It’s the Space, Stupid!

The twelfth Venice Biennale of Architecture opened on August 29. The main show is in the Biennale Gardens and the Corderie (former rope-works) of the Arsenale, and has been widely applauded in the press (for example, here and here). This is, in large part, put down to the curator : Japanese architect, Kazuyo Sejima. Sejima is one half of the firm, SANAA, this year’s Pritzker prize winner, known for designing the New Museum in New York and the new Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne.

It's the Space, Stupid!

Sanaa, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York

Sejima’s chosen theme, “People Meet in Architecture”, is suitably vague and has been seen as an attempt to move away from previous shows’ obsession with buildings. The 2010 show engages more with the idea of inhabiting space and architectural experience. Sejima is the first woman to curate the Architecture Biennale and reviewers have pointed out that the show’s success is, to a certain degree, thanks to the lack of macho architecture that has dominated in recent years. The ambience is also in keeping with the economic climate, hardly conducive to impressive edifices of capitalist glory.

Reviewers are fairly unanimous in their choice of highlights, including Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson’s installation, ‘Your Split Second House‘ – an ethereal play on light and water and ‘Cloudscapes‘, a walkway that disappears into an artificially generated cloud, by German Engineers ‘Transsolar Klima Engineering‘ and Japanese ‘Tetsuo Kondo Architects‘ .

As for the 53 national pavilions, the Hungarian offering has been widely praised, paying homage to the art of drawing with an installation made of suspended yellow pencils. The Golden Lion for best national participation went to the Kingdom of Bahrain, for its contribution, which is made up of reconstructed traditional fisherman’s huts. This seems an unlikely proposition from a country that is more often associated with the rapid development and architectural one-upmanship of the Persian Gulf, but reflects the more modest, contemplative character of this year’s Biennale.


In Paris, a smaller scale show also tackles architecture in its conceptual form, this time in the context of the comic strip. ‘Archi & BD – la ville dessiné’ (‘Architecture and Comic strips – the city illustrated’), curated by Jean-Marc Thévenet, head of Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême and Francis Rambert, head of the Institut Français d’Architecture, deals with the illustrated city—or even the imagined city—be it as a backdrop to a cartoon or an architect’s work in progress.

It's the Space, Stupid!

Antonio Sant'Elia, Building Design, c.1914

Drawings on show by futurist architect Antonio Saint’Elia or French architect Auguste Perret’s “Ville-tours”, a new idea for suburbs in which the city is surrounded by enormous interconnected tower blocks, are echoed in the plunging perspectives or dystopic visions of comics artists.

New York and the early megalopolises of the 20th century (think Gotham city and Metropolis) feature heavily as the epitome of the modern. From Winsor McCay’s ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland‘, one of the first comic strips to be published in the Sunday papers, to wistful European representations – Alain Saint Ogan’s ‘Zig & Puce

Caroline Rossiter is a writer based in Paris, her work has appeared in European Comic Art and she blogs about art in Paris at more


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