In Therapy: Inside the Nordic Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale

As part of ArchDaily's coverage of the 2016 Venice Biennale, we are presenting a series of articles written by the curators of the exhibitions and installations on show.

You are part of another’s shadow.
—Sverre Fehn in conversation with Per Olaf Fjeld

A central impetus for this exhibition is to acknowledge the presence of the ‘ghosts’ of Nordic architecture – those architects, theorists and educators—the most famous of which are often described as ‘Modern Masters’—who continue to exert influence on contemporary practice and pedagogy. Indeed, one of the most prominent of these gures, the Norwegian Sverre Fehn, designed the Nordic Pavilion. This exhibition addresses a common challenge faced by Finns, Norwegians and Swedes today: how can a building (or an exhibition, in this instance) exist in a dialogue with its setting when that setting is so charged? For us, this ties into a broader question: how can architecture occupy a legacy while still making progress?

In Therapy: Inside the Nordic Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale - More Images+ 37

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

Recognizing Fehn’s original intentions to have the building entirely open, In Therapy treats the Pavilion as an extension of the public space of the Giardini. The central installation of the exhibition—a step-pyramid built using traditional construction techniques from Swedish pine—precisely mirrors the treads and risers of the existing staircase to create a profile-amphitheatre for critical debate and reflection. In other ways, however, it distances itself from the weight of the space in order to confront visitors with an impression, however fleeting, of the state of contemporary Nordic architecture. Here, free from historicism, fundamental questions can be raised: How has architecture over the last nine years developed? Which threads tie them together and what unifying direction, if any, can be discerned? What does it take to be at the cutting edge, trying to conquer new fields? Most importantly: what’s next?

Tectonic relationships are integral to the themes of the installation. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

In order to encourage distance, this exhibition isn’t really attempting to be an exhibition at all. It does not demand your full attention, nor does it attempt to deliver its message all at once. It aspires to deflect the monotony of the archetypal ‘stand-and-look’ show by creating a clearing amid the congestion to reflect on the material that’s been gathered and the voices convened. The central installation—the pyramid—is not only an urban artifact but also a display; an inhabitable installation to be investigated and explored. Architecture, at least in the form and quantity that has been convened here, might best be experienced in a state of distraction.[2]

Exploring. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

The pyramid itself acts as a vessel, presenting the responses to an Open Call which invited practices from around the world to submit projects they have realised in the Nordic nations between 2008 and 2016. Each practice was challenged to self-categorise their project as either Foundational (defined as architecture that cares for society’s basic needs), related to Belonging (architecture which enacts public programs and creates public spaces, enabling people to become citizens), or in a state of Recognition (architecture which appreciates and reflects upon the values of Nordic society). Each have suggested how their project has—or, indeed, has not—contributed to the current condition of Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish society.

Five "rooms without walls" reflect on the data assembled on the pyramid. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

This tripartite classification—which translates here as three coloured bands—is an interpretative take on the structure of Abraham Maslow’s 1954 Hierarchy of Needs, in which he theorised the basic and complex motivational ‘needs’[3] which represent the progress of the individual. Maslow described the pinnacle of his hierarchy, which he diagrammed as a pyramid, as ‘self-actualisation’ (or the realisation of one’s full potential) – achievable only once all the ‘needs’ which underpin it have been satisfied; in other words, each step prerequisites the next. If here the pyramid represents the development of society, architecture can be read as its building blocks.

The pyramid is a "discourse machine," designed to allow people to critically discuss the issues at the heart of the exhibition in an open air environment. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Here, therefore, the Nordic nations have been placed "in therapy." Although it might appear that Finland, Norway and Sweden are at the pinnacle of the pyramid—having achieved a state-level balance between a capitalist society and the welfare state, revered the world over—they also face complex challenges. From concerns relating to demands on immigration and social integration, to an ageing population and realignment in a newly, or soon to be, post-industrial economy, In Therapy has brought together unconscious and conscious elements (the pyramid of projects and a collection of reflections, respectively) in order to tease out the connections and conflicts between architecture and Nordic society at large. It is architecture—in its broadest role as a spatial, social, and cultural practice—which sits at the center of this discourse.

"Rooms Without Walls". Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

In this sense, In Therapy is a mirror: a collection of installations which presents the breadth of contemporary Nordic architecture, assembled under one roof, to provide an informed framework for discussion and proposition. It positions Finland, Norway and Sweden—three countries with distinct histories, cultures and attitudes to design—face to face in the context of the compressed world of the Giardini, interrogating perceptions and preconceptions of Nordic architecture by openly addressing its built manifestation head on.

From the piazza. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Curator David Basulto
Assistant Curator James Taylor-Foster
Commissioners ArkDes (Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design), Stockholm; Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki; National Museum’s Department of Architecture, Oslo
Project Management Karin Åberg Waern
Project Advisors Juulia Kauste, Eva Madshus
Exhibition Design Marge Arkitekter
Construction Eckerud
Graphic Design MPVK and Lisa Olausson
Typographer Thomas Hirter
Sub-Editing Crystal Bennes


[Opening Quotation] For a brief summary, see: Christian Norberg Shultz, The Poetic Vision of Sverre Fehn in Sverre Fehn: Works, Projects, Writings, 1949–1996. Ed. Christian Norberg-Schulz, Gennaro Postiglione (New York: Monacelli Press, 1997), pp.32–41 – via Mark J. Neveu, On Stories: Architecture and Identity (Oslo: Arkitektur N, 02, 2008), p. 7
[2] W. Benjamin, H. Zorn trans., The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in Illuminations (London: Pimlico, 1999), p.232
[3] Namely ‘physiological’ (shelter, warmth, food, and sleep), ‘social’ needs (security, order, and stability), and those related to personal ‘esteem’ (achievement, prestige, and respect)

Image gallery

See allShow less
About this author
Cite: David Basulto & James Taylor-Foster. "In Therapy: Inside the Nordic Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale" 31 May 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

The central installation (the pyramid) is encloses, but does not hide, the three remaining original trees inside the pavilion. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

ArchDaily 创始人策展的威尼斯双年展北欧馆内部

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.