While there is no lack of high profile contemporary architecture projects in Venice - Tadao Ando, OMA and David Chipperfield are all contributors to the city's urban fabric - it is not every day that a ground-up new build structure makes its appearance in the magical island city. Yet with the opening of the 2015 Art Biennale this May, Venice will also celebrate the opening of the brand new Australian Pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale.
Designed by international architecture practice Denton Corker Marshall, the new building is located within the biennale grounds, among the Giardini Park's green gardens that also host another 28 country-focus pavilions as well as the Central Pavilion. Its design marks a sure departure from the country's previous Venice home.
'The original Australian Pavilion designed by Philip Cox was always intended as a temporary building, shipped to Venice in 1988, after Australia received approval to build in the gardens,' explains founding partner John Denton. 'Designed around two trees and on split levels, the pavilion was difficult for some artists to show in, particularly as art practice moved away from paintings on walls and towards sculptural and installation pieces. The new Australian Pavilion incorporates a 240.5 m sq white exhibition space where art is the focus. A neutral space of polished concrete floor, the new gallery allows for art exhibitions of all types.'
Striking the right balance, both in terms of contents and context, was key. The architects wanted to create something 'simple yet powerful', which would make for a distinct presence within the biennale grounds, but would also remain sensitive to its world-famous, historic surroundings. They also needed to produce a design that would make for a comfortable and modern home for displays but at the same time wouldn't compete with them. The answer was found in a gesture that combines a simple, white exhibition box with a fairly subtle, external black box.
While the white exhibition space is conceived as a clean, large and rectilinear volume - in order to allow for maximum flexibility for the installations within - the black granite-clad exterior incorporates a dramatic cantilever over the canal, as well as openings on three façades, revealing glimpses of the interior. The entrance was re-orientated: 'One of the biggest achievements of the new pavilion design was siting the building so that the entry now faces the bridge over the canal and the open spaces opposite, with better engagement with the other pavilions,' says Denton.
This play between inside and outside creates the idea of a 'mysterious black box' that changes character as the exhibitions within it change, explain the architects. The box opens up in the spring, summer and autumn, when the biennales take place, and remains closed during the winter, adapting to the seasons and its contents, in full harmony with its leafy surroundings.