Reflecting on The Pool at the Venice Architecture Biennale

The Pool, picture by William Feuerman

The Pool, picture by William Feuerman

In summary: 
  • The Pool, this year's Australian Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale is the work of exhibition Creative Directors and UTS Masters of Architecture Studio Leaders, Amelia Holliday, Isabelle Toland and Michelle Tabet
  • The exhibition focuses on the pool as a defining symbol of Australian cultural identity, the central feature being a 60-square-metre shallow pool

Relevant, reflective and new: that's the verdict on The Pool, this year's Australian Pavilion exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. 

Academics from UTS Architecture have just returned from Venice where they supported the opening of The Pool, the work of exhibition Creative Directors and UTS Masters of Architecture Studio Leaders, Amelia Holliday, Isabelle Toland and Michelle Tabet.

UTS Architecture's Head of School Professor Anthony Burke said he was impressed by the Australian Pavilion creative directors' vision, "It's a very culturally relevant position they've explored. Their highly sensory approach was a powerful way to reflect on an architectural and spatial moment that is unique to Australia."

The exhibition focuses on the pool as a defining symbol of Australian cultural identity, and one that, according to the creative directors, is currently at threat: "Pools in Australia are currently facing significant challenges as social institutions. The threatened closure and demolition of Australian public pools is a perennial theme of community protest and activism and is an issue to which architects and urban commentators are inevitably drawn."

Naturally, the central feature of the exhibition is a dominant 60-square-metre shallow pool, about a foot deep, in which the light reflected off the surface throws fluid patterns across the gallery space. The pool is surrounded by a series of steel-framed pool chairs which have been designed in collaboration with Northern Territory-based industrial designer Elliat Rich and manufactured by the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs.

As part of the exhibition the creative directors invited eight Australian cultural leaders to share personal stories of their relationship to the pool, its architecture and cultural significance. The leader's stories, which include Olympic Gold medalists Ian Thorpe and Shane Gould, Indigenous curator Hetti Perkins and musician Paul Kelly, are told through sound installations within the exhibition space.

Burke, who attended the opening with UTS Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs, Dean of the UTS Business School Roy Green and Dean of the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building Desley Luscombe, said that the biennale was a valuable opportunity to develop relationships and engage with critical issues facing architecture internationally.

"We're always seeking new creative outlets, and looking for ways to make an impact both locally and globally. UTS has a broad commitment to architecture that goes beyond the university's City Campus Masterplan."

UTS's presence at the Biennale extended beyond the Australian pavilion, with architecture academics' work featured in both the Spanish and main Arsenale exhibitions. Cristina Goberna and Urtzi Grau's residential project featured in the Spanish Pavilion's exhibition, Unfinished, which was awarded the top Gold Lion award. Architectural and construction technology researchers Dave Pigram and Iain Maxwell's prefabricated suspended floor system was part of the main Arsenale exhibition (in collaboration with Philippe Block Research Group ETH Zurich).

The Pool is Australia's first architecture exhibition in the new pavilion designed by Denton Corker Marshall, the practice also responsible for the award-winning UTS Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology Building.

UTS has a strong history of involvement and leadership with the Biennale, with Head of the UTS School of Architecture, Anthony Burke, and Professor of Practice and Director of architectural practice TERROIR, Gerard Reinmuth, heading the Australian Pavilion creative team in 2012.

The Pool is presented by the Australian Institute of Architects and is supported by UTS. The Venice Architecture Biennale, is expected to draw around 200,000 international visitors from 28 May to 27 November 2016.