ReCasting Venice Biennale


Alison Brooks Architects has been invited by the 16th International Architecture Exhibition curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects to respond to this year’s theme of ‘Freespace’ by addressing the subject of housing and urban dwelling. The Biennale theme ‘Freespace’ celebrates architecture’s capacity to find additional and unexpected generosity in each project – the spaces, textures and moments of human experience in architecture that can be freely enjoyed.

Alison Brooks Architects has created a large-scale, site specific installation that simulates the critical freespaces of our work in housing as four inhabitable ‘totems’: Threshold, Inhabited Edge, Passage, and Roofspace. The totems invite exploration, emerging from a unifying plinth to frame an amphitheatre and collective gathering space. Each totem offers a particular spatial, emotional and sensory experience, harnessing the Corderie’s specific qualities of light and volume. It has been this practice’s mission to reveal housing architecture’s civic role and its potential for meaningful, subjective experience. ReCasting also communicates mystery and delight: mirrored surfaces, organic geometries and forced perspective create a series of expansive illusions. Together, the totems, plinth and amphitheatre cast an informal stage for gathering and looking outward.

The Threshold totem is a huge arch representing one of the eighty-seven brick arches defining the practice’s emerging high density urban block in London’s King’s Cross. These distinctive Bezier-curve arches will act as structure, destination, shelter and landscape frame. In ReCasting, an arch has been ‘dematerialised’ so that it radiates light between thin sheets of plywood. Within its cross-vault, parallel mirrors create the illusion of an infinite colonnade. Resting on the raised plinth the arch creates a framed vantage point for exhibition-goers.

The Inhabited Edge totem explores the potential to enrich the experience of housing architecture with occupiable places between interior and exterior – critical spaces that mediate between the public realm and domestic life. Alison Brooks Architects often work with undulating plan geometries and folded surfaces to form these ‘spaces between’. This totem recasts the angled facades of our Brass Building at Accordia, Cambridge to communicate its multiple spatial and light effects. Perpendicular mirrors multiply these effects to present visitors with a kaleidoscopic illusion of the building’s complete form.

Every corridor has the potential to offer an experientially rich journey; this is the concept of Passage. This totem references our Exeter College Cohen Quad at Oxford University, where arched, glazed cloisters form transform corridors into memorable places. The cloisters are part of a wider spatial choreography; a narrative route that connects the College’s public rooms, teaching and study/living spaces with their surrounding urban landscape. The Cohen Quad’s passages are ‘recast’ in this exhibit as a vertical totem. A series of arches simulate the convex elliptical space of the Quad’s South Cloister, bathed in natural light from a window in the Corderie.

The Roofspace totem explores the spatial and expressive potential of roof forms in urban housing. Alison Brooks Architects work with a language of faceted geometries to make adaptable, light-filled roof spaces and distinctive roofscapes. This totem ‘recasts’ a roofspace as a space of retreat. A small windowseat carved into the space of a flared dormer is washed with zenithal light. Subtly angled mirrors reflect the simulated roofspace into an infinite curve, echoing the three crescent buildings we designed at Bath Western Riverside.

All housing architecture forms a stage for the complex project that is collective urban life. ReCasting’s four totems and small amphitheatre collectively frame an open gathering space. This arrangement echoes the massing and unifying plinth of Alison Brooks Architects’ high density urban housing in London’s Greenwich Peninsula. Conceived as four elements ‘carved’ from single block, this project’s tapered forms, informal plan geometries and loggias frame interlocking social and landscape spaces. ReCasting reflects this organic approach to urban design and places of dwelling; a choreography of form, experience and landscape in support of civic life.

ReCasting was on public display in the Corderie, Arsenale at the Venice Architecture Biennale from Saturday 26 May to 25 November 2018. In this 6 month period, the 16th International Architecture Exhibition saw over 275,000 visitors on top of 14,434  attendants of the pre-opening, a 6% increase compared to 2016.