National Pavilions

My new article for Cool Hunting

“Common Ground”—the theme this year for Venice’s Biennale Architettura 2012—covers all exhibition spaces from Giardini to Arsenale, as well as the vast range of venues spread out all over town. Fitting into this larger concept while presenting their own respective themes were a number of national participants. Here are three standouts from Japan, Russia and the USA.

USA

For its unifying motif the US chose the idea of “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” The installation marks a huge living catalogue of 124 spontaneous urban interventions, put in place by architects, designers, planners and artists, as well as common citizens willing to intervene in their neighborhoods and cities.

After an open call for projects, commissioner and curator Cathy Lang Ho worked with co-curators David van der Leer and Ned Cramer to narrow down the selection among more than 450 submissions. The result is a clever choice of local projects, urban gardens, community farms, websites and art activities which foster and enhance relationships, leisure, comfort, functionality, safety, sharing and sustainability in US cities. Every project—which ties back to the central notion of collaboration—is visible on a constantly updated dedicated website.

A system of movable banners conceived by the Brooklyn-based design studio Freecell lies at the core of the installation—each banner presents and describes a project, and which of the ideas it explores improve the public realm. The visitors can lower a banner while a counterweight is pulled up, revealing a keyword for the future of cities and graphics designed by communication design studio M-A-D. The Jury of the Biennale has assigned a Special Mention for the national participation in this project.

Russia

The same prize went to the Russian National Pavillion, but here it’s a totally different story. Where the US installation is totally mechanical, concrete and evident, the choice of curator’s Sergei Tchoban, Sergey Kuznetsov and Valeria Kashirina was to go digital, virtual and invisible, with “i-city” and “i-land.”

The i-city area is completely covered with QR codes from walls to floors to windows, with no exceptions. The visitors are provided with a special tablet with a camera that lights up the squares according to a specific rhythm. Then, the monitor unveils projects for Skolkovo, the so-called Russian Silicon Valley. The Skolkovo area is not far from Moscow and is one of the most ambitious architectural, financial and scientific projects in the country, anticipating buildings and development plans by David ChipperfieldOMAHerzog & De MeuronStefano Boeri Architetti and Bernaskoni Architecture Bureau, just to name a few.

On the lower level, the i-land project is a completely dark area, with mysterious tiny backlit holes that create a sort of underground constellation. Looking inside the holes, the visitor can directly spy into the Soviet past, discovering a series of formerly secret science cities. Those citadels represented the excellence of USSR’s scientific research and were kept hidden until the end of the Cold War.

Japan

The Golden Lion for the Best National Participation went to “Architecture. Possible here? Home-for-All,”Toyo Ito‘s project for the Japanese Pavillion, which starts with the consequences of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. With the help of architects Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, and photographer Naoya Hatakeyama, Ito documents the realization of community centers for victims.

Questions about the possibility of post-quake architecture find an answer in apparently primeval construction techniques, where wood and stilts make up the basic elements. The entire installation looks and feels like a work-in-progress, where the contribution from everyone is considered and accepted, in a spirit of authentic collaboration between architects and common people. This is the epitome of this year’s Biennale, an authentic “common ground” for the future of architecture.

132 5. by Issey Miyake

New article for Cool Hunting.

Having built his reputation on merging fashion with technology and methods of design far beyond conventional garment construction, Issey Miyake continues to move his now venerable house into new realms of womenswear. “Designers must not think egotistically about future trends but should consider the problem that is here, now,” he says. “We cannot afford to look at this problem as leisurely spectators, as though it does not affect us.” This statement accurately summarizes the concept behind Reality Lab, an in-house research and development team formed at Issey Miyake in 2007.

In late 2010, Reality Lab presented the project 132 5., building on Miyake’s most advanced breakthroughs in the past, like Pleats Please in 1989 and A-POC in 1997. Thanks to a collaboration with computer scientist and professor Jun Mitani, the team was able to conceive an algorithm that creates unique 3D geometric shapes that can be folded into 2D forms, which are then heat pressed to become folded shirts, skirts, pants and one-piece dresses.

The challenge has been to fine tune them to the body shape and add comfort. Born from a unique synthesis of mathematics, clothes-making and sustainability, the recurring collection isn’t scheduled by season, but rather revolves around the tenets of “regeneration and re-creation”.

Based upon principles of collaboration and teamwork, Reality Lab aims to improve the production processes with an eye on local Japanese manufacturing. Issey Miyake has always made an effort to incorporate local materials and factories from all over the country, and has developed close working relationships with the people at each site. While Miyake uses traditional methods, his work marks a drastic departure from overtly traditional and ethnic styles.

The Reality Lab also aims to work with materials that don’t depend on fossil fuels. As a result, the entire 132 5. line is made from a special polyester derived from pulverizing, melting and spinning PET in a process that reduces energy consumption and CO2 emissions by about 80 percent.

This year, 132 5. has been nominated for the Design Museum’s Designer of the Year Award. The winner will be announced 24 April, 2012. In the meantime, the collection is available year-round at the 132 5. Store in Tokyo and in selected Issey Miyake stores worldwide.