The Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018



Successful Architecture

The most widespread achievements of the constructed world are not to be found in books celebrating architectural history—the success of these architectures may even depend on the extent to which they are overlooked

For the 2018 Biennale Architettura, the Swiss Pavilion draws attention to an architecture that is hidden-in-plain-sight—the interior of contemporary housing. The apartment’s interior enclosure is one of modernity’s most successful exports. With only slight variations due to culture or climate, a new flat is very flat indeed—it routinely consists of a volume 240cm in height, dressed with white walls, parquet or tile flooring, and off-the-shelf fittings.

This envelope is one of the most stable and consistent appearances in architecture. Over the past century, housing’s interior surface has not only survived fluctuations in architectural styles, but it has also been promoted in the name of sharply contrasting ideologies. This interior has been austere or luxurious, Marxist or fascist, artistic or clinical, fulfilling the wishes of every client with the same answer. Like all great architectures, it does not seem to change. It sells itself as timeless and inevitable. Its appearance has only become more uniform and seamless over time as domestic elements—radiators, appliances, wardrobes, cornices and curtain rods—have become background by disappearing into the architectural surface. In pursuit of integration and consistency, it is an appearance that appears less and less.

The House Tour
Looking at Empty Apartments

S   Susie
L         Larry

S   I’ll give you the tour.
L         No, that’s OK. I get it.
S   What do you mean?
L         You know, it’s bedrooms,
           bathrooms … I get it.
S   You don’t want a tour?
L         You don’t need to walk me around
            …
S   Get the … out of my house.
      Get the … out right now!
L         All right, fine, I’ll take the house tour
S   I’m done. I’m over it. I’m turned off.
     Leave! Freak of … nature,
     doesn’t want a house tour...

     —HBO’sCurb Your Enthusiasm,
     Season Three, Episode Eight

An unexpected opponent threatens the anonymity of the interior. It is called the house tour. The house tour offers a meandering, eye-level view of the apartment interior, placing its inconspicuous interior shell under direct scrutiny.

For some, the house tour is merely a social formality. For others, it is a cherished ritual. For Swiss architects, the house tour has become an integral aspect of architectural production and dissemination.

A house tour can be experienced in person or simulated through film or virtual reality, but the format gaining the most traction in Swiss architectural discourse is the photography of unfurnished apartments. These images of empty apartments not only feature on the websites of architectural offices, but they have also recently begun to appear in publications on housing architecture. Such publications were once limited to floor plans and technical drawings. The occasional photograph captured the facade or, if lucky, the stairwell. Now, interior views celebrate the extruded reality of the floor plan.

The Inscrutable Interior
An Architectural Rorschach Test

As architectural documents, unfurnished apartment photographs are somewhat odd. It is surprising how something so obvious, presented in such a straightforward manner, could trigger so many other thoughts.

Images in architecture are typically cherished for their memorability; these photos reveal an architecture that we have collectively decided to forget. Like the whitewashed walls of art galleries and Protestant churches, the walls of a flat were never meant to be looked at. Perhaps this is why images of an empty apartment are a genre more common to real estate rather than architecture. And yet, with only bare walls, doors, windows and floors, few images could be more architectural. The photos offer a matter-of-fact portrayal of architecture itself, but what actually matters here? Such images cannot speak of organisation, use or efficiency. The reliable crutches we typically use when discussing housing come up short.

Do the images depict space? Perhaps, but it is difficult to see beyond the surface. The photos propose an architecture designed for as-yet-unknown occupants, who possess unknown objects and live unknown lives. This assertion of uncertainty liberates the shell from its purpose, granting it a level of autonomy. Increasingly free of facts, the enclosure becomes the main protagonist in these images. The interior shell not only looks back at you, but starts to ask questions.

Adjectives applied to such an interior—“standardised”, “neutral”, “background”—only succeed at first glance. As in a Rorschach test, the background continually threatens to flip into foreground. Emptiness suddenly becomes very full. Images of the pure and empty bring forth questions about its opposite: Yves Klein’s Le Vide was immediately followed by Arman’s Le Plein. Leonardo da Vinci advised painters to seek inspiration in irregular blotches on a wall. Le Corbusier’s Law of Ripolin ordered us to cover them up. It takes more than a coat of whitewash for us to stop hallucinating.

Taking a photograph of almost nothing creates an image of something, of pure potentiality. Svizzera 240 embraces the unfurnished interior photograph as a plastic representational medium that encourages reflection on a supposedly settled topic.

Built Representation
Constructing a Foreign Territory

What has been built in the Swiss Pavilion is not a “house” but a house tour. What is offered for your pleasure is latent in the strange potentiality of the images themselves. Instead of representing building, we build representation.

You enter an impossible dwelling—the construction of the installation is determined by images of apartments, not by real homes. The photograph’s inability to convey scale, dimension, depth or spatial adjacency is presented in built form, creating a labyrinth of interior perspectives. The interior of housing is reimagined, not as an array of private volumes, but as a single, topological surface.

The credibility promised by the 1:1 model is discarded in favour of an entirely futile set of scales. Rooms oscillate between 1:5, 1:2, 1:1.6, 1:1.3, 1:1.2, 1:1, 1.1:1, 1.3:1, 1.5:1 and 2:1. The elements of the continuous space are banal, but they refuse to become familiar. This is called “defamiliarisation”, “estrangement” or sometimes, “alienation”. Welcome to your new home. Let us show you around.

Becoming a House Tourist
Drawing the Wrong Conclusion

On this tour, there is little to do but look at an architecture that has never been known for its looks. A cast of supporting characters have been dragged into the spotlight: door handles, skirting boards, window frames, power outlets, light switches, countertops and cupboard doors.

This is not a question of architectural criticism but of architectural discovery. A tour through this alien landscape loosens the grip of your judgments. You are no longer an apartment dweller, builder or buyer—you are not an academic or even an architect—you become a new subject, a House Tourist.

You gaze at what you already know, but now the magic stupidity of the tourist opens the door to erroneous interpretations. Subjectivity enters the scene, paving the way for alternate readings. What’s public? Anything private? Where’s the facade? You’re looking at it. And who lives here? We all do.

About the Curators

The architects Alessandro Bosshard (MSc ETH Arch.), Li Tavor (MSc ETH Arch.), Matthew van der Ploeg (M.Arch, UIC) and Ani Vihervaara (M.Arch, BAS) live and work in Zurich. They have been working together since 2015 as assistant lecturers and researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, ETH. Alessandro, Li and Matthew currently work with Prof. Dr. Alex Lehnerer in the chair of Architecture and Urban Design.

Imprint

The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia is mandated by the Swiss Confederation to promote artistic creation in Switzerland, contribute to cultural exchange at home, promote the dissemination of Swiss culture abroad and foster cultural outreach. It is responsible for Swiss contributions to the several editions of art and architecture biennials in Venice. Switzerland has taken part in the Biennale Arte since 1920 and in the Biennale Architettura since 1991.

Commissioners,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Marianne Burki, Head of Visual Arts, Sandi Paucic, Project Leader, Rachele Giudici Legittimo, Project Coordinator

Biennials Jury Architecture,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Marco Bakker, architect at Bakker & Blanc architectes, Lausanne and Zurich, and Prof. EPFL ENAC, Francesco Buzzi, Architectural Director at Buzzi studio d’architettura, Locarno and President of the FSA Ticino, Irina Davidovici, Architect and Academic Researcher, ETH Zurich, Céline Guibat, Architect, mijong architecture design, Sion and Zurich, Isa Stürm, architect at Isa Stürm Urs Wolf SA, Zurich

Project Collaboration,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Cleoriana Benacloche, Martina Lughi, Jacqueline Wolf

Press Office Switzerland,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Marlène Mauris, Lisa Stadler

Press Office International:
Pickles PR, Caroline Widmer, Camille Regli

Curators and Exhibitors:
Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg, Ani Vihervaara

Project Architect:
Milena Buchwalder

Sound Installation:
Nicolas Buzzi, Li Tavor

Artwork:
Shirana Shahbazi

Photo Laboratory:
Tricolor Bildproduktion

Graphic Design Exhibition:
Studio Martin Stoecklin, Zürich
with Adrian Schnegg

Website:
pokus.ch, Zürich
Ron Widmer

Typeface:
Everett, Nolan Paparelli

Pavilion Photography:
Wilson Wootton,
© Wilson Wootton, Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg, Ani Vihervaara

Architectural Consultant Pavilion:
Alvise Draghi

Exhibition contractor:
Adunic, Sandro Usznula

Construction Manager:
Adunic, Billy Beck

Fittings and Components:
Kunstgiesserei St. Gallen, Noel Hochuli
Glutz AG, Renato Caccivio

Lighting:
Neuco, Thomas Lack

Fundraising:
Manuela Schlumpf, Aline Feichtinger

www.prohelvetia.ch
www.biennials.ch

A project by
Alessandro Bosshard,
Li Tavor,
Matthew van der Ploeg,
Ani Vihervaara



26. May–
25. November
2018

Opening hours:
Mo–Su
10:00–16:00h
Publication:
House Tour: Views of the Unfurnished Interior

info@svizzera240.ch

Main sponsors

Sponsors

Supported by

Imprint

Imprint

The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia is mandated by the Swiss Confederation to promote artistic creation in Switzerland, contribute to cultural exchange at home, promote the dissemination of Swiss culture abroad and foster cultural outreach. It is responsible for Swiss contributions to the several editions of art and architecture biennials in Venice. Switzerland has taken part in the Biennale Arte since 1920 and in the Biennale Architettura since 1991.

Commissioners,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Marianne Burki, Head of Visual Arts, Sandi Paucic, Project Leader, Rachele Giudici Legittimo, Project Coordinator

Biennials Jury Architecture,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Marco Bakker, architect at Bakker & Blanc architectes, Lausanne and Zurich, and Prof. EPFL ENAC, Francesco Buzzi, Architectural Director at Buzzi studio d’architettura, Locarno and President of the FSA Ticino, Irina Davidovici, Architect and Academic Researcher, ETH Zurich, Céline Guibat, Architect, mijong architecture design, Sion and Zurich, Isa Stürm, architect at Isa Stürm Urs Wolf SA, Zurich

Project Collaboration,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Cleoriana Benacloche, Martina Lughi, Jacqueline Wolf

Press Office Switzerland,
Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia:
Marlène Mauris, Lisa Stadler

Press Office International:
Pickles PR, Caroline Widmer, Camille Regli

Curators and Exhibitors:
Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg, Ani Vihervaara

Project Architect:
Milena Buchwalder

Sound Installation:
Nicolas Buzzi, Li Tavor

Artwork:
Shirana Shahbazi

Photo Laboratory:
Tricolor Bildproduktion

Graphic Design Exhibition:
Studio Martin Stoecklin, Zürich
with Adrian Schnegg

Website:
pokus.ch, Zürich
Ron Widmer

Typeface:
Everett, Nolan Paparelli

Pavilion Photography:
Wilson Wootton,
© Wilson Wootton, Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg, Ani Vihervaara

Architectural Consultant Pavilion:
Alvise Draghi

Exhibition contractor:
Adunic, Sandro Usznula

Construction Manager:
Adunic, Billy Beck

Fittings and Components:
Kunstgiesserei St. Gallen, Noel Hochuli
Glutz AG, Renato Caccivio

Lighting:
Neuco, Thomas Lack

Fundraising:
Manuela Schlumpf, Aline Feichtinger

www.prohelvetia.ch
www.biennials.ch