Run-ins and overheards peppered day two of the Venice Architecture Biennale, as crowds shuttled back and forth between the national pavilions in the Giardini and the International Exhibition in the Arsenale some 15 minutes to the west. Between a second cascade of exhibition debuts and special lectures, never has the phrase "walked off your feet" seemed so achingly apt.
First stop: the Giardino delle Vergini, a grassy nook hidden away just beyond the vast storehouse where biennale curator David Chipperfield’s “Common Ground” show is holding sway. The outdoor installations are an extension of the main event, a little ensemble of structures by a select group of designers, among them Eduardo Souto de Moura, Hon. FAIA, and Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA. Especially compelling was the much-anticipated documentary short from director Wim Wenders on reclusive Swiss designer Peter Zumthor, catching the Pritzker winner in unguarded moments at home and around the office.
Hours later and back in the Giardine, Switzerland was at the fore once again, as Chinese architect Wang Shu joined Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, and others for a roundtable chat in the national pavilion’s forecourt. The Swiss theme this year, “And now the ensemble!”, urged a reconsideration of context—an appropriate setting for a place-sensitive designer like Wang. Post-event, as pavilion crowds began to thin, historian and curator Jean-Louis Cohen lingered between the American and Israeli exhibitions. He pronounced himself “pleased” with the progress of his upcoming MoMA show on Le Corbusier, set to open late next spring.
Perhaps the finest moment of the afternoon happened on returning to the Arsenale. For the first time at the Venice Biennale, Kuwait has fielded an exhibition, joining Kosovo, Peru, Turkey, and Angola as this year’s new arrivals. The installation, titled “Kethra”, features sound modules suspended from the ceiling, projecting (with sometime startling volume and clarity) voices from ongoing research being undertaken by the exhibition team. Adding to the appeal, the vernissage was lavishly catered with Middle Eastern goodies, topped off—as all good things in Venice must be—with gelato.