• O'Donnell and Tuomey's Vessel.

    Credit: Ian Volner

    O'Donnell and Tuomey's "Vessel."
  • A portrait by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza.

    Credit: Ian Volner

    A portrait by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza.

So what happens in Venice when the Biennale preview is over and the global media spotlight turns off? As it turns out, it actually gets better.

The weather Thursday was the hottest of the week, but with fewer bigwigs and journos running around it was easier to navigate the city. And much easier to see the installations in the Arsenale: understated projects—like artist Mario Nanni’s sculptural experiments in light and dark—suddenly seemed to jump into relief, while larger ones—like Irish firm O’Donnell + Tuomey’s timber-built Vessel—acquired a new sense of mystery and subtlety. The general public who drifted through “Common Ground” was generally better behaved than the press had been; the vast installation devoted to the new Novartis corporate campus in Basel, Switzerland, which includes projects by some dozen-odd major international designers, could finally be explored in depth without someone asking you to move aside so they could take a photo.

There was also more time to take in the goings-on offsite. At the Negozio Olivetti, the outpost of the industrial-design stalwart on the Piazza San Marco, the Carlo Scarpa-designed building is now host to a show that recreates a 1962 exhibition of work by Italy’s Gruppo T and Gruppo Enne avant-gardists. Just a short walk to the north, the museum of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia debuted “Alvaro Siza: Viagem Sem Program”, a look at the highly accomplished portraiture sketches of the renowned Portuguese architect (and recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at this year's Biennale).

The last event of the day proved to be one of the surprising highlights of the Biennale. The old palazzo housing the Swiss Consulate has been turned into the “Salon Suisse”, an adjunct space of the Swiss Pavilion for evening talks and parties. On the program yesterday evening was an early Wim Wenders film, Alice In The City, introduced by architect and Pavilion curator Miroslav Sik. The oddly-affecting road movie seemed almost to express one’s own experience of the Biennale, as its weary, travel-worn protagonist reels from having seen “so many images” on his long journey.

Click here to read ARCHITECT's complete coverage of the Venice Biennale.