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TRUE STORY als Wettbewerbsbeitrag für die Architekturbiennale 2020 Venedig in Zusammenarbeit mit Benjamin Groothuijse


Prohelvetia, Competition for Swiss Pavilion 2020: Link

 Switzerland is built...

… and its land reserves will come to an end. Instead of horizontal expansion, from now on growth has to occur within existing structures. Conversions, densifications and replacements are therefore the architects most relevant methods of operation and form one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Not only do these types of work touch upon questions of history and cultural identification, but demand practical answers on how to remodel and revive outdated structures in a sustainable way.

Even though these questions are of great concern, they are neglected in the broader public debate and are only dealt with by specific professionals within the scope of individual projects. Little is known about the theoretical position of the Denkmalschutz and the strategies that shape its policies now and towards the future. Its valuations of current building stock have broad implications on the shape of the country in an existential way. 

To engage with these matters directly, this proposal for the exhibition “True Story” uses the Swiss Pavilion as a model for a listed building undergoing constant change. It raises an awareness of the dichotomy between the notion of architecture as a cultural artefact to be preserved and the need for architecture to be adaptable to changing contemporary requirements, both spatially and in terms of technical usability.

The pavilion is a distinctive example of late swiss modernist architecture and as such has an enormous cultural value. At the same time, its functionalist conceived spaces are not necessarily able to facilitate the full ambitions of contemporary art and architectural exhibitions and its listed status puts explicit limits on the scope of possibilities. On the other hand, to even merely imagine the task of designing a pavilion that represents Swiss identity today would be of particular difficulty in a contemporary architectural landscape where an implicit consensus similar to that of the late modern 1950s is far to be found. 

In search of a fruitful dialectic we will exhibit the pavilion within itself, as a story within a story. The exhibition will use archive material showing the pavilion’s original design as well as spatial concepts that have been used for exhibition installation in the past 66 years. The discrepancies between the original state of the pavilion and its current listed condition form the basis for an alternative fictional narrative that guides the visitor through a Swiss Pavilion that has been altered in ways not possible within the limitations of the Denkmalschutz. 

Architectural elements of the original design which have been altered or demolished since the 1950s will be reintroduced, reinterpreted and accompanied by stage set interventions to create the illusion of a pavilion which has been remodelled and readjusted over time. By this experience of defamiliarization the visitors attention is focused on differences between their direct physical experience and what is known, expected and exhibited of the pavilion.

By the need to discern between original vs. added, authentic vs. fake and real vs. fictional this exhibition exposes the ambiguous nature of the conflicts central to building within existing structures and becomes the starting point to a public debate that raises awareness to the role of the architect within it.

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