What People Have to Say: Bora Baboci, Freek Persyn, Jana Kocbek and Davor Katušić, Jesse Seegers, Joni Baboci, and Stefan Jauslin
“What struck me the most about the Montenegro Pavilion was the way it focused on the interior as the visual perspective for building a discourse. Especially for strong objects with a clear identity, such as the four buildings treated in the pavilion, this strategy encourages new, refreshing interpretations. The interior of Dom Revolucije, was reminiscent of a similar Albanian interior space—that of the Pyramid, the former museum of the dictator Enver Hoxha, a building also in a state of neglect. The models of Spomen Dom, Kayak Club Galeb, and Hotel Fjord were similarly suggestive and they all brought to mind scenography, a stage made for storytelling. By modelling only fragments of the buildings in their current states, the pavilion generalized the discourse and made it applicable to a wider range of interior spaces. Rather than showing a singular building, the models were prototypes of interiors filled with many potentials. The malleability of the buildings’ identities, their transitory states, and possible futures, are much better observed from the interior than through exterior images of a propagandized iconic object that we have learned to see. This focus on the interior resulted in a very exciting setting for re-interpretation.“
Bora Baboçi is an architect and artist based in Tirana. She is currently working on the perception of informal neighborhoods and urban/coastal identities in the fields of visual arts and cinema.
“The Biennale this year claims to be about architecture, not architects. That simple statement has changed the atmosphere completely: whereas the content of previous architecture biennales was often festive and, even more often, naively optimistic, this edition is surprisingly retrospective and reflective.
A few pavilions have dared to go beyond the reflective, without stepping into the pitfall of celebrating design solutions. The Chilean pavilion shows an overview of an international prefab construction system, which resonates strongly with the Korean pavilion’s observation that housing production in both North and South Korea is based on that same system. How to work with that inevitability? The Swiss pavilion shows the legacy of Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price, which is all about opening up architecture to society and reactivating the existing. How to pick up on their thoughts? The Montenegro Pavilion shows existing buildings that are stunning in their combination of grand design intentions and lack of use. How to reactivate these structures and use them as a resource?
Together, these pavilions reveal the capacity of designers to go beyond what a historian can (or dares to) do: to look at history and present it as a potent question. They show that architecture is political, about making choices and producing answers. But before producing answers, you need good questions. Although these pavilions step away from contemporary architecture, they still offer a sharp view of what architecture’s design questions could be. The fact that the questions are left unanswered makes them resonate even more strongly—they are open for all to imagine an answer.“
Freek Persyn is an architect and a partner at the award-winning Brussels-based practice 51N4E. He studied architecture at the Sint Lucas School of Architecture in Brussels and the Dublin Institute of Technology, and has taught at University of Gent, the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, and at the Berlage Institute, Delft.
“The Montenegrin pavilion is certainly among the highlights of this year’s Biennale! We came back to the pavilion and brought friends along and they all were enthusiastic about it as well. To discover these superb buildings, which exude great charm even in—or maybe because of—their state of decay, is one thing. But to me the exhibition is also a treasure in disguise: the large models of the buildings let you really dive into the architecture. Their honest imperfections match very well the work that’s exhibited and you can feel the authors’ enthusiasm. The exhibition design of Treasures in Disguise is a truly persuasive way of presenting architecture, as opposed to the many over-designed or over-intellectualized exhibitions I’ve seen at the Biennale.”
Stefan Jauslin is the co-founder and co-principal of the Zürich-based practice Vehovar & Jauslin Architektur. He has taught at ETH Zürich and the Bern University of Applied Sciences, and his firm was the subject of the book Emotional Landscapes: Die Architektur von Mateja Vehovar und Stefan Jauslin (Birkhäuser, 2003).
“Treasures in Disguise at the Montenegro Pavilion embodies the political potential that an architecture exhibition should aspire to—and does so while being beautifully designed, a bit quirky, and most importantly, thought provoking. The exhibition practically transports the visitor across the Adriatic and back in time to a hopeful moment in which architecture was tasked with the responsibility of being an active agent of societal change. In addition to the unique and haunting deserted buildings exhibited, the combination of typography and exhibition design make the most of the Venetian hole-in-the-wall gallery space. The four buildings in the exhibition are reminiscent of other utopian moments such as SAAL in Porto in the mid 1970s, but the critique is taken a step further by evaluating modernism’s discontents and the lessons that can be gleaned from failure. As art collective Slavs and Tatars cheekily admonishes: ‘It is of the utmost importance that we repeat our mistakes as a reminder to future generations of the depths of our stupidity,’ and Treasures in Disguise cleverly reminds us that our work is not yet done.”
Jesse Seegers is currently the Power Corporation of Canada Curatorial Intern at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Prior to receiving his Masters in Architecture from Princeton University, Seegers was Chief Editor of AGENDA: Can we Sustain Our Ability to Crisis? (Actar, 2009) while at JDS/Julien De Smedt Architects.
“The Montenegro Pavilion echoed the Treasures in Disguise concept not only in its content, but even in its organization and location. Finding the pavilion was like a treasure hunt, with a big X on a map marking the location of the prize. The exhibition deals with an issue encountered in all post-communist countries. Politics and architecture usually potentiate one another, yet when the two collide the results can be tragic. The reuse, regeneration, and transformation of these structures are paramount. But in countries like Montenegro (or Albania), you first need to change the public perception of these buildings, which are currently lost in transitional limbo or, even worse, already demolished. They represent something that they are not. They have no chance to speak for themselves through the value and function of their architecture, but are instead ascribed superficial descriptors; they are the only objects that still bear the burden of a hard transition from isolated, ideological islands to free market, global capitalism. The size of the models stuck in the small spaces of the pavilion reflects the hidden potential waiting to burst out of the “Soviet modern.“ The pictures of the majestic Hotel Fjord juxtaposed with a large-scale model of its current condition create a space inhabited by possibility in the narrow corridor that separates them. I had seen pictures of the venue on Facebook a couple of days before the opening and could not help but notice what looked like one of the famous sealed wells of Venice in the middle of the pavilion’s small interior courtyard. These objects are iconic manifestations of transformation and the importance of continuity in design, architecture and urbanity; they are a symbol not only of Venice, but also of all the successful Mediterranean communities that have learned to cope with their long and rich history by continually changing and adapting to new contexts. It is examples like these that post-communist countries should learn from and it is about time that the unexplored Balkans get the attention they deserve on the international stage.“
Joni Baboçi is an architect based in Tirana, Albania, where he practices out of Studio A with his father and sister. Baboçi is currently working at Atelier Albania to identify and implement experimental planning tools and processes to help the country leapfrog its slow pace of development.
Jana Kocbek and Davor Katušić, photo by Kontrastika
“Visiting the Montenegro Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia was a super nice experience. By taking the advantage of the small pavilion, you managed to make a powerful exhibition: powerful in presentation and, more importantly, in content. The selected buildings on display are truly impressive treasures. We hope that you’ll manage to rescue some of them!”
Jana Kocbek and Davor Katušić run the architecture firm Katušić Kocbek Arhitekti. Based both in Zagreb and Ljubljana, the firm won a Golden Pencil award in 2014 for their design of the Dojmi pavilion in Kotor, Montenegro