The gardens of the Biennale, the International Art Exhibition first held in 1895, are the set of several pavilions built in various periods by the exhibiting countries. A number of these are of remarkable architectural interest, by important architects such as Hoffman, Rietveld, Aalto and Scarpa. Thus we have an interesting and varied group of buildings designed for an identical purpose.
It should be noticed that the Biennale pavilions are an isolated group of buildings which have no connection with the urban scene of Venice. In Louis Kahn’s project for the Conference building and the new Italian pavilion, presented in 1969 in Venice, for the first time the architecture of the Biennale was conceived as part of the city with its canal and lagoon.
The Pavilions of Austria, Finland, Holland and Venezuela are here illustrated as, perhaps, the most significant from an architectural point of view. To these the following can be added, all built since the war: Israel, by Richter (1952), Switzerland, by B. Giacometti (1952), Japan by Y.Takamasa (1956), Canada by Belgioioso, Peressuti, Rogers (1958), Scandinavian Countries, by S.Fehn (1962), Brasil by N.Marchesini (1964).
Carlo Scarpa ‘s collaboration with the Biennale from 1948 onwards has been almost continuous, both in setting out of one-man-shows (that by Klee in 1948 was memorable) and in the alterations made from time to time in the Italian pavilion and elsewhere. Of these alterations the Ticket Office and gates, and the interior courtyard (1952) still remain. In the Gardens Carlo Scarpa has designed two isolated buildings, the Art Book Pavilion and the Venezuela Pavilion. The Art Book Pavilion (1950) was recently burned down while the Venezuela Pavilion (1954) is one of the finest and most original of Scarpa’s works, it was unfortunately tampered. As a result Scarpa’s harmonious spatial sequence round the portico and the two halls of different heights are now hardly recognisable.
The pavilion of Austria by J.Hoffmann (1934) was one of the last works by Joseph Hoffmann, the master of the Viennese Secession (1870-1956): in its unobtrusiveness can be seen the elegance typical of Hoffmann. It exemplifies three very different, almost contradictory aspects: that of the Secession in the typically corrugated surfaces, contrasting with the glazed opening above; the classical aspect in the symmetrical plan, the square doorway and the elegant arches of the entrance hall; the rationalist aspect can be seen in its clear plan, the spatial purity of the interiors and the rectangular form facing the canal.
The pavilion of Holland was built by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld in 1954. Rietveld was the architect of “De Stijl” movement. This building lacks the formal neo-plastic freedom of his famous Utrecht villa, but it is designed on rigorous geometrical relationship, based on the cube: 16 x 16 in plan, 16 x 8 the façade, etc. The geometrical rigour is redeemed by the turbine plan, with the side parts on varying levels which gives a dynamic quality to the structure. The central area, lower than the rest, allows indirect lighting which, for an exhibition pavilion, is very functional.
The pavilion of Finland was designed by Alvar Aalto, prefabricated in Finland and assembled in Venice in 1956. A timber structure easily dismantled because it was intended for one exhibition only, the building is in the form of a trapeze. The walls of vertical panels are sustained by the three triangular struts with apex downwards. The roof and the lightning are ingenious: a double screened skylight gives light to the side walls leaving the central area of the pavilion in the half light. Although designed as a temporary structure in its building technique and details (e.g. door-handles) it exemplifies first-class architecture.
Photo source: courtesy of La Biennale Foundation