At Venice Architecture Biennale, U.S. Pavilion exhibits “Dimensions of Citizenship”

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Every two years the global architecture community descends on Venice, Italy to get a taste of what’s current and future in architecture.

This year’s Biennial organizers are Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Irish firm Grafton Architecture, perhaps best-known for their remarkable 2008 University Campus UTEC Lima which demonstrates that brutalism is alive and less brutal.

Their theme for the Biennial, which takes place at the Arsenale complex of former naval shipyards in the ancient Italian city, is “Freespace.”

Their manifesto defines Freespace several ways, among them the “generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself.”

In the gardens surrounding their curated exhibition will be pavilions by 60 or so countries.

Mimi Zeiger, an LA-based architecture critic and writer, is co-curator of the U.S Pavilion, whose theme is “Dimensions of Citizenship.”

Zeiger joins DnA by Skype from Venice, during an installation that involved bringing everything by water.

“When you're planning an exhibition and then you get into the logistics of it, you never knew that your catalogs were going to come on a boat and be unloaded in a canal and then put on a cart and hand-carted to the door of the pavilion. So it's a little bit of the 21st century meets the 19th century,” Zeiger said.

She also explains “Dimensions of Citizenship”: a series of exhibits of maps, models, videos and renderings that illustrate “things from the scale of the body... all the way to the scale of the cosmos with stops along the way for the city, for the nation, for the region, for the globe.”

These themes are explored in installations by seven teams -- Amanda Williams + Andres L. Hernandez, in collaboration with Shani Crowe; Studio Gang; SCAPE; Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman; Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan, Robert Gerard Pietrusko with Columbia Center for Spatial Research; Keller Easterling with MANY; and Design Earth.

Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman explore “Nation” with Mexus, its name a combination of Mexico and the U.S., a giant map focused on the Tijuana Watershed, and representing a “transborder commons -- where we can have free exchange or a free flow of ecologies and rivers or flow of people,” Zeiger said.

Many people visit the Biennale during its four-month run to learn about where architecture is headed.

At the U.S. Pavilion you won’t necessarily find buildings, at least as they are conventionally understood, explains Zeiger.

At the scale of the citizen, for example, Amanda Williams, Andres Hernandez and Shani Crowe, an artist who has created hair sculptures for Solange, “have created a steel structure which is then hand woven with braided cord. So this piece is very metaphorical, very poetic, very tactile.” It is a form, Zeiger explains, “but it may not be a form that you've ever seen before.”

Braid study (2017), Shani Crowe. From: Thrival Geographies (In My Mind I See A Line), Amanda Williams + Andrew L. Hernandez, in collaboration with Shani Crowe. Courtesy of Shani Crowe