What People Have to Say: Brendan MacFarlane, Jan Edler, Lena Kleinheinz and Martin Ostermann, Lisa Corva, Mateja Vehovar, and Wilfried Hackenbroich
Brendan MacFarlane and Dominique Jakob, photo by Alexandre Tabaste
“The Montenegro Pavilion was really a great pavilion; I didn’t stop talking about it with other people. It was the anti-heroic aspect of the exhibition that I liked so much. Lost or empty buildings are so much more powerful than those that are lived in—they represent a lost utopia. I suspect that it is not the restoration of these pieces that is the imminent subject; it is their empty presence.”
Brendan MacFarlane is one half of Jakob + MacFarlane, an architecture firm based in Paris. Together with Dominique Jakob, he’s designed and built a number of buildings, including the Orange Cube in Lyon, the FRAC Center in Orléans, and Docks, City of Fashion and Design, in Paris.
Jan Edler, photo by Adeline Seidel
“The Montenegro Pavilion, with its exhibition “Treasures in Disguise,” was one of the hidden jewels among the national contributions at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale.
This was due not only to the simple yet tactile exhibition design, with beautiful large scale models of four late-modernist structures built in Montenegro, but especially to the surprising selection of buildings. Rejecting the common practice of showcasing a country’s “best-practice,” the curators presented buildings—Hotel Fjord, Kayak Club Galeb, Spomen Dom, and Dom Revolucije—that failed and have mostly been abandoned. Instead of following the reflex to “discard” them as intrinsically being tied to the failure of a society and a political system, the exhibition dissects the buildings’ beauty and hidden spatial potential, hopefully opening up the horizon for possible second lives. Montenegro deserves recognition not only for the courage to present itself at the Biennale in such an unconventional way, but also for providing an important spark to the ongoing discussion on sustainability in the building sector. These structures represent a huge amount of potential energy and deserve a thorough evaluation of their future possibilities—this seems more intelligent than the erasure of all unwanted reminders of the country’s political past.“
Jan Edler, an artist and architect, founded realities:united with his brother Tim Edler in Berlin. Flussbad, their urban plan to turn a stretch of the River Spree in Berlin into a 745-meter-long public “swimming pool,” was awarded the Global Holcim Awards Bronze in 2012 and recently received 110,000 Euros from the German Lottery Foundation to further develop the project.
Martin Ostermann and Lena Kleinheinz, photo by Jan Kopetzky
“For those of us who are looking out for what is to come in architecture, this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale was a challenge. Retreating into an archive of artifacts from the past, the main exhibition stops short of suggesting any position, outlook, or inspiration. The national pavilions largely adopted this same approach to the past, often leaving in the mist what the possible connection to contemporary issues could be. Reducing architecture to building elements and detaching walls, floors, and ceilings from one another robs the visitor of any sense of space. The Montenegro Pavilion addresses these deficiencies in two ways. Entering the pavilion, one encounters space: that of the gallery occupied by oversized spatial installations. Too big to be perceived as architectural models but too small to walk in, the installations embrace the visitors, who can almost sense the smells inside the original buildings that they represent. The chosen buildings are ruins—one was never finished, almost all are left abandoned. Their uses and designations as physical representations of the state have been outmoded over time. They are clearly from yesterday and thereby continue the Biennale thread of looking back. But their prominent locations, in combination with their redundancies, immediately trigger questions about their futures. The mind oscillates between the past, a different and forever lost political and economic condition; the present, structures void of use and meaning; and a future yet to be shaped. The Venice Biennale, at its best, is a place to investigate, discuss, discover, question, and imagine the past and future of architecture—the Montenegro Pavilion has the full spectrum.”
Lena Kleinheinz and Martin Ostermann are the founders and principals of Berlin-based magma architecture. The interdisciplinary firm won numerous awards for the design and construction of the Olympic and Paralympic Shooting Arenas at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Yugo Reloaded. That was for me the Montenegro Pavilion, for me as a non-architect, a ‘glam cheap’ journalist and writer. The hidden force of the four beautiful, forgotten, decadent works of architecture chosen for the pavilion; and the stories they hide, glimpses of another era and other visionary, maybe more utopian times. I liked the wallpaper on the models reproducing graffiti, moss, and urban decay—a contemporary archi-wallpaper. And I like the fact that architecture, even if rotten and on the verge of crumbling, can still speak to us, whatever our nationality, profession, or passions. Stories whispering to my ear: and yes, I do listen.”
Lisa Corva is an Italian journalist and writer. She’s the author of many books, including Glam Cheap and Ultimamente mi sveglio felice, and blogs here.
“As a native of Yugoslavia and today a dual citizen of Slovenia and Switzerland, I am impressed by the extensive history of my native country. To see a generation building objects so bold and ambitious with such a strikingly natural relationship to their communities is very inspiring. The playful presentation of these treasures in disguise by a group of contemporary architects and curators gives me hope that there is still room for emotions in architecture today and in the future. The Montenegrin contribution is a must-see for every visitor to this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale.”
Mateja Vehovar is the co-founder and co-principal of the Zürich-based architecture firm Vehovar & Jauslin. They recently earned praise for their cloud-like canopy for a bus station in Aarau in Switzerland.
“Treasures in Disguise—the Montenegro Pavilion at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale—was a great architectural experience. It has drawn attention to four modernist projects from the former Yugoslav era, which are today unused and might disappear soon. This exhibition might help save these projects, but it also shows in an intriguing way their architectural qualities.
The scale of the models is unusually large; the models seem to burst through the exhibition space. The visitor is drawn into the buildings and is immersed in their spaces. Without much further explanation, the qualities of each building become an experience for the visitors. This excellent exhibition design effectively argued for the value of these unique modernist buildings.”
Wilfried Hackenbroich is the co-principal of Hackenbroich Architekten, a firm focusing on architecture and urbanism in Berlin. He is the author of UN-Urbanism and Transit Spaces, and has taught at the University of Art in Berlin, the AA in London, and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.