Venice Takeaway at the RIBA

VENICE TAKEAWAY EN ROUTE TO RIBA - Interview in AArchitecture 17

AArchitecture 17 interviewed Vanessa Norwood, head of AA Exhibitions and co-curator of the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, earlier this year where she discussed what was planned for the Biennale and what still needed to be done. Now that it’s over, we follow up by asking her to assess the success of the pavilion, respond to its criticism and comment on how reality matched up to her previous expectations. With the research and ideas embodied in the exhibition en route to be installed at RIBA for an opening in February next year, we were also curious as to how this change of context would impact the projects on display.

Before the Biennale, you were worried about what the British Pavilion would contain, having no clear idea what the explorers would bring back. Now that it’s over, were the results what you expected?

I’m not sure if worried is quite the right word! It was more a state of excited anticipation. Vicky Richardson and I had asked the explorers to record through a variety of means everything and everyone they came across on their research trips. I knew we would have a wealth of material; it was just impossible to imagine how it might look. In fact none of the images I held in my mind looked at all like our finished exhibition. I had certainly hoped that visiting the pavilion would reveal 10 personal voyages of discovery and I think that was completely successful. All of the explorers returned as ‘experts’ in their field of investigation and that passion for their subject matter really comes across in the show and the book.

What was your greatest success in putting together the British Pavilion and what was the biggest challenge?

I feel very proud that we pulled off such an ambitious project. Since the show was launched in late August the topics chosen by our explorers have proved to be totally relevant to the UK architectural landscape. The issue of school building in the UK has made headline news and Aberrant’s investigation into Niemeyer’s 1980s school building programme acts as a timely reminder that standardization can mean high quality. DRMM’s study of IJburg, a floating community close to Amsterdam, has been referred to in the press as paving the way for a serious investigation into the potential use of London waterways to provide new housing.Our biggest challenge without a doubt was the timeframe in which to pull off such a huge project but we always planned the show to last beyond the biennale’s life. I think the longevity of the explorers’ research proposals and the fact they were provocations to change British Architecture is becoming apparent. Bringing the show back to London will make their relevance even clearer.

Photographs by Valerie Bennet

Venice Takeaway exhibition design by Born