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The Lebanese Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennale, Curated by Hala Wardé, Tackles the Notions of Emptiness and Silence

The Lebanese Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennale, Curated by Hala Wardé, Tackles the Notions of Emptiness and Silence

Entitled “A Roof for Silence”, the Lebanese Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, will investigate the question of living together, tackling the issue of coexistence through a questioning of the spaces of silence, and by putting into dialogue architecture, painting, music, poetry, video and photography. Curated by Hala Wardé, founder of HW architecture, in collaboration with Etel Adnan and Fouad Elkoury, the national pavilion will be on display at the Magazzino del Sale (Zattere), from May 22nd to November 21st, 2021.

Paul Virilio, Tableaux Antiformes, Sans titre, 1962 Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne. Image © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCIA Roof for Silence. Image © HW architectureFouad Elkoury, Olivier de Bchaaleh 16, 2019. Image © Fouad ElkouryA Roof for Silence. Image © HW architecture+ 12

Hala Wardé, architect and founder of HW Architecture, who realized the Louvre Abu Dhabi with Jean Nouvel, was selected back in October of 2019, to curate the Lebanese pavilion after a public competition. Conceiving a “musical score, resonating disciplines, shapes and periods to provoke the sensory experience of a thought, articulated around the notions of emptiness and silence, as temporal and spatial conditions of architecture”, the intervention is treated as a manifesto for a new form of architecture.

Hala Wardé Portrait. Image © HW architecture
Hala Wardé Portrait. Image © HW architecture

Why not think about places in relation to their potential as voids rather than as solids? How can we fight fear of emptiness in architecture? How can we imagine forms that generate places of silence and contemplation? – Hala Wardé


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Stating that "the project affirms the need for empty space and for life that might inhabit it as a form of silence,” Hala Wardé based her vision on the cryptic shapes of sixteen olive trees that are a thousand years old in Lebanon, whose hollowed forms are home to various species, considered as places of recollection or gathering, where peasants have convened for generations to decide on village affairs or to celebrate weddings. Integrated into the space of the Magazzino del Sale, and consisting of Etel Adnan’s Artwork; Paul Virilio’s Painting; Fouad Elkoury’s Photographies; Alain Fleischer’s Film and Soundwalk Collective’s sound composition, the Lebanese pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition will question the territorial and urbanistic approach to emptiness.

Alain Fleischer, Film still - Les oliviers, piliers du Temps, 2020. Image © HW architecture & Le Fresnoy
Alain Fleischer, Film still - Les oliviers, piliers du Temps, 2020. Image © HW architecture & Le Fresnoy

Starting off with Paul Virilio’s “Antiforms”, theorist of the acceleration of time and the disintegration of territories, the project also resonates with the sudden Port of Beirut explosion, on August 4th, 2020. Conceived around artwork by the poet and artist Etel Adnan, "A Roof for Silence" will continue its cultural itinerary in different cities around the world after its inauguration in the 2021 Venice Biennale, from the National Museum of Beirut to the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. With a social and heritage dimension, the pavilion also aims to raise awareness about the rehabilitation of the damaged architectural and cultural heritage of the city of Beirut.

Etel Adnan, Olivéa : Hommage à la Déesse de l'Olivier, 2018. Image © Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan, Olivéa : Hommage à la Déesse de l'Olivier, 2018. Image © Etel Adnan

There is this silence that is part of the aesthetics of things. For example, in painting. To paint only landscapes implies silence. And in poetry, silence takes the form of spaces. […] There are spaces like breaths. As with the life of trees, we sometimes feel like eavesdropping and listening to them […] there are voids and silences that are an integral part of poetry and thus part of the poetic experience. Silence is also part of the music, for it weighs, it is obvious, we hear it. I was about to say “one sees it. -- Etel Adnan

HW ROOF FOR SILENCE . Image © HW architecture
HW ROOF FOR SILENCE . Image © HW architecture

Read one to discover how the pavilion unfolds in 4 stages:

  1. On an introductory wall, Paul Virilio's « Antiforms », an exploration of space and absent matter, are set against photogrammetric records of thousand-year-old trees and black and white photographic prints of olive trees in Lebanon by Lebanese photographer Fouad Elkoury.
  2. On the ground, a trail of glass. Imprints or fractal traces of various forms: that of the impact of the Beirut blast in August 2020, a form of emptiness that joins that of the Antiforms or the large-scale graphic prints of the trees' cavities.
  3. As the visitors move through the exhibition, they are led to a triptych projection of 16 olive trees of Lebanon that are a thousand years old. Filmed in the darkness of the night by Alain Fleischer, filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist, these olive trees offer a sensory experience of emptiness and light, accompanied by a musical creation by the sound artists Soundwalk Collective.
  4. Walking through these images, visitors are led into the central room: an octagonal floor plan, but with a cylindrical interior space, where the 16 canvases of Etel Adnan's poem-in-painting « Olivéa: Hommage à la déesse de l'Olivier » are on display. The artist does not show a particular olive tree but rather the feeling inspired by this legendary tree that has accompanied the Mediterranean civilizations. Crowned with a semi-spherical roof bordered by light, this space embodies the possibility of an « essential » place: a « Roof for Silence ».

HW ROOF FOR SILENCE . Image © HW architecture
HW ROOF FOR SILENCE . Image © HW architecture

A Roof for Silence

  • Commissioner: Jad Tabet
  • Architect and curator: Hala Wardé
  • With : Etel Adnan - « Olivéa: Hommage à la déesse de l’olivier » Artwork/ Paul Virilio - « Antiformes » Painting / Fouad Elkoury – “Olivier de Bchaaleh » 16 Photographies/ Alain Fleischer – « Les oliviers, piliers du Temps » Film/ Soundwalk Collective – “Falling into time”, Sound composition performed by Lucy Railton on cello and Daisuke Tadokoro on piano
  • With the participation of: Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne / RSC Bucintoro / Galerie Lelong / Le Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains / The Vinyl Factory/ Bits to Atoms

Fouad Elkoury, Olivier de Bchaaleh 16, 2019. Image © Fouad Elkoury
Fouad Elkoury, Olivier de Bchaaleh 16, 2019. Image © Fouad Elkoury

Hala Wardé

Born in Lebanon in 1965, Hala Wardé trained as an architect at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris where she studied with Paul Virilio, Bernard Tschumi, and Jean Nouvel, with whom she worked for over 20 years. In 2008, she established HW architecture, her own architectural practice, and continued collaborating with Ateliers Jean Nouvel in the framework of a privileged partnership. Hala Wardé was in charge of the One New Change office and retail project in London, delivered in 2010, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi landmark museum which she led from inception in 2006 through to delivery in 2017. In 2016, Hala Wardé won the architectural competition for BeMA (Beirut Museum of Art), a future landmark museum in the Lebanese capital. In 2018, her studio was selected to design “Le Mirabeau” in the maritime quarter of Marseille, currently under construction. In 2019, she won, together with Jean Nouvel, the competition for the «Sharaan resort” located nearby the historical site of Al Ula in Saudi Arabia. In parallel, Hala Wardé collaborates regularly with artists, for site-specific interventions in relation to the built environments, such as Guiseppe Penone, Nan Goldin, or Etel Adnan.


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Cite: Christele Harrouk. "The Lebanese Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennale, Curated by Hala Wardé, Tackles the Notions of Emptiness and Silence" 15 Apr 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/926771/hala-warde-to-curate-the-lebanese-pavilion-at-the-2020-venice-biennale> ISSN 0719-8884

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