The cabinet of curiosities

A dilapidated building at the Arsenale's Giardino delle Vergini houses a Wunderkammer packed with objects, books, photographs and "creative talismans" of 35 architects from all over the world.

At the 13th International Architecture Exhibition — Venice Biennale , Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have conducted a fascinating Wunderkammer experiment on the human personality at the Arsenale. In a rundown building at the end of the exhibition route, in the Giardino delle Vergini, the two American architects have amassed an array of different objects owned by a group of 35 architects from all over the world.

More than simply objects, these are "creative talismans" that accompany the architects in their professional life. Each architect was sent a box, and asked to return it filled with the "unlikely and sometimes mundane objects" that inspire their production. Peter Zumthor put together a number of coloured jars, whereas Shigeru Ban revealed he carefully recycles old photocopies and emails, assembling them into fine, handmade sketchpads.

Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai constructed a sort of altar — a wooden casket lined with photographs — containing a number of small buildings in cast bronze and a video describing life in Indian villages. There are also travel memories (and perhaps a desire for a different life) in 1a href="http://www.odonnell-tuomey.ie/" target="_blank">Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey's box: a blue chair, like those found in Greece, wax pastels, watercolours of a small church, pebbles and a dried flower. The stones amassed by Toyo Ito in his box are also memories: pieces of rubble gathered in the village of Sanriku, destroyed by the tsunami on 11 March 2011.

My personal favourite is Diébédo Francis Kéré's box, filled with the red soil of his country, Burkina Faso, and a rudimentary wooden tool for beating it. Nothing more, but probably the origin behind many things. Laura Bossi
Top: the "unlikely and sometimes mundane objects" that often inspire architects. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO. Above: Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey’s box
Top: the "unlikely and sometimes mundane objects" that often inspire architects. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO. Above: Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey’s box
The altar sent by Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai. The <em>Wunderkammer</em> installation can be found at the Casa Scaffali, in the Giardino delle Vergini
The altar sent by Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai. The Wunderkammer installation can be found at the Casa Scaffali, in the Giardino delle Vergini
The colours sent by Peter Zumthor
The colours sent by Peter Zumthor
The boxes in the <em>Wunderkammer</em> installation come from all over the world – North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia
The boxes in the Wunderkammer installation come from all over the world – North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia
Juhani Pallasmaa’s box is a mixture of pictures of artworks, theory and film criticism texts and books on philosophy such as <em>The Dialogues of Plato</em>
Juhani Pallasmaa’s box is a mixture of pictures of artworks, theory and film criticism texts and books on philosophy such as The Dialogues of Plato
Forefront, left, the box sent by Diébédo Francis Kéré. Photo by © Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
Forefront, left, the box sent by Diébédo Francis Kéré. Photo by © Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO

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