Last week we saw the announcement that all architects had been waiting for – who would be the architect of the new Australia pavilion at the Venice Biennale and lo and behold the Australia Council played it safe by choosing to go with Denton Corker Marshall.
Controversy has surrounded the project since the Australia Council announced that Australia’s current pavilion, designed by Philip Cox in 1988 as a temporary structure would be replaced by a new “permanent” pavilion for the 2015 Venice Biennale. Obviously the main bone of contention has been that the competition for the pavilion was not one open to the whole Australian architectural community but only to a select few who met the criteria as laid about the Australia Council. These select few were John Wardle Architects, Johnson Pilton Walker, Bud Brannigan Architects, Peter Stutchbury Architecture, Sean Godsell Architects as well as the winners, Denton Corker Marshall.
In order to properly compare and critique the Denton Corker Marshall (DCM) pavilion it would be great to see an exhibition of all the shortlisted entries, but I’m not sure that will ever happen. Therefore I am basing my critique on the images and various statements about the DCM proposals that are available online.
As I alluded to in my opening paragraph I believe the Australia Council has played it safe with its decision to appoint DCM as the architects for the new Venice Pavilion. Their proposal although extremely elegant and pristine looking evokes nothing of the diversity and talent that exists within the Australian architectural landscape. This pavilion would have been a perfect opportunity to showcase that aforementioned diversity and talent but with this safe choice it appears to be an opportunity missed.
If I was ever to describe myself I would label myself as a modernist and thus you would think that this proposal would be my cup of tea but for me it could be any pavilion for any country by any architect. DCM have stated that the pavilion is “Free from affectation and obvious nationalistic statement, it is a powerful, confident yet discreet object.” Joe Rollo, architecture critic for The Age, said it was a ”compelling little building” that beat a seasoned field of contenders. I don’t necessarily disagree with Rollo’s comments as the DCM’s pavilion is very compelling as an architectural object but it speaks nothing of Australia’s architectural landscape from which it came, it speaks of more fitting into its surroundings and not wishing to impose itself on the Giardini.
The “safeness” of the proposal is characterised by DCM’s own words when they describe their intention “to make a form of the utmost simplicity; a white box contained within a black box.” Judging from the images and plans I have seen I think they have nailed that aspect. DCM’s proposal is indeed a white box contained within a black box or even a black box containing a white box. Be that it may the Australia Council with its constant bumbling throughout the whole process has decided to go for the safe option and only time will tell whether that was the right option.