nordic pavilion at venice biennale tells story of african independence
nordic pavilion at venice biennale tells story of african independence nordic pavilion at venice biennale tells story of african independence
jun 10, 2014

nordic pavilion at venice biennale tells story of african independence

nordic pavilion tells a story of african independence at venice biennale
image © designboom




on the occasion of the venice architecture biennale 2014, the nordic pavilion — comprising sweden, finland and norway — present ‘forms of freedom: african independence and nordic models’. curating the exhibtion are the national museum in norway, the museum of finnish architecture and the swedish center for architecture and design, who found their influence in the kenyatta international conference center featured on the kenyan 100-shilling banknote. upon seeing the reference to one of their own norwegian architects, they decided to research the untold history of their country’s collaboration with africa. the documentation explores how modern nordic structures have been an integral part of nordic aid to east africa in the 1960s and 1970s.

nordic pavilion at venice biennale
photographic and video documentation along the walls tells the story of african independence
image © designboom




nordic architecture in east africa had not been extensively studied until this occasion. the exhibition revolves the documentation and analysis around two concepts: the first is ‘building freedom’, which denotes the architectural nation-building where master plans were used to build cities and regions, prototypes and prefabricated systems were used to build education and health centers. ‘finding freedom’, on the other hand, indicates the experimental free area that emerged from this encounter between nordic aid and african nation-building, where progressive ideas could be developed as architectural solutions. 


the pavilion brings light to the fact that the progress made by tanzania, kenya, and zambia after their liberation was achieved, with help from nordic countries. at the time, the leaders of these new african states were looking for assistance from partners that could help them establish new ideas of freedom. meanwhile, in norway, sweden, and finland, people saw potential in the idea that their social democratic model could be exported and applied to growing areas of the world.



biennale architettura 2014 – absorbing modernity: 1914-2014. nordic pavilion
video courtesy of la biennale di venezia channel




once the entities came together, experts, such as norwegian architect karl henrik nostvick, were sent abroad with the understanding that they weren’t just building freedom, but finding freedom as well. highlighted within the exhibition panels that lie along the longitudinal axis of the pavilion, ‘building freedom denotes nation-building through city planning, infrastructure and industry, and institutions for education, health, and state bureaucracy, whereas finding freedom points at the modernist, experimental free area that emerged from the encounter between nordic aid and african nation-building.’ thus, the pavilion by sverre fehn displays photographs of daily life in africa as well as pictures of architectural monuments created by nordic designers that helped develop its countries.

nordic pavilion at venice biennale
large panels built within the structure catalog a timeline of events
image © designboom




on the exterior of the pavilion, in homage to kuwait, a traditional structure called a ‘sabil’ has been installed by commissioner zahra ali baba and curator alia farid. originally intended to hold the water donated to a community and quench the thirst of travelers and animals, these constructs now function as public water fountains. the overall form of the installation is an ode to dune windstorm’s ‘mushroom towers.’ although kuwait is beyond the scope of the nordic exhibition, organizers of the pavilion found it significant to reference the country because of its relationship to kenya, tanzania, and zambia, all of which were under great britain’s rule until 1961.

details of architectural monuments hang on the walls of the pavilion
image © designboom

nordic pavilion at venice biennale
portraits of african citizens show the progress that has been made
image © designboom

nordic pavilion at venice biennale
evidence of structural change is illustrated through the photos
image © designboom

a photographic catalog of african architecture is presented along the walls of the pavilion
image © designboom

nordic pavilion at venice biennale
zambia world bank education project (architect: gunnar hyll. schools all over zambia 1971-1978)
original photo by mette tronvoll
image © designboom

nordic pavilion story african independence venice biennale
photographs of ‘kenyatta internaional conference center’ by iwan baan
image © designboom

nordic pavilion at venice biennale tells story of african independence
kuwait water towers
image © designboom

the sabil stands as a monolith while visitors pass by, replicating the kuwait water towers
image © designboom

tree trunks along with the ‘triple tower model’ by nostvik bring verticality to the space
image © designboom

videos from the 1960s and 70s play on screens showing what the developing countries looked like
image © designboom



nordic pavilion (norway, finland, sweden)
‘forms of freedom. african independence and nordic models’
several nordic architects and planners 1960-80
commissioner: the national museum of art, architecture and design, norway.
deputy commissioner: museum of finnish architecture and the swedish centre for architecture and design.
curator: nina berre
deputy curator: gro bonesmo
venue: pavilion at giardini, venice


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