The Venice Architecture Biennale 2014 – Craig McCormack
The idea of an Unbuilt Australia existed prior to the release of the biennale’s theme of Modernity 1914-2014. Such is the nature of the idea; it was a simple enough task to realign it to its new thematic home. We always liked the idea of presenting architecture that never made the cut. It tells a more compelling story in most cases. It’s like someone who dies to soon; they remain that way forever, an unrealistic and uncompromising edition. And so Unbuilt Australia grew the suffix of 1914 – 2014 once the theme had been determined. Our local team of Rene Van Meeuwen, Simon Anderson, Sophie Giles, Matt Delroy-Carr, and I had grown to include Melbournian Philip Goad to dilute the western waters and add his talent to the pool. We journeyed eastward to convince the powers that be of the AR technology we were intent on using. This led to institute members walking around Bradfield Park inside an augmented reality pavilion we had geo-positioned there, from Perth.
Twenty three projects in all were chosen, selected to represent an alternative narrative to Australia’s modernity, including the at-the-time-incomplete Denton Corker Marshall pavilion. Eleven temporary projects were determined by voting through the institute with final choice determined by the creative directors and eleven historic projects were selected by Goad and Anderson. We knew we couldn’t please everybody and I’m pretty certain that we didn’t. Once the projects had been determined work commenced in earnest on digitising all of the selected projects and designing the accompanying catalogue. Including the creative directors, students that toiled on the augmented reality models, and contributors for the accompanying catalogue, numbers totalled roughly 140. This process required a patience I am still yet to manifest. But I can feign it convincingly now.
Situated across the canal from the new Australian pavilion in a sunken courtyard (a site that was fought for) bordered by Greece, Romania, Poland, and Brazil, the pavilion served as an information centre and fixed exhibition site. The ‘Orange Cloud’ was designed as the frontispiece for the exhibition; the tangible element, a physical pavilion. Having worked as a volunteer at the pavilion for a short stint during winter, a roof over my head and a seat to recline on were very welcome, even though the orange, translucent material made all that entered look like an ‘oompa loompa’. Manufactured in Perth, by two different contractors, with completion due three months prior to the opening of the Biennale (due to shipping times), we crossed our collective fingers for its successful construction in Venice as we simply ran out of time to do a test run in Perth prior to it leaving.
The construction was regularly frustrating, involving more often than not, the tracking down of something so common to Bunnings but rarer than rocking horse shit in Venezia. It seems a universally acknowledged fact within the Biennale that all will not go as planned. Making friends with all of your neighbours is a wise course of action that is necessary for the completion of most pavilions, it would seem.
The real achievement of our exhibition was the placement of all of our exhibited projects placed digitally using GPS in select sites across Venice. These projects could then be experienced using the exhibition’s augmented reality app at a 1:1 scale using a smart device as an oculus, revealing Australia’s invasion of Venice as a temporary site. Of course finalising app development and having to check each augmented project across a tourist-infested Venice with inconsistent internet coverage meant for a frustration that equalled its physical counterpart in its completion.
I don’t know if you can completely prepare for exhibiting in the Biennale; at least when you have no permanent space and intend on using technology that remains in its infancy for your exhibit. You have to role with the punches. Luckily there are far worse places to be rolling and you quickly realise that you are not rolling alone. Every now and again you get time to catch your breath, or a sliver of a vista as you hustle through the winding streets on some pavilion related crusade. There are plenty of long evenings after the site curfew to be had with other teams, mulling over the day, spritz in hand, out doing each other with tales of near failure and narrowly averted disaster. Except for Norway. They always seemed to have everything under control.