Arper at Venice Biennale

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For the British Pavilion at the the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010 the theme was Venice itself. Artistic director MUF architecture/art declared that the only items we should take from the UK should be eight small notebooks created by John Ruskin in the 19th century. Borrowed from the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University, Ruskin originally bought the notebooks in Venice and used them for research towards his great book, The Stones of Venice.

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Everything else in the exhibition would be sourced in the Veneto, an intention that contained a broader message: in any design project, start by looking at the detail of the place you find yourself.

So we were delighted to have the opportunity to work with Arper and to use their Leaf and Palm chairs in the Pavilion. Arper is both local and global. Based 20 km from Venice in Treviso, it sources the components the its furniture from producers that are part of the Veneto network, though the products have world-class design values.

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The Leaf chair, with its delicate wire frame outline, became an integral part of the Lagoon Room at the pavilion, a part of the exhibition dedicated to understanding the relationship between the city of Venice and its natural environment.

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In the centre of the room, a drawing table constructed by Giudecca-based carpenter Spazio Legno, invited visitors to sit at bright green versions of the chair and draw the birds that have their natural habitat in the Lagoon. Stuffed specimens (some of them now extinct) were on loan from the Venice Natural History Museum.

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They appeared to look out of the pavilion to the Lagoon, and, in the foreground, to a very large tank containing a live slice of Venetian Saltmarsh, complete with wild grasses, reeds, Sea Lavender and Samphire.

Created by scientists Jane da Mosto and Lorenzo Bonometto, the 9metre long tank was one of the most ambitious aspects of the pavilion and has proved to be a big attraction for hundreds of Venetian school children who visited the pavilion.

Now that the Biennale has closed, we hope to travel home light, and to find permanent locations for the exhibition contents in Venice. Only the Ruskin notebooks, and a few boxes of catalogues return to the UK. On the other hand, in what muf describe as the Two-way Traffic of the project, we take with us plenty of ideas that will find their way into future projects.

Edited by Vicky Richardson
Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion, British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion

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