely displayed at large-scale international festivals such as the Biennale.

Since the project involved extensive model-making, several students travelled to the Biennale to help assemble the complex physical product, Roman said. Butterfield said that the model was first printed in Belgium and painted in gold leaf before travelling to Venice.

As chair of the prize jury, Stern awarded prizes to the outstanding pavilions at the festival’s opening on Wednesday. Neither the model created by the Yale students nor the associated works by Yale professors won a prize.

The 2012 Venice Biennale architecture festival will be on display until Nov. 25.

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