While Japan walks away with the big prize - the Golden Lion for best national representation at the 2012 Venice Biennale in Architecture - the 18 Canadian architects representing Canada's entry - Migrating Landscapes - made a big impression at the prestigious Italian show.
Each of the architect’s models is sited on an abstract wooden landscape — a striking display in itself of wood posts rising (some as tall as 24 feet) like a futuristic city skyline.
That landscape spills out of the exhibition pavilion and into the surrounding gardens.
“It has really drawn in visitors to the Biennale,” said Sascha Hastings, project manager, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, one of the sponsors of Migrating Landscapes.
About 50 countries exhibited at the show — each with its own architectural theme.
Canada’s Migrating Landscapes looks at how Canadian architects and designers, 45 years old and younger, have been influenced by migration.
There were 18 Canadian entrants, said Johanna Hurme, a principal of Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture which co-organized the Canadian exhibit with partner Jae-Sung Chon.
The 18 Canadian architects offer scale models of dwellings, based on their cultural background, she said.
The objective is to spur new thinking in the profession, she said.
It’s less important that the architects build practical models for the real world.
“What our curatorial team got out of it was how different these models look as opposed to what we are used to seeing on the pages of architectural magazines and publications,” she said.
“They don’t follow trends. To us that is very fresh and very exciting.”
Just back from the Biennale, which continues into November, Hastings said along with a model of a dwelling each architect also provided a three-minute video on migration and how that influences their work.
Each architect was allotted four square feet of space on the landscape, which they were allowed to modify as per their cultural design needs.
The idea being that new Canadians are encouraged to keep their cultural identities and have some influence in how future architecture is shaped in Canada, said Hastings.
Hurme said the wooden landscape proved a magnet for visits, not just for its dramatic visual reference, but also because visitors are allowed to touch it and sit on it.
“Visitors also commented that it has a great aroma of wood,” she said.
The landscape was built with a lot of volunteer assistance. As an example, carpenters from local unions across Canada helped cut and install the wooden posts that give the exhibit its striking appearance, said Hastings.
“It was a chance for younger architects to work with carpenters” — an important bridge to establishing long-term relationships, said Hastings, adding that country-wide unions donated about $50,000 worth of labor towards completion of Migrating Landscapes.
Mike Yorke, union co-ordinator, Carpenters Local 27, said in Toronto one of its members, Piddi Design Associates Ltd., worked on the exhibit, using local carpenters and their apprentices to cut and install the wood members.
It is the 13th time Canada has entered the Biennale, one of the world’s most prized architectural events, which is held biannually in Venice.
Canada’s entry is co-ordinated and supported by Architecture Canada/the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts.
Prior to the Venice Biennale, Migrating Landscapes toured eight venues in Canada. About 120 architects were entered in the competition for the right to represent Canada in Venice.