‘Two-way traffic’: Liza Fior and Katherine Clarke of Muf discuss the Villa Frankenstein
Muf Architecture’s British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale takes a strand of British architectural practice rooted in research and collaboration to the world stage. Here we preview the collaborations with artists, scientists and schools that created the ‘Villa Frankenstein’
In different ways they have taken Venice home, creating a two-way traffic of ideas, knowledge and experience that has left its mark on both archipelagos.
With uncharacteristic obedience to Kazuyo Sejima’s brief, ‘people meet in architecture’, we spent the weeks since our commission assembling the collaborators and their agendas. They have in common a concern with ecosystems, both natural and social. All remind us that Venice is a living but fragile city, subject not only to rising water levels, but to grand plans, responses to mass tourism, transport, resources for schools and public services, and how to respond to a trajectory of development that is common to tourism and to gentrification and regeneration.
But like Ruskin and those who went before and after him, we too brought with us our own preoccupations. So we did treat the commission as an opportunity for another Muf project, process-driven, speeded up to fit the biennale’s timetable.
This ‘unexhibited project’ represents the process of trying to get it right: attempts to make the pavilion more public and to maintain different uses of it in such a way that they can coexist with one another; the making of relationships; and the redeployment of budgets (we sourced most objects in Venice, which reduced our shipping budget). The Stadium of Close Looking ensured what was proposed both fitted the context and was sufficiently open-ended to allow future use after the designers have gone home. This process could describe any of the public realm projects by our studio just as well as it describes the period of our engagement with the biennale.
At a moment when architecture in the UK - and especially in London – is less about building and more about what to do with inert sites and (with the exception of the Olympics) abandoned capital programmes, it is more important than ever to value what is there before the masterplan or the strategic framework takes hold. Muf has a standing preoccupation with the temporary as a mode of reflection on the fixed. The temporary can be described as a test of the possible, a means to suspend disbelief and experience the risk of the unknown. As a masterplanning tool, the temporary is a way to introduce occupation into inert development sites and ensure that the fragile but desirable programmes of play, culture, the bucolic and the ‘off-menu’ (normally the first to be value-engineered out of a project) are inscribed in the site. This reverse form of masterplanning establishes strategy through detail; use is described through use. Observation is proposition, the personal is political and detail is strategy.
We would like to express our gratitude to all the collaborators who entered into this experiment with us, and to wish well those who take advantage of the pavilion in the months to come