Of the 66 national pavilions in this year’s Venice architecture biennale, the one presented by Switzerland is bound to stand out. Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist explains how he and architects Herzog & de Meuron have teamed up with artists to produce a “a stroll through a fun palace”.
Article published by Swissinfo.ch on 4 and 6 June 2014 (links at end)

Pavillon of Switzerland at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, "Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price – A stroll through a fun palace" curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist © Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia

Toolbox to invent the future

The point of departure, shared by all national pavilions, is the theme Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014.  As director of the 14th International Architecture Venice Biennale, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has invited participants to revisit recent architectural history and use it as a toolbox to invent the future. The number of participating nations has risen 20 percent this year.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, recognized as one of the most powerful figures in art, was invited by the biennale jury of the Swiss Arts Council (Pro Helvetia) to curate this year’s Swiss pavilion along the lines of his ground-breaking Utopia Station for the 2003 Venice art biennale.

He has chosen to honour two visionary thinkers who have profoundly influenced the design of architecture in the 21st century, and whom he knew well. But instead of an exhibition, Obrist, with his hallmark curatorial touch, proposes a creative platform at the intersection of art and architecture.

Lucius Burckhardt, a Swiss political economist and sociologist (inventor of “strollology”), and Cedric Price, a British architect, who both passed away in 2003, were regarded as among the most visionary thinkers of the 20th century, in the words of Obrist: “redefining architecture as revolving around people, space and performance”.

Put more simply, they were the first to approach architecture not from a builder’s perspective (how), but in response to the changing needs of the user (why).

Cedric Price

Lucius Burckhardt

Lucius Burckhardt, 1977, Photo: Annemarie Burckhardt

Fun Palace

A stroll through a fun palace, as the pavilion project is called, refers to Price’s most influential design, although it was never built.The 1961 Fun Palace pioneered the concept that a building should be impermanent and flexible, and that it should be completed by the user. More importantly, it was to be “a laboratory of fun”.

“Very few architects changed architecture with so few means,” Rem Koolhaas acknowledged of Price, who built very little.

«Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price – A stroll through a fun palace» is therefore a tribute to major figures not yet known to the public at large. It is a multi-faceted project in which Obrist has included a phenomenal cocktail of architects, artists and scholars in a collaborative environment.

“Inspired by Sergei Diaghilev, I’m interested in the idea of bringing disciplines together to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, a comprehensive art work.”

Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russes at the beginning of the 20th century, brought all art forms together when he would commission Stravinsky to compose the music, Picasso to create the decors and Nijinsky to dance.  He answered: “Surprise me!” to those who aspired to work with him.

Creative disruption

According to Obrist, both Price and Burckhardt would have hated the idea of a static exhibition: “They would have adopted a performative way of presenting their archives, which include many drawings. They really wanted artists to be involved, because artists lead a permanent investigation and research into new formats for exhibitions.”

The artists invited to contribute to this year’s Swiss pavilion have all engaged in a dialogue with architecture before. Obrist organized a series of “think tanks” (he also calls them collaboratoriums) to reflect on how to develop a mobile display for the pavilion, “one that can be always alive, where different facets of the archives can be discovered every day”.

Obrist first approached Herzog & de Meuron for the part of the exhibition dedicated to their former teacher Lucius Burckhardt, but it became clear that they should also do the overall design of the pavilion.

“Herzog and de Meuron have often worked with artists such as Thomas Ruff and Gerhard Richter, so I thought it would be interesting to bring them together with a younger generation of artists with whom they have never worked before.”

Obrist continued: “The more we talked about it, the less ‘physical’ the exhibition became, and in the end they decided on a concept that will allow, in their words, ‘the mental universe of Lucius and Cedric to be floating in space’”.

What the mental universe might look like in the eyes of architects famous for the Tate Modern in London and the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing will be unveiled to the public on 7 June.

Artist response

“The idea of this exhibition in an experimental format has been an inspiration to the artists”, Obrist observed. He often works with the same group of artists on projects that require a transdisciplinary approach and a form of disruptive creativity.

The French artist, Philippe Parreno, who recently filled the entire Palais de Tokyo in Paris, has won wide acclaim for successfully redefining exhibitions as an experience, a result he obtains by using a diversity of media. For the Swiss Pavilion, he has devised a system of blinds to structure the space.

Parreno will be joined by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, who brings her inspirational neons and Berlin-based Tino Seghal, whose “constructed situations” are about as close to the ephemeral as art can ever be. Carsten Höller, known for his playful installations, has planted a tree.

Other artists will pay homage to Burckhardt and Price, such as Turner-Prize winner, Liam Gillick, Dan Graham and the ever-surprising Koo Jeong-a who will be presenting the installation Cedric & Frand, a work made from 3,000 individual magnets (in 1997 Price presented a show called Magnets on the theme of anticipatory architecture).

A strong visual intervention above the entrance to the Swiss Pavilion by Japanese architects Atelier Bow-Wow will allow a new view of the Giardini from the roof.

Price and Burckhardt would no doubt have been amused: their own visionary thinking has helped transform the Swiss Pavilion into “a stroll through a fun park”, so far removed from the usual fare of static exhibitions.

14th International Architecture Exhibition
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia
Swiss Biennale portal

Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price – A stroll through a fun palace is presented by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia at the Swiss Pavilion in the Giardini from 7 June to 23 November 2014.

A rendezvous of questions
Students from ETH, the technical university in Zurich where Burckhardt taught, as well as from other institutions, will be present throughout the summer to enter into dialogue with the visitors and reveal various parts of the archives on different days. The show will function as an architectural school that will reflect on how the contemporary landscape is changing.

Obrist said that the Swiss Pavilion “will be a rendezvous of questions”, with debates and marathons that will allow “information to become knowledge”. The opening days will feature a series of discussions on architecture, landscape design and modes of display. During those days, Dorothea von Hantelmann will present vignettes on the past, present and future function of art institutions.

Impressive list of participants invited by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Architects: Herzog & de Meuron, Atelier Bow-Wow (who will transform the outside of the pavilion), Lorenza Baroncelli (Scientific director of the pavilion), Stefano Boeri, Mirko Zardini (Director of Canadian Centre for Architecture), Elizabeth Diller (of Diller Scofidio + Renfro fame)
Artists: Koo Jeong-a, Philippe Parreno, Tino Sehgal, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Dan Graham, Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Höller, Rirkrit Tiravanija. Agnès B
Others: Dorothea von Hantelmann (Performativity for visual arts), Samantha Hardingham (Price), Asad Raza, Eleanor Bron (partner of Cedric Price)
Commissioners for Pro Helvetia: Sandi Paucic, Marianne Burki


Cedric Price, Fun Palace: Interior perspective, 1964, black and white ink over gelatin silver print, Cedric Price fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal

Cedric Price (1934–2003) was an English architect and influential teacher and writer on architecture. He believed that architectural design should not be subjected to definitive aesthetic statements, but instead provide flexibility to the users.  He wrote of his more famous project, the unbuilt Fun Palace (1961): “Its form and structure (resembles) a large shipyard in which enclosures such as theatres, cinemas, restaurants, workshops, rally areas, can be assembled, moved, re-arranged and scrapped continuously”.
The revolutionary Pompidou Centre (1977) in Paris by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano was inspired by the Fun Palace.
The Cedric Price Archive is housed by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which has actively contributed to the present project.

Choice quotes drawn from Price’s conversations with Hans Ulrich Obrist:
“Architecture does not need material imperialism.”
“At present, architecture doesn’t do enough, it doesn’t enrich or enliven people’s lives as, say, the Internet, or a good story or music does.”
“Dialogues involve people with the future and with intention, even if only for themselves, so that the future might be a bit better than the present.”

Lucius Burckhardt (1925–2003), was a Swiss political economist, sociologist and art historian who invented ‘strollology’, a science of the walk. As planning theorist, he integrated both the visible and invisible aspects of our cities, political and economic considerations and social relations into the processes. His teachings continue to gain influence, particularly with regard to sustainability, since he promoted the idea of renegotiating objects, instead of adding new ones.

Hans Ulrich Obrist
Co-Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London and author of the on-going Interview Project, Obrist has curated more than 250 shows. Architecture has also been part of his curatorial practice since meeting Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron as a teenager. Each summer, the Serpentine commissions a summer pavilion by one of the world’s greatest architects.
For Utopia Station in the 2003 Venice art biennale, speakers, writers, dancers, performers and musicians converged on the idea of utopia to create a project “which oscillated between inside and outside”.

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron established their office in 1978. They both studied architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ), where they had Lucius Burckhardt as a professor. Today Herzog & de Meuron is an international partnership working on projects across Europe, Asia, North and South America. In 2001 the practice was awarded the The Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel equivalent in architecture.

p_0_left_to_right_jacques_herzog,_pierre_de_meuron___gabriel_fraga_de_cal (1)

Left to right Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron © Gabriel Fraga de Cal

Jacques Herzog on art collaborations (from Catherine Hürzeler’s 1997 interview)

“Having an artist collaborate with us simply adds another dimension. It has a great deal to do with decoration, with surfaces. The artist is even more accustomed to addressing the question of surfaces than the architect is and we try to take a radical approach to that issue in our architecture. So it’s almost inevitable that art and architecture are intertwined.”

“I just think that artists have a creative potential and that this potential can grow in depth or in a given direction in a way that is not open to architecture. Conversely, it has become necessary for artists to leave their studios and work with architects or urbanists. “

“As an artist you are less involved in transmission. In that respect an artist’s work is more intimate and places greater emphasis on searching and independent research. That’s the really important aspect of art today. It’s important for architects, too, but it always ties in with the communication aspect, otherwise you couldn’t cover such a broad range of activities. “

A Venezia il padiglione svizzero fa galleggiare le cose
Un pavillon vivant pour la Suisse
Schweizer “Spasspavillon” an der Biennale Venedig
When in Venice: Swiss pavilion lets things float

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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