Island of memory, island of longing, island of prospect and refuge, island of hospitality, (un)natural island, island of making and unmaking, emerging island, re/claimed island, and the last island — these are the nine islands of New Zealand’s exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016.
Lyrical and evocative, Future Islands sets out to establish New Zealand as innovative, creative, forward-thinking and bold. It is a story about New Zealand, but a conceptual connection to Venice is at its heart. The exhibition’s structure is derived from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a book framed around a conversation about cities and life between Marco Polo and the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. Over nine chapters, the famous Venetian explorer recounts tales of 55 wondrous cities he has seen, the conceit being that all the stories are fictional descriptions of Venice.
As a response to Calvino’s 55 “cities”, Future Islands will feature 55 architectural projects, deployed on nine “islands” — multiple representations of New Zealand and its evolution within global networks.
The exhibition’s creative director is Charles Walker, associate professor in AUT University’s Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies and director of Colab, AUT’s multi-disciplinary research institution.
“Islands have always provided real sites for different ways of living, and imaginary sites for possible ways of living differently,” Walker says. “They have inspired romantic and utopian narratives, and they have always been, literally, places of discovery. In this spirit, our exhibition will present contemporary architectural practice in New Zealand and explore future directions for New Zealand’s architecture.”
The island elements afford multiple readings — as water, landscape, forest, clouds, volcanic fields, bodies, buildings, artefacts, texts, furniture — and will evince a floating and dream-like quality.
“In very different ways, places like Auckland and Christchurch highlight the challenges for architects to come up with new ideas for how New Zealanders may live together, differently, in changing social and natural environments,” Walker says.
The exhibition, which will include built work as well as visionary or as yet unrealised projects, will be staged in an historic Venetian palazzo, and will be accompanied by a series of symposia and cultural events and an international media programme.
The creative team led by Dr Walker and associate director Kathy Waghorn, of the University of Auckland School of Architecture and Planning, has an impressive pedigree. It includes architects Jessica Barter and Maggie Carroll (Bureaux Ltd), Jonathan Rennie (Athfield Architects) and Rewi Thompson, model maker Minka Ip, exhibition builder Stephen Brookbanks, and video production specialists Bruce Ferguson and Emma Wolf.
Tony van Raat, the Commissioner of the New Zealand Exhibition for the New Zealand Institute of Architects says the Venice Architecture Biennale — the world’s leading architectural event — is a wonderful showcase for New Zealand’s architecture and this country’s creative talent and technological ability.
“Our exhibition is a very engaging proposition that promises to out among the dozens of national exhibitions at next year’s Architecture Biennale,” Tony says. “In Venice, Future Islands will make a splash.”