Grain Figures, work exhibited in Plots, Prints and Projections, group show at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Other - Exhibition, 2018
Commissioned for the exhibition Plots, Prints, and Projections at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Grain Figures is a play on our ability as humans to perceive meaning in seemingly random data. The visible grain of a set of specific sheets of pine plywood guide the boundaries of surfaces, breaking them down into layers. Lines separating one surface from another suddenly go astray and wander along a meandering streak in the wood. The grain of the material – its structure and image – starts to influence the regulating geometries of surfaces. On a massing scale, select curves in the variation in grain produce a set of figurative elevations – a fragment of a room or façade, a silhouette of a rock, or a map of a terrain. A closer reading of the installation’s surface reveals local features in the grain. These features are a result of the lathing of the veneer in the plywood: A spiralling section of a log that slices through knots and defects. They often appear as recognizable forms or patterns, known in carpentry as grain figures. Grain figures are commonly referred to as, for example, bear claws, crowns, bird’s eyes, burls, curls, fiddle backs, and quilts. Ultimately, the design of the installation is about seeing and retracing figures from the plywood and projecting them back onto its surface. The grain of the wood becomes a drawing and an instruction for design. Plots, Prints and Projections was curated by Ulrika Karlsson and organised by Architects Sweden, The Swedish Institute, Folkhem and Svenskt Trä.
Curatorial statement by Ulrika Karlsson:
Through a series of plots, prints and projections the exhibition at Serra dei Giardini engages different perspective on the challenged role of architectural representations and the projection and materialization of these architectural worlds into built form, in the meeting with the manufacturing industry and the dynamic material wood, specifically pine.
In response to the main theme of the Venice architecture Biennale 2018 Freespace, the exhibition Plots Prints Projections, investigates architectures generosity and ability in mediating between the abstract and concrete, between the physical and the digital, the artificial and the real. These entwined relationships continue to produce sensibilities where our understanding of the division is becoming blurred. ¹
Whether we consider a plot, a piece of land, a ( secret ) plan, a sequence of events, a narrative, to plot, marking out a route or position using a graph, a graphical technique for representing a set of information, data sets, all these definitions of a plot relate to the practice of architecture.
Prints are often a reproduction, can result in a 2-dimensional instruction or image as well as a 3-dimensional materialisation of an instruction, are often computer output on a screen or on paper, can be automated or analogue, can be produced through a chemical process, through heat transfer, through pressure, by spraying, entailing a pixel by pixel process, engaging an additive process, can involve a melting activity to make a liquid substance, the deposition of electronic or optical inks on a substrate.
Projections in architecture are often considered the images of geometric figures reproduced on a line, plane, or surface. Reproducing, by optical means, a remote image on a surface. A projection can also
be material, something that protrudes out. It can be a proposition, a simulation or proposal, something that gets thrown forward. The 19th century tepidarium, greenhouse, Serra dei Giardini, acts as the context of departure. Situated in a public space, the design for the greenhouse was drawn by engineer Trevisanto and built in 1894. It provides a climate-controlled environment that originally housed some of the plants of the municipality of Venice and Lido during the winter, such as palm trees and other exotic species that were sensitive to the cold.
But it also served as a place for the production and propagation of other plants. The filigree and slender constructions of cast iron and glass developed as an innovative construction technique for greenhouses during the 1800s and 1900s. At the outset iron was made to perfectly imitate wood, and ‘techniques of wood construction were simply transposed to iron’. ² In two early twentieth century drawings or sketches for café Orfeo in Giardini, a material ambiguity comes about. They are very similar in character and style, structure and ornament, yet the first drawing shows a building in wood, whereas the second show a proposal for rebuilding the project in iron and glass. The tradition of letting a material mimic another is common practice throughout the history of architecture. This instability in the reading of a material, oscillating between wood and cast iron, pose questions about materiality and its inherent qualities investigated in the exhibition. Today we see different sensibilities emerge that are neither bound by the physical nor the virtual but are crafted and developed between mediums and modes of production. In the study on Awkward Materiality by Brrum, we see how a piece of CNC:ed foam take on characteristics from wood grain. Whether the perceived qualities belong to the specificities of foam, of wood grain or are produced by a subtractive CNC technique is a question. The curiosity and necessity in finding new ways of employing materials such as wood and cellulose, sparks the development of new techniques for processing materials, reusing materials and the composite use of materials. Wood is a natural composite of cellulose fibers, which are strong in tension and lignin, which resist compression. A dynamic and renewable material that is subject to respond to climatic change. If gardening is a practice of growing and cultivating plants, forestry is defined as a science and craft of creating, managing, using, conserving, and repairing forests. The cultivation of forests and the use of wood in architecture continue to have cultural, physical, social, political and ecological implications.
To allow for the meeting between invited architects / designers and the manufacturing industry, a network of possible collaborations with wood industry, furniture manufacturers and carpenters were set up. Early on, it was identified that it was important to engage different sized industries and wood workers, with different experiences from CNC and other techniques for treating and processing wood. But also, foresters and conservators were contacted for different purposes. The aim was to explore possible knowledge exchange at an early stage in the project. On for example what happens in the translation from architectural representations to their material manifestation or the opposite; how is wood translated to architectural notations. But also, a dialogue about relations between traditions of wood construction, building systems and automation. Industry were interested in the knowledge of the architect on different construction solutions and what a building system can be in the future.
The exhibition will consist of large scale spatial installations or structures, an artificially controlled climate or atmosphere and a garden pavilion or loggia that will serve as a stage. Together they organize, comprise an elaborate environment. Through spatial sequencing, nearness and proximities of the projects, the exhibition aims at producing a dialogue between the different spatial structures and installations and their materiality.
Through the exhibition the visitor will encounter the grain of the wood becoming an instruction for design, data as a kind of changing element of a climate, we will be able to perceive what a thin metallic silvery lasures can do for glulam, how a gutter system of pine transports water, a crated nature on display, observe what a ‘ Tall ’ column does to the space of the greenhouse, and we will have the possibility of rethinking the processes and stages of construction.