Grouped in various imaginable orders of succession and superposition, the pavilions that make up the Giardini of the Biennale of Venice surrender to the calmness and stillness that dominate the passing of hours, before they give in to the deluded subrogation of stories that will announce the return of the human avalanche, the awakening of life and the constant struggle that all of a sudden will empower them to be part of new tales. Going through the shaded paths that run among the pavilions, the stereometric volumes of the Venezuelan Pavilion interpose themselves among the trees, announcing the emergence of its frugal presence. The place is set in opposition to that “topographic entanglement” that is embodied by Venice, and the pavilion unravels as an offering from the tropical country to the “unlikely city” that gives rise to its toponymy; namely, Venezuela means “little Venice” and shares with this city the trait of being a country of “labyrinths.”
The presence of several trees, which encircle the scope of the pavilion, leads an open way to it. The wooden access steps rush forward beyond their limits, as if they were shoe tongues ready to suction the passers-by and carry them into the platform made of concrete that acts as an anteroom to the pavilion. The long steps propose slowing down a fast pace and adjusting the rhythm of motion to leave behind the “everyday” world and enter the world that the pavilion offers: a promise of the unexpected. An area covered by a reinforced concrete slab announces the entrance threshold. The concrete slab, marked with a striped and embossed drawing and supported by six double metallic columns, articulates into a corner and leads to a backyard where the light and the air reach beyond the bounds of the enclosure that overlooks the lagoon. The textures of the visible concrete wall combine respectfully with the brick wall of the Swiss Pavilion and the polished wall that shelters part of the backyard; this combination of textures exalts the notion of assembly and promotes the idea of “establishment” that regards the pavilion as a place of regular continuity. The water surface in the center of the backyard mirrors a measured echo of the lagoon, and a rhombus stands out of the square frame of this water surface, which generates a particular dynamic of displacement.
A lightweight roof of metallic structure and wood slats hangs across the construction, exceeding its limitations to shape the exit threshold: an artifact faceted by lattices. The longitudinal shape of the roof almost floats, hanging on light metallic pillars penetrating into the heart of the Venezuelan Pavilion linking the two displaced parallelepipeds that articulate the composition of the volumes. A space of mediation between the inside and the outside, the lightweight roof transgresses its limits, just as the majority of the components of the pavilion do, displacing the preconceived mold of the elements. Within the pavilion the return to the expressive power of construction and materials, of sensitive emplacements and discrete shapes, are traits of the identity of Carlo Scarpa, its architect.
As we walk into the building, the first exhibition room appears before us and leads us to the fixed expository areas of the pavilion that vary in size and height but have the same horizontal and vertical development and that were described by Scarpa as a single “vasta sala” or “vast exhibition room” from which “the sky and surrounding nature” would be visible. The deliberate management of the space bursts here, fuelled by the exaltation of the expressive value of the surfaces; glass strips that revolve, strictly, to stop at the required distance for the eye to glimpse the sky and the clouds. In a relaxed manner, the light turns dim and carves a sphere of feints and delays, a hesitant gap that paralyzes, approximates, and pursues because it reveals the vehement passion of the glass slits. The slow manner to approach all the angles, to enter the cover of the displaced spaces or to go almost tactilely through the different textures, forces us to slow down our pace to try to reach out to the tectonic richness of the pavilion: a kind of alternating movement of ceilings and floors, of zigzag circulations, of juxtaposing surfaces, that leave indelible marks in the warm smoothness of the interior, in the meticulous and insatiable vanishing that the pavilion discloses.
In a series of relations the pavilion shows the constructive logic of the architecture and the ability of the buildings to alter our perception of a location. On the basis of a synthesis of elements, the pavilion invites us to contemplation. The limitations of the program surprise us by manifesting an expressive universe anchored in the containment. The spatial relation and the luminosity of the three interior halls are privileged. The fragmentation articulates without omitting the balance between horizontality and verticality. Swinging between isolation and simultaneity, the elements that compose the celestial speech that is “given” in the “vast exhibition room” are tied together but recover immediately its lost uniqueness transgressing the mere juxtaposition. The difference of height between two smaller exhibition rooms softens the leaving of the circuit and the return to the Giardini, which have been abandoned for a while. The double perspective—the narrowness of the fixed place, indoors; the possibility of the moving, outdoors, which questions the closure—inaugurates the bustle that frames the mobile fiction of the pavilion.
The value of a work of art lies in its expression; the pavilion of Venezuela places us before architectonic instances that try to go beyond mediation. Scarpa’s fixation on unchangeable components of the architecture—highlighted in a particular manner—makes us perceive the door, the window, the ceiling, etc., as elements that, though extremely familiar, would be shown from the irreducible singularity of its design. Lurking for details, the mechanic effect taken as poetic, the predominant tectonics, and the plastic quality of the metallic binary pillars make us perceive the pavilion as an artifact in which its architect “sides with the objects,” in which the precise contemplation of the inanimate objects prevails over a mediated condition.
Thus, the building locates us in the middle of the surrounding area of the objects, brings us closer to the essential nature of the materials, to the telluric condition of the concrete and to the lightness of the covers shrouded in air alternating their permanent characterization. A pavilion of dramatic presences; a pavilion of immediate means.
In this respect, the Venezuelan Pavilion shows itself as a “dawn,” not only because the building represents the first approach to establish Scarpa’s architecture, the beginning of his synthetic expansion toward a singular manner of understanding and proposing the space, from the presentation of the idea itself to the physical materialization of the projected space, but also because of having the vision—from diverse perspectives—of coming across with a Venetian light that starts to get dimmed from the moment that we abandon the everyday world that has led us to this pavilion and as we walk through the entrance threshold; a Venetian light that reappears shining on the water surface of the backyard, that gets shadowed as we walk through the lightweight roof but that flickers as we enter the exhibition area until it manifests itself sparkling through the slits of glass that lead the way from the outside to the Scarpian “vast exhibition room”; viewed in that light, the boundaries of the building surrender to the brightness of a splendid dawn.