Biennale Architettura 2018

Gold to Souto de Moura

 John Hill
28. May 2018
Souto Moura – Arquitectos: "Vol de Jour," 2018 (Photo: Francesco Galli, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia)
As one of four awards given to exhibitors in FREESPACE, Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura and his firm Souto Moura – Arquitectos have won the Golden Lion for the best participant in the 16th International Architecture Exhibition with Vol de Jour, two aerial photographs that capture the architect's transformation of a convent into a hotel.
The international jury – led by Sofia von Ellrichshausen and made up of Frank Barkow, Kate Goodwin, Patricia Patkau and Pier Paolo Tamburelli – gave the Golden Lion to Souto de Moura "for the precision of the pairing of two aerial photographs, which reveals the essential relationship between architecture, time and place. Freespace appears without being announced, plain and simple."

The project involved the transformation of the Santa Maria do Bouro Convent in Portugal's Alentejo region into the São Lourenço do Barrocal hotel. Souto de Moura maintained the complex's own existing streets, squares and cloisters – outdoor "freespaces" that make the project unique and relate it to the landscape.

In the exhibition catalog, the architect describes his intention for the project: "If we go too far we will spoil it, if we don't do enough it won't work." The same can be said about Vol de Jour: the minimal documentation is easy to pass by in the context of the Arsenale's grand Corderie space, but it did just enough to convince the jury of the project's merits and make it emblematic of the exhibition's FREESPACE theme.
Souto Moura – Arquitectos: "Vol de Jour" (Photo: Francesco Galli, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia)
The jury awarded the Silver Lion for a promising young participant to Jan de Vylder, Inge Vinck and Jo Taillieu of Belgium's architecten de vylder vinck taillieu, "for a project that possesses a confidence thanks to which slowness and waiting allow architecture to be open to future activation." The project is the renovation of the last remaining villa of an old psychiatric clinic in Melle, Belgium. Built in the early 1900s, the departmental villas were demolished one by one starting in the 1950s and 60s, replaced by new buildings. The clinic's current director halted the destruction and held a competition for the last villa's reuse. The architects placed seven glass greenhouses inside the building's brick shell, creating light-filled program spaces (for therapy sessions and workshops) as well as interstitial spaces that embody "Freespace."
architecten de vylder vinck taillieu: “Useless Ever People: Caritas for Freespace" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The project's display, Useless Ever People: Caritas for Freespace, consists of large photos by Filip Dujardin that depict interventions mounted on a wooden structure. The display was particularly memorable following the preview last week due to the tectonics of the armature and the way it creates a series of small spaces aligned with the project it depicts, but as much for the pleasant smell of the wood. But the effect was not intentional: as the architects told me, the oil for the required fireproofing of the wood emitted the odor. The distinctive aroma should subside over the six-month course of the Biennale – all the more reason to visit sooner rather than later.
architecten de vylder vinck taillieu: “Useless Ever People: Caritas for Freespace" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The jury also awarded two special mentions to participants in FREESPACE. One was given to Indonesin architect Andra Matin and his firm andramatin "for a sensitive installation that provides a framework to reflect on the material and form of traditional vernacular structures." The architect has focused on Indonesia's vernacular buildings that geographically span more than 5,000 kilometers on both sides of the equator. Research into the local architectural languages takes the form of small models selectively placed within a cubic structure where the visitor follows a wood-lined, Möbius-like path up, down and through an interior enclosed by woven exterior walls. It is a lovely, meditative space suited to lingering over the models that are traditional yet formally striking – hardly out of place in an exhibition of contemporary architecture.
andramatin: "Elevation" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
andramatin: "Elevation" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
A special mention was also given to Indian architect Rahul Mehrotra and RMA Architects for Soft Threshholds: three projects that express RMA’s drive to "create spaces of inclusiveness, exchange and empathy situated in the diverse landscape of India," as they describe it in the catalog. Large-scale photos on scrims present the projects as layered images that capably capture the atmosphere of the permeable, easily traversed "soft threshholds."
RMA Architects: "Soft Threshholds" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
RMA Architects: "Soft Threshholds" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

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