Irish architects vie for Venice Golden Lion


A SOARING timber lattice structure, designed by O’Donnell and Tuomey Architects and made entirely from Irish Sitka spruce, is in contention for the premier Golden Lion award at the 13th international architecture exhibition, La Biennale in Venice.

The irregularly-shaped installation, which rises to a height of nine metres and weighs several tonnes, dominates one of the rooms of the Arsenale di Venezia’s 600m-long Corderie, where long ropes were once made for the Venetian fleet.

John Tuomey recalled Dante’s description in his Inferno of ships being made at the Arsenale and paid tribute to Gem Joinery and the Irish timber industry for their support in realising the project, which cost €150,000 to construct.

Sheila O’Donnell said they were planning to make it in oak, but it would have been too expensive, at €250,000, and Sitka spruce was the “only commercial timber produced in Ireland”.

It is intended to dismantle the structure after La Biennale closes on November 25th and reassemble it at a suitable venue in Ireland. Stack A in the Custom House Docks is one possibility.

The O’Donnell and Tuomey exhibit is one element of the strongest representation yet of Irish architects at La Biennale, the most important international showcase for contemporary architecture worldwide, with 56 countries participating this year.

The Irish pavilion features an elaborate see-saw, described by creators Heneghan Peng Architects as an “oscillating bench”; it is one of the hits of La Biennale because it’s so interactive. It’s called Shifting Ground – a play on the Common Ground theme chosen by the 2012 Biennale director, Sir David Chipperfield – and its level is set at Venice’s high-water mark.

At its official opening, the Irish Ambassador to Italy, Patrick Hennessy, said Ireland’s participation in La Biennale “showcases the rich pool of architectural talent available in Ireland and will lead to further opportunities for Irish architects globally”.

Mr Chipperfield, whose recent work includes the acclaimed renovation of Berlin’s Neues Museum, invited Dublin-based Grafton Architects to collaborate with Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha on an exploration of architecture as “built geography”.

It includes striking images of two Unesco World Heritage Sites – Skellig Michael, off the coast of Kerry, and Machu Picchu, in Peru – revealing remarkable similarities.