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Competition: Estonia exhibit at the Venice Biennale

The Estonian Centre of Architecture has launched an open international contest for the country’s €50,000 pavilion at next year’s architecture biennale in Venice (Deadline: 31 May)

The two-stage competition seeks proposals for a 100m² temporary exhibition exploring contemporary Estonian architecture as part of the global event, which runs from May to November.

Next year’s architecture biennale will be curated by the co-founders of Dublin-based Grafton Architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. The duo follow on from Elemental SA director Alejandro Aravena who selected the theme ‘Reporting from the Front’ to draw attention to improving living conditions for people in the poorest parts of the world. Farrell and McNamara have yet to announce their chosen theme.

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

Source: Image by David Grandorge

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

According to the contest brief: ‘The proposal for the Estonian exposition should reflect both current global issues and important aspects of the ideas and practice of contemporary Estonian architecture, focusing on what makes architecture a relevant practice at present.

‘The competition is open for concept proposals by art theorists, architects, designers, interior architects, artists and curators of other professions related to the field of architecture.’

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

Source: Image by David Grandorge

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

First launched in 1980, the Venice Biennale is a global summit for experts in the architecture industry intended to showcase innovative new approaches over an extended period of six months. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to attend the event in 2018.

The exact location for 2018’s Estonian exhibition has yet to be confirmed. The 2016 installation – focusing on Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and dubbed The Baltic Pavilion – was held inside the Brutalist Palasport Arsenale close to the main festival venue.

The competition is backed by the Estonian Centre of Architecture, Union of Estonian Architects, Estonian Cultural Endowment and the Estonian Ministry of Culture. Its official languages are English and Estonian.

Five finalists – set to be announced on 2 June – will receive €1,000 to participate in the competition’s second stage which will include a public exhibition of proposals in the Estonian capital, Talinn.

The overall winner, due to be announced by 19 June, will work with the contest organisers to prepare the exhibition in time for the festival’s opening next year.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for stage one submissions is 12:00 (GMT+ 2) on 31 May

Contact details

Eve Arpo
Producer

Email: eve@arhitektuurikeskus.ee
Tel: +372 56 460 564

View the competition website for more information

Q&A with Raul Järg

The head of the Estonian Centre of Architecture discusses his ambitions for the contest

Raul Järg

Raul Järg

Raul Järg

Why are your holding an international contest for Estonia’s exhibition at the next Venice architecture biennale?

Estonia has been producing its own exposition for Venice since year 2000, so we’ve had time to test ideas and methods of producing a good Venice biennale show. Having an open call has by now become a bit of a tradition for us. I believe having an open call allows for a wider range of ideas to choose from; it opens the doors also for younger curators, whom the jury or the commissioner might not think of for the role, otherwise. So in that sense, yes, it is important to us to have an open contest.

As for having an international competition: Estonia is a small country, so I believe it is good for us to get a bit of an international perspective on the local architecture culture. It can sometimes create ground for a more interesting dialogue. However, until quite recently, our curator calls were not international, and Estonia still managed to put on engaging and intriguing expositions – just think of the Gas Pipe from 2008. We definitely have a good number of local but very capable architecture curators, so it might just well be that although the competition is international, the team that wins, isn’t. We’ll see.

What is your vision for Estonia’s space at the festival?

Estonia’s expositions have mostly been located in Arsenale, with just a few exceptions. For the 2016 Biennale, as you might know, we produced a joint project with Latvia and Lithuania, occupying the much-loved sports hall of Venetians, the Palasport Arsenale just opposite the Arsenale main entrance. The space itself was inspiring and especially suitable for the Baltic Pavilion; and we’d like to see that the space complements the curatorial idea also in the future. Our 2008 project, the Gas Pipe, was located in Giardini, connecting the pavilions of Germany and Russia with a yellow gas line, the location and placement thus contributing much of the project. This is not to say that the project for 2018 could not take place in Arsenale: there is much to say for the easy access to audience that having the expositions lined up in that space offers. The budget also definitely sets some constraints, this is why it is also stated in the open call.

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

Source: Image by David Grandorge

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

Anyone who has intriguing ideas to offer to the architectural debate, is welcome to participate, may it be architects, designers, urbanists, academics, etc – definitely including emerging practices and undiscovered talents. We stated that the Estonian exposition should reflect on what makes architecture a relevant practice at present. The call is for professionals who have something to say about how architecture could change – or does change – the world, looking at this from an Estonian context. Our experience has shown that international teams work better when they include people who are fully familiar with the local context. It is an international contest and applicants from even Antarctica can apply, should there be any, provided their idea is relevant to Estonia. The opportunity to be the curator of a national exposition in Venice is an honour for every architect or curator, and a great opportunity to gain recognition and advance their career.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects be procured?

The biggest challenge for the Estonian Centre of Architecture this year is the international Tallinn Architecture Biennale TAB 2017, taking place for the fourth time. This time the theme is BioTallinn and the head curator is a London-based architect, Claudia Pasquero. We’ll be talking about the symbiosis of architecture and biotechnology to achieve sustainability in future cities. The symposium, the main exhibition and various installations, etc, are already being produced, but there’s an opportunity to still present some ideas for the TAB Satellite Programme – also an international call. So September 2017 should be very busy in Tallinn, a good time to head over to Estonia for anyone working in the field. We are also participating in the city centre and waterfront renewal project in Tallinn, which aims to reconstruct Tallinn centre and the neighbouring seashore area to make it more pedestrian and cycling friendly and reduce a car transport.

Palasport Arsenale, Venice

Palasport Arsenale, Venice

Source: Image by Bing Maps

Palasport Arsenale, Venice

Are there any other similar pavilion projects you have been impressed by?

This one is a tough call! I do have several favourites from previous biennales, but I’d rather choose not to respond to the question, because whenever a jury member starts to talk about personal tastes, the proposals that arrive for the competition tend to reflect on it. So I’ll just say that I hope with all my heart that Estonia’s exposition in 2018 will be the best one yet.

Baltic Pavilion case study: Q&A with Johan Tali

The curator of the Baltic Pavilion discusses lessons learned designing Estonia’s last contribution to the biennale

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

Source: Image by David Grandorge

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

How did your competition-winning Baltic Pavilion explore the architecture of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia?

I think a clear distinction has to be made: it was three separate competitions in three countries. Our proposal to all these individual briefs was to look at the Baltic states as one region, instead of three separate nation states. And rather than looking at architecture in the most traditional sense, we turned to a wider range of practices to understand what constitutes this space of ideas. This is something new, as the perception of Baltic is, depending on who is interpreting it. Estonians for example aspire to become a Nordic welfare state and also reach out to connect closer to EU while the infrastructures are still plugged into the Soviet space. This grass-root joint declaration of three was also a twist in the traditional biennale participation of nation states, a contemporary interpretation of geopolitical space.

Which architectural, material and other methods did you harness in your exhibition design?

We were nine curators working together and at the same time branching out to our individual networks to come up with a series of artefacts (87) that describe the material cultures and spatial conditions that constitute the Baltic. It was really a weird mix of objects and projects of geology, energy, culture etc. For this we needed a big space, which we found just outside the Arsenale gates. A local sportshall, Palasport Arsenale, was vacant for the summer period, so we just could not let go of the opportunity to do our exhibition in the main hall of this public venue. We wanted to be out in the public realm, we believe that what we are exhibiting is regional public space.

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

Source: Image by David Grandorge

The Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing Estonia’s next pavilion for the Venice biennale?

As the last biennale was very successful as an inventive grass-root initiative, to twist the plot and approach the biennale from a rather new perspective, we are looking for similar fresh ideas. It is a competition to curate and design the Estonian national pavilion, not the Baltic one, but the jury is open to any international participation and framework that the Estonian built environment can be illustrated with. We are looking for projects that illustrate and communicate to the international audience why architecture is a relevant practice today.