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The Swamp Pavilion - Lithuanian representation in 16th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia

SEP 2017

Following a decision by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, Lithuania will be represented at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale by the Architecture Fund’s project titled The Swamp Pavilion.


In light of our age marked by existential threats of war and mutually assured destruction, of climate change and its enforcement of new global patterns of disaster and migration, the Swamp Pavilion interrogates the relevance of a single country’s representation when these transnational crises have become the norm. Perhaps the opposite is true: ephemeral architecture suspended in air and in water allows one to look for new models for national borders which, rather than create division and mark territorial claims, instead propose novel forms of coexistence and interaction.


The project’s concept is based on the fact that the primary biennale space is nearly built to its limits. The edge of the Giardini, the majority of parkland in Venice, is the only area where new construction may still be possible. However, this area lacks even land: it is a triangular patch of water, next to the territory of the Biennale, separated only by a fence.


This space is not technically part of the Giardini, but is instead a virtual expansion of the firmament on its southwest side, the Viale dei Giardini Pubblici. This public space is a proposition for an alternative mode of growth for the Biennale, one that forgoes claims on ever more precious and costly private urban land, and instead suggests the possibility of an open and generative urbanism, a living organism that invites in both new publics and existing communities. This is a grey zone, belonging at once to all, and at the same time, to no one.


This specific territory in Venice is the proposed location for the Swamp Pavilion. The project as action is simultaneously belligerently radical and peacefully diplomatic. On the one hand, it is a provocation regarding the expansion of national territory within the international context of the Biennale. On the other hand, the specific limits (or boundaries) of the place inhibits incursion onto the land area, locating the pavilion where pre-existing elements of air and water are available. In this Janus-like project, two identities become intertwined: that of a human as a representative of a particular nation with a human as a part of and cohabiting with “nature,” and therefore representing an inhabitant of planet earth.


Perhaps today a pavilion should act as a swamp: a sphere generating grey zones, a living organism in which any clearly defined borders can be questioned. A problematic space becomes a perfect place to reflect on problematic divisions. On what basis is ownership or territory defined? Which occupants of a place are agents and which are witness? Where can a new language be found, and what new aesthetic can it offer?  What is material and what is not? What is the relationship between matter and imagination? How is materiality revealed in architecture? What is tomorrow? Perhaps today we must celebrate the long-maligned swamp!


In this context, the theme of immateriality becomes an important point of reference. The Swamp Pavilion aims not so much to occupy a place as to create a space of constant re-creation, one in which it would be possible to offer various acts, one where the role being formed is itself highlighted. In this way, the theme of a defined architectural form is connected with pedagogical – that is, shaping – practice. The Swamp Pavilion is a project of the imagination, during the construction of which non-material architectural discourses will be created with the help of broad-based educational practices.


The project is conceived as an open work, a continuous, unfinished, and networked process unfolding in space and time. Its multi-layered ontology is both produced and performed by diverse and overlapping tools and geographies: the lecture series organized by the Architecture Fund; research expeditions inquiring into boundaries and forms across global swampian cultures; ongoing documentation of the negotiation process for the land and water in Venice; the book that brings together theories to build a meta-discourse on the utopian imaginary versus material reality; and a set of manuals that function as a script/musical score for and record of the pedagogical workshops of the swamp summer school that perform possible variations of  the Swamp Pavilion’s construction.



CURATORS: Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas*

COMMISSIONER: Pippo Ciorra**

CO-COMMISSIONER: Sandra Šlepikaitė

COORDINATOR: Mindaugas Reklaitis

ASSISTANT CURATORS: Andrius Ropolas, Indrė Ruseckaitė, Kristupas Sabolius, Matas Šiupšinskas, Paulius Vaitekūnas and Jautra Bernotaitė

EDITORS: Jonathan Crisman, Mariel Villere

PRODUCER: Architecture Fund***

SUPPORTED BY: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, The Lithuanian Council for Culture, Lithuanian Embassy in Italy




FB: The Swamp Pavilion


* The project’s curators Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas are artists, educators and co-founders of the Urbonas Studio, an interdisciplinary research practice that facilitates exchange amongst diverse nodes of knowledge production and artistic practice in pursuit of projects that transform civic spaces and collective imaginaries. Urbonas’s work has been exhibited at the Sao Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, Lyon, and Gwangju Biennales; the Manifesta and Documenta exhibitions; and in solo shows at the Lithuanian Pavilion, 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) and MACBA in Barcelona (2008) among others. Gediminas co-edited the volume Public Space? Lost and Found (SA+P Press and MIT Press), which brings together artists, planners, theorists and art historians in an examination of the complex inter-relations between the creation and uses of public space and the roles that public art plays therein. Urbonas Studio is currently working on Zooetics - a research project that explores the potential to connect with the noethics and poetics of non-human life in the context of the planetary ecological imbalance. Gediminas is Associate Professor and Director at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology in the School of Architecture and Planning. Nomeda is a MIT research affiliate and PhD researcher at the NTNU – Norwegian University for Science and Technology. More at:


** The project’s commissioner Pippo Ciorra is an architect, critic and professor, member of the editorial board of "Casabella" (1996-2012), and author of many essays and publications. In 2011 he published an overview of the conditions of architecture in Italy, Senza architettura, le ragioni per una crisi (Laterza). He has published monographic studies on Ludovico Quaroni (Electa, 1989), Peter Eisenman (Electa, 1993), and on museums, cities, photography and contemporary Italian architecture. Ciorra teaches design and theory at SAAD (University of Camerino) and is the director of the international PhD program "Villard d'Honnecourt" (IUAV). He has curated and designed exhibitions in Italy and abroad. Since 2009, Ciorra has been Senior Curator of MAXXI Architettura in Rome. His major exhibitions include “Re-cycle,” “Energy,” and “Food,” as well as “Small Utopias,” a traveling show on ten Italian architects. He curates the Italian branch of YAP, the MoMA PS1 international program for young architects.


*** The project’s producer Architecture Fund is a voluntary, non-profit, non-governmental public institution operating in the fields of architecture, education and culture. The institution functions as an open platform hosting "bottom-up" initiatives and is funded by culture support programs of the Republic of Lithuania, commercial sponsors and international funds. Since 2004, Architecture Fund has initiated a long list of projects including Lithuanian representation in the 15th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia; festival Open House Vilnius; Lithuanian representation in The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam - IABR 2014, Architecture [discussion] Fund inviting more than 100 speakers from all over the world.