Ahead of this week’s opening of the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, Strelka Mag goes over the last four expositions at the Russian Pavilion.
Russia has participated in the Venice Biennale from the very beginning, since 1895. Its first permanent pavilion was opened in 1914. At the invitation of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and the President of the Imperial Academy of Arts, architect Alexei Schusev created a project in the Neo-Russian style.
This year, the curators, co-founders of the Irish office of Grafton Architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, called on participants to bring their own vision of "free space" to Venice. The Russian pavilion, which opens on May 26, is called ‘Station Russia’ and features waiting rooms, storage chambers, and depots.
Strelka Mag put together a summary of Russia’s pavilions since 2010.
THE RUSSIA FACTORY, 2010
The project revolved around the reconstruction of abandoned factories in small towns, turning them into attractive tourist centers. The city of Vyshny Volochyok and four local textile factories were chosen as an example. Sergei Tchoban made a master plan and invited four architects: Nikita Yavein, Yevgeny Gerasimov, Sergei Skuratov, and Vladimir Plotkin.
Although the Russian pavilion was refurbished that year, the first hall was purposely left untouched, featuring bare brick walls and open beams as if it was an abandoned factory shop.
Inside, a movie about Vyshny Volochyok, directed by Dmitry Venikov, was played.
The main hall looked like a circular panorama of the town. Visitors could walk along wooden bridges while pictures were reflected in a mirror on the floor below them.
The last room showcased all the projects for the reconstruction of factories. Tchoban was in charge of the Aelita factory, retaining its production function but replacing the sewing of standard men's shirts with the production of branded clothes. Vladimir Plotkin created a minimalist congress hall for the old Ryabushinsky factory. Skuratov Grigory hid the central theater of Vyshny Volochok with a grassy roof.
The walls and dome of the pavilion were entirely covered with a mosaic of QR codes. Tablets were distributed at the entrance. By using them to aim at an individual square, visitors could see the general plan of Skolkovo, residential buildings, laboratories, Skolkovo Boulevard, and the results of a recent contest for the residential area of Technopark. Individual square panels turned on and off, at times lighting up entirely. The codes and their geometric ornament were designed by the SPEECH architects.
On the first floor, both rooms had a black box with cut-out luminous openings, through which one could view enlarged photographs of 37 declassified science cities in the 1990s.
The exhibition received a Special Mention – the first such award for the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. It was also praised by ArchDaily founder David Basulto, and Dezeen included Russia in the top 5 best pavilions of the Biennale.
FAIR ENOUGH, 2014
The idea was to look at modernism with universal codes which take root and live in each country in their own way.
Russia’s pavillion received that year another special award for "demonstrating the modern language of commercialization of architecture." The Fair Enough project was the most ironic statement on the principles of modernism. The exhibition looked like a big trade fair "Expo” where 20 major ideas of Russian architectural thought in the last hundred years were exhibited.
The project was prepared by a Strelka team led by Anton Kalgaev, Brendan McGetrick, and Daria Paramonova. Inside the pavilion were young women in bright pink caps behind information stands, as well as architectural critics playing the role of sales managers. In the language of late capitalism, they claimed that the concepts of Lissitzky and Chernikhov are still relevant and profitable today. The screen broadcasted a viral commercial, where Shchusev's ideas and projects were sold using his own quotes from scientific articles. Communist ideas of the Russian avant-garde "shaped the present" in search for consumers, sponsors, and managers.
V.D.N.H. Urban Phenomenon, 2016
Reflecting on the grand Soviet-era expo park in Moscow, the project V.D.N.H. Urban Phenomenon was about the utopia of the Soviet economy. The lower floor had illuminated white replicas of V.D.N.H sculptures: from the "Worker and Collective Farm Girl" to the bull from the "Meat Industry" pavilion.
A slideshow with a panorama of the park filled the central round room. There were plasmas with contemporary architects giving their opinions on the prospects of V.D.N.H. The "Study room" had a huge rack with a nearly complete collection of publications about V.D.N.H. selected by historian Pavel Nefedov and designed by the studio ABC Design.
As the theme was “Reporting from the front,” many pavilions talked about crises, refugees, and cheap construction. “V.D.N.H. Urban Phenomenon” caused a lot of controversy and some accused it of being off-theme.
The Chief Architect of Moscow and curator of the exhibition, Sergey Kuznetsov, answered that “V.D.N.H. is a social project of equality that can and should be developed on its territory.” Ekaterina Pronicheva explained: "We are not about the past, we are about the future,” to which Grigory Revzin added: "VDNH is the main temple of Stalinism. Do you seriously believe that this has nothing to do with this year’s theme? We believe we have never answered the topic of the Biennale more accurately. "
In parallel to the main exhibition in the same year, Alexander Brodsky built "the lonely chess player’s shelter.” It was traditionally rustic in appearance and stood on the very edge of the water at the back of the Arsenale. The door was missing and only present in negative space - a rectangular hole extruded from the shed, through which one could look at the canals, port cranes, and a bell tower.
The surface of the barn was lined with ruberoid and cheap wooden slats. On the opposite wall from the water was a chess table and two chairs which, like the rest of the house, were tilted at the same angle.