Venice Biennale Q+A: Aileen Sage and Michelle Tabet

April 24, 2015

‘The Pool’ by Aileen Sage and Michelle Tabet has been revealed as the first architectural exhibition for the Australian Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale. ADR speaks to the young team about their exciting project.

Above image credit: Alexander Mayes Photography

The Australian exhibition for next year’s highly anticipated Venice Biennale has been announced, with The Pool by Aileen Sage and Michelle Tabet selected by the AIA. ADR speaks to the young team of architects, urban strategists and built environment specialists, about their exciting project, soon to be showcased on a prestigious international stage.

How does it feel to be representing Australian design and architecture at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale?

We are honoured to have been selected for this project, especially considering the strength of the other shortlisted proposals. It is a great privilege to be the first architectural exhibition in the new Australian Pavilion. We are particularly looking forward to collaborating with our extended team that has been drawn from varied fields including architecture, planning, art, science and design – all of whom excel within their fields and bring to this project an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience, adding depth and complexity to the concept.

What do you think it was about the proposal that stood out from the others who were also shortlisted?

We understand that the jury were taken by the way in which there was something particularly Australian about this idea. That this is a project about celebrating national identity and culture. It also celebrates and speaks directly to the new Denton Corker Marshall designed pavilion and to Venice, the city of water, as its context. The project will also have a broad appeal beyond the architecture community and has an ability as a concept to engage with people at many different levels – both intellectually and as a multi sensory experience.

How did the The Pool project come about?

We wanted to create an immersive and memorable experience that would leave a lasting impression and tap into the memories and stories of many. We also wanted to tell a story of a uniquely Australian place that would resonate with the general public as much as with architects and would provide an opportunity to create a place of respite with in the busy and information-heavy Biennale experience.

What are some of the main hurdles you are anticipating relating to the install of such a design?

The obvious issue when you propose to put a pool of water in a brand new building is to make sure that it won’t leak. We are already working closely with our engineers and builders and will draw on their significant experience and expertise as we develop the detailing and construction of our design.

What were some of the more personal the key points of inspiration behind the design of the The Pool?

As Sydneysiders, Aileen Sage (Amelia Holliday and Isabelle Toland) has drawn on the many and varied childhood memories of the pool – from learning to swim and socialising by backyard or municipal pools, coastal and harbour settings to going on a bushwalk and uncovering a beautiful pool of water wedged between or at the base of a rock face. We are also both currently teaching our young children to swim and are captivated by their innate response to the rich pool environment – their faces light up and they squeal with delight when they see, smell, hear and touch the water. We wanted to capture a sense of this energy and these memories in our design. Michelle, not being originally from Australia, but now living in Sydney, has different associations and we are really excited about the potential cross cultural dialogue the pool as a thematic creates.

The Pool is not just about the typology of a pool (natural /manmade, inland /coastal, public /private) but also a pool of collaboration. The three creative directors and a number of our collaborators currently all share a studio space in the William Street Creative Hub – an affordable space for cultural and creative enterprise fostered by the City of Sydney and we see this as the pool that has made this project possible.

Your project description mentions the idea of “pools of necessity to the pools of excess” can you elaborate on these contradicting themes and how you plan on expressing them?

We were drawn to this idea of duality within the Australian urban and bush landscape. As Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, our obsession and celebration of water is not surprising. We see the pool as an element that can so strongly evoke both the sacred and the profane – an element of sport and survival, leisure and lifeblood, social space and place of quiet contemplation. These dualities will be evident in the installation and through the experience of the space. On the one hand the exhibition will involve a communal multi-sensory experience, drawing inspiration from the form, materiality, smell and sound of a series of exemplary pool projects. Alongside this, within the space, we are also proposing a number of integrated viewing and listening devices that will allow visitors an insight into some of Australia’s most remarkable pools – supplementing the experience of the larger installation with a series of personal immersive experiences.

How do you hope the exhibition will shape the perception of the Australian built environment and culture on an international level?

This is an opportunity to showcase Australian architecture internationally, highlighting the country’s varied expertise and growing reputation for progressive architecture. It will also highlight the crossover between the architecture and culture of our country and the richness of the relationship between our constructed and natural environment.

Where do you turn for inspiration, and which architects or designers have had the biggest influence on your work?

We were greatly inspired by Kazuyo Sejima’s curatorial approach when she was the creative director of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. She set the theme that year as “People Meet in Architecture”, engaging a number of projects that sat at the intersection between architecture, art and installation.

We have also been fortunate in our experiences before we started Aileen Sage Architects to have worked for a number of acclaimed and very talented architects and we recognise this lineage in our practice that draws references from the work of Glenn Murcutt, Neil Durbach, Camilla Block, Nick Murcutt and Rachel Neeson – all incredibly inspirational Australian architects.

In addition we are very lucky to have the collegiate support of an immensely talented pool of emerging architects including Hannah Tribe, Andrew Burns, David Neustein, Mano Ponnambalam, Tom Ferguson and Mel Bright, amongst many others.

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