Inside the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale – Innesti/Grafting

The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale looks at the country’s architecture through the lens of “grafting,” or the transferring of new ideas onto preexisting realities and structures.

Architect and Pavilion curator Cino Zucchi associates grafting with “the great capacity to interpret and incorporate preceding states through continuous metamorphoses.” He opens and closes the Italian Pavilion with two physical grafts: a large rusted steel arch and a bench sculpture. The first room of the exhibit begins with a study of modernization in Milan, followed by series of collages of contemporary projects in Italy. A video of Italian urban environments concludes the exhibit.

See images of the Pavilion and read a description from the curator after the break. 

Inside the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale – Innesti/Grafting - More Images+ 22

Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

From the Official Catalog of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition. Making the quality of a project an essential condition for the sustainable transformations of the territory, this is one of the themes prioritized by MiBACT (the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs and Tourism) as a point of shared reflection ash as a solid opportunity to link the support of new economic and social development to the fundamental action of safeguarding our cultural heritage.

The quality of our daily life has always been closely tied to the quality of the environment, landscape, and architecture. Today, it is all the more necessary to calibrate any transformation so that the expressions of contemporary culture are fully in keeping with the conservation of the historic heritage and the more general principles of sustainability, and at the same time that they succeed in imparting a renewed value to the places affected, limiting the consumption of land to the strictly indispensable.

It is therefore particularly important to gather and distribute those experiences of contemporary research that effectively interpret the balanced relationship between the architectural work, history, and the culture of the place in its complex, multiform stratifications.

Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

For the purposes of the Italian participation in the Venice Biennale's 14th International Architecture Exhibition, MiBACT has nominated Cino Zucchi, an architect and one of the leading exponents in current research into contemporary architecture, as curator for the Italy 2014 Pavilion. The project invites the curator to examine the subject of Fundamentals and the essential elements of architecture in the past 100 years. The theme was proposed by Rem Koolhaas for the 2014 Biennale, and, with the title of Innesti/Grafting introduces an interpretation linked specifically to the Italian context.

This is the characteristic that the curator Zucchi associates with the "great capacity to interpret and incorporate priding states through continuous metamorphoses": thus grafting interpreted as an original contribution to Italian design culture.

Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

This offers a description of Italy's finest architecture from a new and fascinating point of view, which the Ministry has taken on board and shared with the greatest interest for the very reason that it helps us to stress that continuity and, at the same time, those special features and diversities that are enclosed within and represented by the value of the historical stratification of Italy's cultural heritage.

Once again this year, at the Italian Pavilion MiBACT will be supporting and promoting a series of initiatives with the contribution of its own local and central sturctures, summarized in a general plan of integrated promotion and communication that the PaBAAC (General Office for Landscape, Fine Arts, Architecture, and Contemporary Arts) management plan and implement thought the Architecture and Contemporary Arts service. An overall educational format for development that the topicality and prestige of the Biennale's exhibitions amplify to enrich all that Venice has to offer in cultural terms. 

Projects, research, and tools aiming to provide adequate answers to the functional requirements through the best expressions of contemporary culture -- GRAFTING, therefore, as increasingly effective, high-quality choices. 

Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

It is necessary to reinforce the planning capacity and quality of public commissions in order to encourage specialized research, analysis, and exchange of international experiences in all fields, through competition-based selections, innovative projects, and experimentation aiming to improve the quality of the most recent constructions, also making them a common terrain for analysis and reflection. 

This new event the Biennale offers for international scrutiny gives us the opportunity to reflect on and seek solutions that are increasingly effective, to the benefit of the overall quality of us all. - Maria Grazia Bellisario


Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

"For me, 'the past' doesn't exist, because I consider everything in our culture as simultaneous; nor do I see, in judging architecture, fractures between ancient and modern architecture." Gio Ponti, Amate l'architettura, 1957

The Italian Pavilion is based on a simple concept: the observation of a country where every new act of design is compared with a territory so anthropized, an urban context so stratified as to render the conception of a building as an autonomous object almost impossible. 

A number of significant examples show an Italy that has pursued great technical and formal innovations with particular attention to "grafting" the new onto a preexisting realty. If the functionalism of the last century was striving for the zero degree and the certainties of an elementary lexicon, the modernity of this new century might just lie in the concept of the continuous "metamorphosis" or transformation of existing configurations to pursue new aims and values. But this ability to interpret and absorb previous realities also seems to be the most interesting aspect of the "anomalous modernity" of Italian architecture from World War I to the present, and, more generally, of the incessant mutations in the history of our cities.

Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

What was once seen by some as a nostalgic or compromising attitude (Reyner Banham's 1959 article, "The Italian Retreat from Modern Architecture") is considered today as the most original contribution of Italian design culture of the last century. Projects as diverse as Gio Ponti's Montecatini building in Milan, Giuseppe Terragni's Palazzo del Littorio and Luigi Vietti's group in Rome -- whose volume would be compared to that of the nearby Basilica of Maxentius -- or Carlo Scarpa's little inlay to the Possagno Gypsoteque share the view that the site is not only a "datum" of the project but rather a living material to be transformed into a new configuration. 

If the term "contextualism" implies the notion of a formal adaptation of the new to existing construction practices and language -- often only in order to make it acceptable -- a "graft" implies a wound in the host organism, but also a deep knowledge of its physiology. The doctor, the animal breeder, and the florist understand the inevitable alteration of the course of events and the responsibility that goes with it. 

Innesti/Grafting. The Italian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

In the beautiful spaces of the Arsenale, the exhibition is introduced by a physical "graft," a large rusted steel arch whose simple form generates multiple resonances with the existing buildings, but whose geometry and construction details betray its modernity. 

The first room investigates several instances of modernization in Milan in the last century in relation to the permanence of the existing urban form, revealing a city that grew casually rather than by long-term planning. 

In the dim light of the second room, prisms of different shapes and profiles support backlit images of contemporary projects that together constitute a great "landscape," while a video installation shows the diversity of Italian urban environments and their ability to serve as a backdrop to everyday life. 

In the Giardino delle Vergini, a bench-sculpture embraces the existing metal inscription and offers a place of rest and social interaction. - Cino Zucchi

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Cite: Katie Watkins. "Inside the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale – Innesti/Grafting" 24 Jul 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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