This is the Incidental Space

Jenny Keller
4. June 2016
New technologies without the aesthetics of CAD (Photo: John Hill)

In the run-up to the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, Christian Kerez did not disclose many details about his intervention in the Swiss Pavilion. Having visited it, we are slightly disillusioned.

Exhibiting architecture with architecture. This was the approach of Christian Kerez, who is responsible for Switzerland’s contribution at this year’s Architecture Biennale. Now we can see what this specifically means – and at first we see no architecture. A quite aesthetic, but rather empty envelope stands in front of us, which is made of GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete – we had to look that up) and generates a room whose shape is predefined by the load-bearing structure. Resembling a sculpture, this bright envelope stands in the Swiss Pavilion, which is pleasantly empty. Technically demanding processes and coincidence design this room, which is not be a reference to existing architecture but represents an abstract form. One can enter the space, and this experience has some merit, but it does not stay for long.

Bruno Giacometti’s pavilion, which was conceived like a small art museum, is skilfully animated, thanks to art historian and curator Sandra Oehy. Based loosely on the principle that you can only break a rule if you know it, the walls in the sculpture hall are covered with wallpaper featuring close-ups of Kerez’ cavernous cloud, while the sculpture is standing in the hall of paintings. The title “Incidental Space” is displayed in-between, in the graphics room. There one finds the exhibited fragments of the afterwards scaled concrete formwork.

The wallpapered sculpture hall (Photo: Thomas Geuder)
Cautious intervention (Photo: Thomas Geuder)

Even though the overriding topic set by Alejandro Aravena, "Reporting from the Front," can be interpreted in various ways, the Swiss contribution is far apart from other contributions. It could be assumed that someone like Kerez was not overly influenced by Aravena’s overall theme. He wanted to draw attention to the interdisciplinarity of the architectural production – as this that was the "front" one was dealing with every day.

Christian Kerez looked for and found a new architectural solution by freeing himself from constraints and creating a design with a free vision. His incidental spatial structure met with a positive response; its radical nature was admired. However, this attitude embarrasses us a little because the high-tech construction is no applied research for Kerez, but an incidental instrument, a gimmick. Even Kerez cannot imagine that such rooms will be built en masse in the future. That’s a shame in view of squandered energy and resources. Taking the liberties of doing something like that is only possible in wealthy Switzerland if one is well connected to a research institute like the ETH.

You notice: Switzerland has other problems than the rest of the world. The architectural production is on a different level. This often works to the advantage of Swiss architecture, but sometimes it misses the bigger picture.

Peeking inside the spatial structure (Photo: John Hill)
Still life with Landi chairs. Although it is no sacred room, visitors have to take off their shoes if they want to enter the sculptures. (Photo: Jenny Keller)

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