UN Studio
(Image credit: press)

Occasionally, the theme managed to eke out a well-constructed pavilion with a coherent intellectual underpinning. UN Studio's ‘The Changing Room’ installation slotted neatly between the Arsenale's thick brick columns, its looping white form appearing simultaneously grounded and ephemeral. Ben van Berkel, who together with Caroline Bos, has made a quiet virtue of delivering on their rendered promises with real buildings of genuine spatial complexity and intrigue.

On show within the white loop is a short film by Alexander McQueen, showing a model dancing with an industrial robot, each gracefully accompanying a Mozart sonata. In the end, the robot starts to spray the dander's white skirt, layering new pattern on the blank canvas. We spoke to him about the Biennale, its theme and their work.

Wallpaper*: What does 'beyond architecture’ mean to you?'

Ben van Berkel: Betsky's topic was to go beyond architecture and to question it. I like the idea that architecture might have been guided by many values. I was already preparing a similar topic with Caroline on the 'conspiracy of architecture'. We have to work with new topics. Maybe this pavilion is talking about architecture's autonomy. Or is it that architecture is influenced by external values? The movie inside the pavilion plays with those themes.

W*: Is this new architecture about personalisation?

BvB: Yes, we tend to forget that architecture is background. It's not as important as it thinks. It's overloaded with meaning.

W*: How did you generate this particular form?

BvB: We believe you can come up with a new abstract system, not like the reductivism of modernism. Instead, walls, floors and walls and structure become one. It's not the classical notion of reductiveness, but a new idea, one of calmness. It's a form of critique to computerise architecture. However, you can't often control the quality of spaces with computers. In a way it's similar to serial music - both forms play with the idea of similarity.

W*: so the language determines form, not the materials?

BvB: I'm interested in the idea of prototypical forms - like with a prototype car where you can eventually get maybe 10 designs out of one prototype. This pavilion is not a specific model for a building type. It's intensely designed. The problem with so-called parametric design is that you have to know where to edit. Also, the relationship between client and architect has changed. What is key for me is to learn how to edit.

W*: Is it difficult to avoid creating very naturalistic organic forms?

BvB: I'm more interested in translations that aren't literal, but how they operate like wave forms. There is a collapse moment within a wave when, the point where the structure becomes chaotic. The chaotic moment is very interesting. Nature is in a fine balance.

W*: Is this editing programme an ongoing process?

BvB: Our system means that we can be more functional and incredibly aesthetic. There's enormous complexity here, but there's also calmness. We want the kaleidoscopic quality of spatial experiences. Modernist architecture was very frontal in comparison.

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).