Venice Architecture Biennale Exhibition

Venice, 17-12-2018

This year was the Holy See’s first-time participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibition Vatican Chapels, commissioned by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, consisted of 11 chapels designed by architects from all over the world and placed in the woodlands of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

The brief, according to La Biennale institution was “an unusual challenge, since the designers had been asked to come to terms with a building that will be isolated and inserted in an utterly abstract natural setting, characterised by its openness to the water of the lagoon. In the forest where there are no destinations, and the environment is simply a metaphor of the wandering of life.”

The exhibitors were Andrew Berman (USA), Francesco Cellini (Italy), Javier Corvalàn (Paraguay), Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores (Spain), Norman Foster (UK), Teronobu Fujimori (Japan), Sean Godsell (USA), Carla Juacaba (Brazil), Smiljan Radic (Chile), Eduardo Souto de Moura (Portugal) and Francesco Magnani and Traudy Pelzel from MAP Studio (Italy).

The journey starts with a map of the island for orientation, however, it’s the sense of exploration that makes the experience so unique. The chapels are relatively isolated from each other, and their architectural style is completely different in all the cases.

If there’s anything in common between them is the meditative state they all drawn you into from the first moment they are on sight. 

From fully enclosed to no boundaries at all, from metal to stone, each architect had chosen a particular form language, the materiality in all cases is also quite distinct which makes us reflect in how the same brief can drive many different design processes and outcomes.

As hard as it is to highlight a few, our favourites were:

  • Eduardo Souto de Moura’s for is fascinating simplicity by using only limestone while playing with threshold, light, shadow and texture.

  • Carla Juaçaba’s for, again, using only one material, long, reflective steel rods, blending the challenging structure with the surrounding landscape.

  • Javier Corvalan’s unusual use of structural elements to create an enclosure, and due to its tilt, it draws your attention to the sky, while still perceiving the surrounding nature.