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A New Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: Sign the Petition Calling for an Open Competition (UPDATED)

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The Giardini, an exception within Venice. Photo © 2010 Alan Miller.

The good news is that the Australia Council for the Arts has announced plans to build a new Australian pavilion in Venice, the bad news is that it plans to choose a design based on an invited competition. This is an invitation to mediocrity, which is coming out of our ears at the moment. A new biennale pavilion would seem to be the ideal excuse for a big public competition, which in my opinion should be open to artists as well as architects. As a brief, a biennale pavilion is not exactly the Large Hadron Collider. Australia was lucky to score one of the last sites left in the Giardini, and what gets built there ought to be be surprising, delightful and provocative. Australians love their sheds, and an open competition would be an opportunity to build the Ur-Shed, the mother shed, as it were. If you agree, then please sign the petition set up by OpenHAUS.

Our review of last year’s architecture biennale can be found here.

UPDATE, 1 August 2011:

After more than 750 architects and concerned citizens signed the petition, the Australia Council for the Arts has decided that the competition for the new Australian Venice Biennale Pavilion will be open to everyone…as long as you’re an Australian architect with international experience who has already designed a public gallery.

This excludes just about all of the young offices in the country who would have knocked the project out of the park, and for whom it would have been the job of a lifetime. The restriction would also appear to shut out the likes of Pritzker Prize winner Glenn Murcutt, who only works in Australia.

Oh well, at least we know what the short list will look like. There will be

  • The faceted, angular one, its geometry based on a parametric algorithm which uses animation software to mathematically combine the Venetian gothic with the hidden geometries of Titian’s Pietà and Sansovino’s library,
  • The blobby one based on a Doge’s hat that will not win,
  • The translucent “light box” designed to flatter red wine drinkers as they contemplate its elegiac reflection in the adjacent canal, the Venetian zanzare feasting on their blood,
  • The box with an exquisitely filigree skylight which ends up just that little bit clunkier than in the renderings,
  • The super-sensible one with “tree-like” slender columns,
  • The other super-sensible one which is ten percent more boring than the first super-sensible one,
  • The bush modernist one conceived in the tragically wavering lines of a 0.4 black Artline on an airplane tray table, replete with a rainwater retention pond in case of bushfire,
  • The one which inappropriately imposes some regrettable element of Australian popular culture on the Giardini (the architectural equivalent of Tina Arena’s Champs-Elyssées rendition of “Advance Australia Fair”),
  • The one with the heroic cantilever,
  • The one which makes a fetish of its Carlo Scarpoid detailing,
  • The eco one with louvres and stuff growing on it,

Did I miss any? Which will win? Stay tuned…

Alan Miller

About Alan Miller

Alan Miller is a graduate of the Sydney University Faculty of Architecture and holds a BFA in film from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. A fanatical cyclist, he is a former Sydney Singlespeed Champion. Alan Miller reports on cycling, film, architecture, politics, and other sports in his letters from Sydney. He won the 2011 Architects’ Journal Writing Prize.

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