Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture, was the culmination of an ambitious global research project designed to make an original and far-reaching contribution to the debate about architecture in the UK.
The exhibition was shown in the British Pavilion for the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale 2012 directed by David Chipperfield with the theme ‘Common Ground’.
Co-curated with Vicky Richardson Director of Architecture, Design, Fashion at the British Council, the brief called for research to focus on what - and who - makes great architecture; considering issues such as construction, housing, planning, culture, education, procurement, architectural competitions and the role of the client. Our aim was to provide an injection of new ideas based on the collective research of architects, students, writers, critics and academics.
In January 2012 an open call for participation and proposals was launched; and Vicky and I hosted a series of discussions about the brief in London, Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh aimed at involving a wide-range of contributors. In March the best proposals were selected by the Venice Takeaway Advisory Panel and ten teams were tasked with unearthing case studies in locations around the world. The exhibition, beautifully designed by Born, charted their course in Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand and the USA.
In a deliberate decision to consider our teams as more than ‘participants’ we named them explorers and framed their trips as part of the UK’s history of looking to the rest of the world for inspiration and ideas. Trade voyages shaped the modern world; not only filling museums, botanical gardens and markets but also changing the way we think and introducing ideas that have become part of our culture. Today the flow of ideas is made possible by the travels of architects and by overseas students who come to the UK to study, and often stay to establish their own design studios or to work for British practices.
Venice Takeaway made the case for internationalism and expanding our horizons, in the process demonstrating the creative potential of sharing ideas across borders. Our hope from the start was that ideas discovered on Venice Takeaway's remarkable journey would continue to be explored and have a life beyond the exhibition. Projects such as dRMM’s Floatopolis started with Venice Takeaway and could go on to make a real change to the UK’s architectural landscape.
Venice Takeaway stands as a reminder of the important role that observation and thinking plays in the design process, taking inspiration from Albert Einstein who said, ‘If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?’