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Ireland’s Pavilion at Venice Biennale

  • Architect:
    O’Donnell + Tuomey
  • Award Type:
    Regional Award 2005
  • Location: Overseas
Ireland’s Pavilion at Venice Biennale


Overseas Under €300,000

Architect’s Comment
The installation in the Arsenale was intended to tell the story of the past, present and projected future of the Connemara West project in Letterfrack. Principles of form and construction were abstracted from the built reality of a contemporary furniture college in the west of Ireland.

Open Frame: A timber frame supported three levels of exhibition information; a high level colour panorama, an eye level black and white frieze and seven window boxes describing culture, design, metamorph, matter, structure, form and time.

Scary House: As a counterbalance to the Open Frame this structure was more intimate, more complex in its resonance. An island chapel, an inverted curragh, a twisted house, an open-ended lobster pot with a sea-shell sandy floor.

Standing Panel: The sawtooth geometry of the Letterfrack bench room was adapted for the Biennale to provide a structure for the display of large scale architectural drawings.
Settle Bench: A hybrid adaptation of a traditional settle bench  allowed visitors to sit and read at the focal point of the exhibition.

The pavilion was an attempt to address the question of how to exhibit architecture in a different way, other than by simply showing drawings and models. The ambition was to communicate architectural character and presence through real scale structure, construction and materials.

Clients’ Comment
It was a privilege being on the other side of the architect-client relationship for once. Working with the architects was stimulating and rewarding at every turn: they made architecture sing with two pencils and a piece of paper. And the conversation was never dull.

It was a joy to witness their total, sustained engagement with the project, their immensely subtle creativity and endless capacity to adapt seamlessly to changing requirements. Contrary to Louis Kahn’s pessimistic dictum concerning the fate of architecture under the pressure of construction, Ireland’s Pavilion simply got better and better at every stage. The finished work – an emotionally charged and informative work of architecture – will stand as a significant contribution to the difficult field of exhibiting architecture.

Visitors in Venice thought so, too. Their experience was perhaps best summarised by ICON magazine:

"The installation is dense with memory, human tragedy, redemption and beauty, as well as more conventionally architectural concerns. The opening of the installation and the remarkable poetry reading by former industrial school inmate and writer Gerard Mannix Flynn was the moment of the Biennale for me, linking Letterfrack and Venice, Dublin and Rome, abuse and redemption, birth and death, for one electric hour."

A poetic evocation of place that challenges our experiences of space, past, present and future. A reduction of a past and present, rendered in structure, enclosure and object. Architecture is being challenged to see if the future can be exorcised from our past.