Venice Biennale 2012: Wunderkammer / Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

At the gardens of the Arsenale designed by Piet Oudolf, a small pavilion, the Casa Scaffali, encloses a fantastic world of smells, textures and artifacts, a Wunderkammer (wonder-room) curated by NY-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

A special group of architects and artists from around the world were invited to share the artifacts that inspire them, shipped in boxes to the Biennale.

We had the chance to interview Tod Williams and Billie Tsien during the opening of Wunderkammer, and we also got a chance to see them both and their team setting up the installation during the previous days, a special atmosphere as they were opening these boxes now turned into chests full of surprises.

© Nico Saieh

The group includes Anthony Ames, Marwan Al Sayed, Matthew Baird, Shigeru Ban, Marlon Blackwell, Will Bruder, Wendell Burnette, Johan Celsing, Taryn Christoff and Martin Finio, Annie Chu and Rick Gooding, W.G. Clark, Brad Cloepfil, Chen Chen and Kai Williams, Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro, Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Stephen Iino, Toyo Ito, Bijoy Jain, Claudy Jongstra, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Jennifer Luce, Thom Mayne, Richard Meier, Murray Moss, Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin, Enrique Norten, Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey, Juhani Pallasmaa, Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam, Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, Karen Stein, Elias Torres and José Antonio Martínez Lapeña, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, and Peter Zumthor.

Text from the architects after the break:

In keeping with the theme of shared or common ground, this installation explores the interwoven phenomena of inspiration, collection, and meaning in everyday objects. Architects and artists often draw inspiration from the most unlikely or mundane items. These things often provide a clue as to how they think and what moves their work. Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, the curators of this exhibition, have been acquiring objects from around the world for many years, objects that have become, in a sense, a part of the DNA of their work as designers. Over the last thirty years, the practice has consistently worked on buildings that combine beauty and utility in ways that speak to both efficiency and the spirit. It is these qualities they both look for when collecting artifacts.

© Nico Saieh

In recognition of this, the architects have invited thirty-five esteemed colleagues from around the world, with whom they feel some connection, to select objects that have relevance either to themselves or to their work, and place them in a simple wooden box or “chest”. The thirty-give chests featured on this installation originated in Williams and Tsien’s home city of New York and have traveled around the world, collecting this “information” before arriving in Venice. The resulting collections of objects – chosen by practices and individuals from North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia – are disparate, unexpected, evocative. In Venice, the chests and objects have become a collection, a tapestry of the commonalities and differences that are shared by architects and artists. The collection is housed in the Casa Scaffali in the northeast garden (Giardino delle Virgini) of the Arsenale. This magical garden house was chosen by Williams and Tsien as a Wunderkammer – the perfect location for these cabinets of curiosity.

© Nico Saieh

Project architect: Aurelie Paradiso

© Nico Saieh

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Cite: Nico Saieh. "Venice Biennale 2012: Wunderkammer / Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects" 22 Nov 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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