2016 Architecture Biennial | Swiss Pavilion: Incidental Space

2016 Architecture Biennial

Swiss Pavilion: Incidental Space

7. June 2016 | Words: Jasmin Jouhar
Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 55 seconds

Trust the Swiss! They manage to complete the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest railway tunnel dug a mile and a half beneath sheer rock, a year ahead of schedule. And, with Christian Kerez’s “Incidental Space”, they are now exhibiting a project in their Pavilion in the Giardini that, as well as being unique for the Architecture Biennial, took shape in a process so complex that any other Pavilion selection committee would surely have given it the thumbs down from the outset.

2016 Architecture Biennial, Swiss Pavilion

But not the Swiss. Thus it is that a baffling object, white and fluffy like some benign fair-weather cloud, will be filling the Sala di Pittura in the Swiss Pavilion until the end of November. In actual fact, however, the amorphous entity is hard and hollow. Anyone can climb in if they take their shoes off. The inside turns out to be a grotto of a whiteness to match that of the outside that seems to gleam with supernatural light. “Incidental Space” is a spatial experience. A very refreshing one, too, surely the only show at the Biennial without a political agenda, the only one not intent on housing refugees, helping people help themselves, or revive traditional construction methods. Christian Kerez aimed with this project to conduct pure research, to think architecture differently.

The bare facts: “Incidental Space” is a self-supporting spatial enclosure in the form of a glass-fibre reinforced concrete shell 1 to 4 centimetres thick that was won from an experimentally produced plaster cast. The term “experimentally” is shorthand for an arduous development process that saw Kerez combine analogue and digital procedures – with assistance from an entire team of operatives, information scientists and structural designers. A series of handcrafted plaster casts mutated into a model that, once scanned and scaled, served as the basis for the formwork elements. These were then CNC-milled or 3D-printed depending on their complexity. Over a period of some weeks, finally, the various concrete parts were fitted together to form the installation on site in the Pavilion.

The project hinges on the combination of apparently contrary procedures: “It would not have been possible to create such a versatile, unpredictable formal idiom adopting computer-controlled processes alone”, Kerez explains in an interview with the Swiss building magazine Tec21. “We aspired to adopt the new technologies and yet avoid the sanitised visuals computer-aided architectural design tends to give rise to.” Indeed, the object’s shapes and surfaces are far too complex and abstract to pass as looking slickly hi-tech, too selflessly beautiful to serve any up-front cause. Kerez bamboozles the public with his project – nothing is explained as it is with most other Biennial entries. What he does do with “Incidental Space” is lend us scope for astonishment. In a departure from normal practice, by the way, we’re travelling to Venice by train this time.
More on the project at the Tec21 magazine website.