The Venice Architecture Biennale is architecture’s most esteemed platform. It’s where architects from around the world gather to display their latest research, be it material, typological, or theoretical in nature. For Nader Tehrani, whose Boston-based architecture and urban design firm, NADAAA, is a participant at this year’s Biennale (opening May 22), the challenge lies in combining all three strands.
NADAAA developed two installations for Venice: One for a portico positioned at the terminus of the Arsenale, the primary exhibition hall of the Biennale, and the other a housing prototype located within it. Both projects suss out the possibilities of cross-laminated timber (CLT), but for “totally arbitrary reasons,” Tehrani said.
Perhaps not entirely. In recent years, NADAAA has implemented CLT in a handful of projects, including the North Hall dormitory at the Rhode Island School of Design, which opened in late 2019. And then there is the bare fact of Venice’s construction, a stone city held aloft above a lagoon by wooden piles. “Part of the desire was to make visible that invisible infrastructure, even while acknowledging that CLT is a different technology and a different way of using it,” Tehrani said.
He clarified that the Venice installations pursue opposing trajectories for CLT and, for that reason, should be taken together as a complementary pair. As Tehrani explained, whereas the portico is “a one-off that radicalizes, let’s say, the ‘figure’ of architecture,” its counterpart “suppresses it to instead explore how something as standard as a CLT panel can become the basis for mass customization.”
It’s true that the zigzagging portico, pictured here, cuts a compelling figure, with a herringbone pattern that suggests the process of laminating sheets of timber to create CLT. It also serves as a shelter for a vaporetto stand, if a rather glamorous one. That is to say, it’s perfectly at home in Venice.