Ubi Consistam and the Venice Biennale

Variations of the Interstitial by Robert Ventresca

What is it?

Last year, we ran a Design Thesis studio for final year students in the Masters of Architecture degree at the University of Melbourne. The studio was entitled Ubi Consistam and the Venice Biennale. A synopsis of the studio is as follows:

Ubi consistam comes from the Latin phrase, Da ubi consistam, et terram movebo, meaning, Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth. Ubi consistam is the place to stand firm, the one place in the world that a person belongs. The Venice Biennale is an international festival that takes place in Venice’s Giardini, Italy, alternating each year between art and architecture. It has recently been announced that the Australia pavilion, designed by Philip Cox in 1988, is to be replaced with a new design (a previous post discusses this in more detail, here).

This studio was a timely investigation into the relationship between place and identity. How can a country as complex as contemporary Australia, with its diverse climates, cultures, peoples and histories, be represented by a single building on foreign soil?

Rather than a one-size-fits-all pavilion, the studio proposed an alternative approach that empowered the students to interpret this identity through the lens of their own backgrounds, upbringing and experiences. Research into the Australian identity and students’ own Ubi consista informed highly detailed design outcomes that function successfully as an exhibition space as well as contribute a uniquely Australian voice to the Venice Biennale.

We have recently loaded this synopsis onto the Mihaly Slocombe website and are in the process of uploading a selection of the best projects that arose from the studio.

What did we learn?

This was our first design studio as its leaders rather than its participants. We fervently hope that it will not be our last. We found ourselves challenged by new lessons that arose inevitably from spending a semester with 17 students each applying their unique passion, creativity and intelligence to our brief.

We learned that starting with simple exquisse models, crafted by hand, knife and laser, is an ideal way to convey an architectural idea. If an idea can be represented in model format, it can be represented in built form.

We learned that design-based research is a magnificent tool for answering the simple questions that lie at the heart of any design. The best projects were those whose authors committed themselves to this process of research, beginning with questions only and letting the research define the parameters of the outcome.

We learned that discussion and peer review are vital to the positive progression of a project. Just as critical is the unfortunately rare ability to listen to the insights of others and absorb them meaningfully into our work – it takes a truly humble architect to not reject an idea because it is not our own, but accept it because it is good. The best architectural design processes are not linear monologues but open discussions.

We learned that the secret to good architecture is to begin with a small number of excellent ideas and allow them to inform every last detail of the project. In experiencing a building, we should always be able to understand the mind of its architect.

And finally, we learned that spending a great deal of time with students is excellent for one’s health and vitality. The sometimes hard work and heavy responsibility of teaching aside, it is easy to forget in practice why we became architects in the first place. Our students help us remember.

Journey, Land and Place by Kim Jang Yun

The Salt project

What is it?

A photographic exhibition arising out of a series of expeditions to the usually-dry Lake Eyre at the heart of Australia by Sydney artist, Murray Fredericks. The exhibition documents 16 solo journeys undertaken between 2003 and 2010. “Immersed in pure space, Fredericks camped alone in the centre of the lake photographing a landscape without landscape for up to five weeks at a time. The solitude, simplicity and repetition of the days created an approach that was integral to the production of the images.”

Salt has showed in numerous public and private galleries in Australia and around the world, most recently at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney.

What do we think?

Fredericks derives his committed, immersive philosophy of photography from the five years immediately after his undergraduate degree, which he spent travelling in the Middle East and Himalaya. The experience of these powerful locations continues to provide the basis for his search into the timeless essence of a place beyond its socially-constructed value.

Iridium, this extraordinary time-lapse video produced as part of the Salt project, reveals Lake Eyre as a place even flatter, larger, more open and more magnificent than we city-bound folk could ever imagine it to be. From horizon to horizon to horizon, it is empty.

Yet, Fredericks’ cinematography possesses a relentless energy, exploring the ever-changing relationship between land and sky. The land is inundated and the sky is placid, shades of blue seen nowhere else in the world; the land is parched and the sky is furious, churning with the electrical charge of a coming storm; the land is hidden and the sky is mystical, the Milky Way wrapping the Earth.

Clouds do not limp across the sky, they boil or froth or burn. The sun does not rise apologetically through smog or ozone haze, it explodes across the land. A star field sweeps smoothly and silently, shedding intermittent light through fairy-floss cirrus clouds onto an inundated Lake Eyre as pristine as glass. The contrast in pace between stars, clouds and rare wildlife reveals the fragility of Fredericks’ journey and the unimaginable sizes of planet and galaxy it inhabits.