SpainLab

The architectural compendium exhibited at the Spanish Pavilion is lacking two crucial reflections: on the country's current architectural situation, and a concrete response to the overall theme of the Venice Biennale.

Visitors to the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale come to it with a wide range of expectations: there are those who attend faithfully every two years, while some are visiting the event for the first time; others visit intermittently only on certain occasions. However, one thing is sure — the reactions of all these groups differ widely depending on where people come from and their particular interests . The Spanish pavilion has aroused curiosity among all these groups, however, following several years of severe economic crisis, largely caused by the real estate bubble, which has had a serious knock-on effect on the country's architectural sector. The question in this context is how best to show off the architectural innovation taking place in Spain today. Curators Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa, from Ensamble Studio , have based the exhibition around two major themes — innovation and research.

Through research conducted in their capacity as curators they have selected seven teams that, according to them, embody both of these concepts: Jose Luis Vallejo & Belinda Tato (Ecosistema Urbano ), Vicente Guallart (Chief Architect, City of Barcelona), Fernando Menis (Menis Arquitectos ), Ramon Vilalta, Carme Pigem & Rafael Aranda (RCR Architectes ), Enric Ruiz Geli (Cloud 9 ), Juan Carlos Sancho & Sol Madridejos (Sancho-Madridejos Architectural Office ), and Jose Selgas & Lucia Cano (Selgascano ).

These teams have been given free rein to display their particular means of approaching the scientific processes involved in architectural research today, in a process described by the curators as "going beyond finished products to open a new window onto the reasoning and emotions that made them a possibility in the first place."
<em>SpainLab</em>, the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
SpainLab , the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
According to the exhibition catalogue, "SpainLab is the result of a clear strategy: to show that the true value of Spanish architecture is not to be found only in the final image it represents, instead exclaiming that its future requires support and focus on personal research processes. None of the seven installations attempts to display certainties — on the contrary, they are simply an excuse for each team to continue its research, to test out its ideas, construct prototypes of their ongoing work and share their most exciting projects. [...] This atmosphere of constant creativity will allow various different, and at times contradictory, architectural approaches to exist alongside each other. They all share Common Ground , the theme of this year's Biennale, which is a commitment to our time and our culture."
Selgascano's  <em>Betweenair</em> installation at <em>SpainLab</em>, the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
Selgascano's Betweenair installation at SpainLab , the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
Although the catalogue states quite clearly why the seven installations are so different and without any apparent common link, the pavilion and its message still come as a surprise to visitors given the lack of any clear theme, or maybe just the failure to find a good way of conveying it in situ . In the end, the freedom given to each of the studios gives the viewer the sensation of a jumbled puzzle of scattered parts that do not seem to fit together, regardless of how clear and decisive each individual message of each may be.
In the end, the freedom given to each of the studios gives the viewer the sensation of a jumbled puzzle of scattered parts that do not seem to fit together
The playful trampoline of Ecosistema Urbano at <em>SpainLab</em>, the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
The playful trampoline of Ecosistema Urbano at SpainLab , the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
Each studio has produced a unique piece of work that they hope will convey their philosophy, their way of working, their processes and international presence. They do this in a variety of ways, using a wide selection of resources ranging from videos and scale models such as those of the Sancho-Madridejos Architectural Office, through to the playful trampoline of Ecosistema Urbano, to which young and old alike have flocked in droves.
Fernando Menis' installation at <em>SpainLab</em>, the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
Fernando Menis' installation at SpainLab , the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by Michael Moran / Contrasto Italy / OTTO
The pavilion's first installation is by Enric Ruiz-Geli (Cloud 9), with a true scale model of the El Bulli Foundation to try to explain its "particle theory". This leads on to Sancho Madrilejos' room of scale models, with an exhibition of a range of prototypes to help explain the studio's working system. The installation by RCR Aranda Pigem Vilalta Arquitectes is noteworthy for its simplicity and the clarity with which it communicates its philosophy. In a reflection of its work, it exhibits various materials, sketches and photographs to show the sensitivity of its work on each project.
RCR Arhitectes' installation at <em>SpainLab</em>, the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale
RCR Arhitectes' installation at SpainLab , the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale
This is in radical contrast to the offering by Ecosistema Urbanos, Dream your City , which uses the Dream Hamar project as a leitmotiv to share its vision of an open kind of architecture focusing heavily on the context and particular situations of each moment and place. This room full of colours and audiovisual material shows the new processes towards which today's architecture is moving: participatory systems, working as part of a network, ad hoc proposals and intelligent use of new technologies as a catalyst for urban transformation on various scales. Selgascano's installation, called Al Aire ["Between air"], is based on the concept of architecture as a biology lab, looking to strengthen links with nature through the use of technologies such as hydroponics and other techniques derived from the field of agriculture.
Enric Ruiz Geli's installation at <em>SpainLab</em>, the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by dpr_barcelona
Enric Ruiz Geli's installation at SpainLab , the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo by dpr_barcelona
Two basic considerations are notably lacking from this range of architectural approaches. The first of these is the current situation facing the architectural sector in Spain, while the other is the curators' response to the overall theme of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale: Common Ground . Actually, it is interesting to consider the possible shared bases of these two discussions, since the current economic, political and social situation in Spain has had an irrefutable impact on the field of architecture. These problems have given rise to architectural practices and actions that easily fit within the concept of "common ground". It should be remembered that the 15-M civic movement and its activities at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid this year received a special mention in the European Prize for Urban Public Space . Without any intention of making the Spanish pavilion an apology for political activism, it is undeniable that a radical change has taken place over recent years in our way of understanding architecture and experiencing the city, and this is not reflected in the pavilion at all. The purpose of a pavilion is to create an overall narrative, to tell a history and set out an argument, but the exhibition selected for the SpainLab is something more timeless that does not reflect the current situation in Spain. Ethel Baraona Pohl (@ethel_baraona)

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