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Places of Power: Austrian Pavilion Sizes up Parliaments

Collecting together simplistic models of over 200 parliament buildings, the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale confronts architecture’s relationship with politics and power at its most basic level

Plenum: Places of Power presents a cool, white, grid of small 3-D models projecting from the walls: all the national parliament buildings from around the world at 1:500 scale. This provides a trainspottingly fascinating visual survey − and game − of compare-and-contrast between countries: of how nationhood is expressed through seats of power, not only in form and shape, but also size.

So amid the recognisable forms of Niemeyer’s Brasília and Barry’s Westminster, the installation also elicits slightly glib reactions of: ‘ooh doesn’t Myanmar have a big one’. But this in itself nicely questions your own image of − and/or prejudices about − a country. It also uncovers other interesting ongoing stories of nationhood: for instance the parliament of Zimbabwe still housed in an ex-hotel, extended several times and now forming a jumbled city block of a building in downtown Harare − yet soon to be replaced by a new part-Chinese-financed parliament out of town.

While two video-based installations in the rear galleries dig deeper into more Austria-specific examples − their own late 19th-century eclectic-historicist parliament on Vienna’s Ringstrasse and two projects by Coop Himmelb(l)au including the Albanian parliament in Tirana − it is the simple, thought-provoking front gallery display that sets off the most memorable open-ended questions about architecture’s relationship to politics and power.

Plenum. Places of Power

Curated by Christian Kühn and Harald Trapp

Photographs by Andrea Avezzù and David Levene

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