US pavilion at the venice architecture biennale
US pavilion at the venice architecture biennale US pavilion at the venice architecture biennale
aug 29, 2012

US pavilion at the venice architecture biennale

‘spontaneous interventions: design actions for the common good’ curated and commissioned by cathy lang ho, USA pavilion, venice architecture biennale image © designboom



venice  2012 architecture biennale: day three – live!


titled ‘spontaneous interventions: design actions for the common good,’ the united states pavilion at the 2012 venice architecture biennale is curated and commissioned by cathy lang ho with help from david van der leer and ned cramer. our economic situation is allowing a new found burst of creativity from the common citizen, shifting the role of the protagonist from the select few to the common masses. the installation investigates the future of the archetypal american city through a series of smaller-scale projects realized by individuals – rather than the economically capable elite – that intervene in the urban context.


sausalito-based design studio M-A-D has developed a graphic system of colors resembling a bar code, where the size of each strip represents the prevalence of a specific category in relation to the represented project: information (blue), accessbility (orange), community (pink), economy (light green), sustainability(dark green) and pleasure (blue). printed on suspended banners from an open scaffolding developed by freecell, each of the 124 projects hangs from a cable in an almost festival-like atmosphere where visitors can pull them down for a closer inspection, while a black square acting as a counterweight along the wall suggests a solution to the problem. every banner showcases an urban intervention which could range from guerrilla pathways to larger structures, all realized by the public on either a paid or volunteer basis. the projects address a range of issues, from functional improvements to existing infrastructure to the creation of new structures, all modifying space within diverse urban fabrics.



freecell created a lively system of banners suspended from an open scaffold, evoking a festival atmosphere. the banners may be pulled down for a clos- er look, triggering the movement of counterweights that are in- scribed with suggested actions to solve urban problems. image © designboom



an integrated infographic diragram on the floor, also developed by M-A-D, provides a historical timeline of the american city and urban activism, while a video directed by kelly lourdenberg shows a series of clips featuring participants sharing their hopes and dreams for the future of the city, asked to speak as if they were running for an election.


the entrance courtyard or ‘commonplace’ designed by  new york studio interboro borrowed from the venetian elevated sidewalks to design the meeting and workshop space, with a collection of portable blocks that can be arranged into any configuration.



image courtesy of freecell



banners are connected to counterweights through a pully system image © designboom



counterweights reveal solutions to universal problems image © designboom



frontside of banners image © designboom



‘in researching projects for the exhibition, we found hundreds of examples even before we issued an open call in january, which itself yielded over 450 compelling self-initiated urban improvements. we narrowed our choice to 124—the maximum number we could fit in the 4,000-square-foot permanent american pavilion in the giardini, the public gardens of venice—though we wish we could have included many more. we were expansive in our consideration of what qualifies as a ‘spontaneous intervention’, including projects that encroach on the territory of art and graffiti, well aware that some acts are more about self-expression than tactics for long-term change. our goal was to find a diversity of original projects that transform public urban space to better serve the common good, seeking those that would add up to a useful archive of actionable strategies that could be replicated in other cities facing similar problems.’

cathy lang ho



image courtesy of freecell



‘the notion of the “common good” is mutable and subjective, to be sure—what’s good for some might not be for others—but in selecting projects we adhered to the idea of what is beneficial to the most people with respect to everyday needs. new bike lanes in NYC might irk drivers; guerrilla gardeners might be annoying squatters to property owners; culture-jamming billboard pranks might be classifiable as vandalism; and all of these acts might be gentrification by another name. but we believe that the positive impacts of our featured examples of hands-on city-making far outweigh the negative.’

continues cathy lang ho



image © designboom



‘more appropriate than considering these works with respect to how they address the “common good” is how they address the “commons,” the space and resources we share, harkening to the originary political conception of the “common wealth,” or public wealth, and how it should be administered. the commons have been under assault for centuries, but intensely so since the dawn of industrialism with the extreme privatization and pillaging of land and natural resources combined with the sad mismanagement by our entrusted public entities of our public spaces, parks, infrastructure, schools, and other shared assets. the word “commons” suggests medieval laws involving free-grazing animals and the right to forage in forests, but we can’t forget that it remains central to our everyday lives, from the water running through our taps to the streets that get us where we need to go. with the commons so threatened, so in disrepair, is it any wonder that “commoners” feel compelled to step in? spontaneous interventions embody innumerable ways of rethinking our collective well-being, both physical and emotional.’

cathy lang ho concludes.



commissioner and curator cathy lang ho is an independent architecture critic and editor based in NY. she is a contributing editor to architect magazine and founding editor-in-chief of the architect’s newspaper. she has published hundreds of articles in publications worldwide, and is a board member of the institute for urban design.



image © designboom


124 urban intervention projects presented on banners image © designboom



backside of banners image © designboom



detail of a project on a banner image © designboom



individual panels can be pulled down for further inspection image © designboom



back of banners image © designboom



wending across the gallery floors is a timeline that narrates the history of city- making as well as key precedents in urban activism. M-A-D designed a timeline that alters in shape as it advances, reflecting the ideas of each dominant epoch. today’s urban interventions are reacting to spe- cific conditions that have been de- cades, even centuries, in the mak- ing, informed by complex physical and cultural circumstances. image © designboom



infographic on floor image © designboom



‘commonplace’, features a conversation pit that is filled with foam cubes in- tended to be used for seating or playing. the pieces are configured to accommodate a range of functions, from lectures to workshops to casual socializing. their intention is to donate the cubes to a school when the biennale concludes. image © designboom



interboro borrowed a standard-issue item from the city of venice – the temporary, elevated sidewalks called passerelle that venetians use to navigate venice during acqua alta  – to create an ‘outdoor living room / commonplace’ to host programs scheduled for the biennale’s three-month run. image © designboom



curated by:

cathy lang ho (commissioner and curator), david van der leer, and ned cramer (co-curators) curatorial advisors: michael sorkin, anne guiney, paola antonelli, zoe ryan, and erik adigard. project managers: gordon douglas and mimi zeiger organizers: institute for urban design, on behalf of the bureau of educational and cultural affairs (ECA) of the U.S. department of tate    collaborators: freecell (exhibition design), M-A-D (communication and exhibition design), interboro partners (courtyard installation) team: gordon douglas & mimi zeiger (project managers), justin allen, mina chow, brendan crain, giulia cugnasca, lee ann custer, alex fortney (web programming), andreas jonathan, sarah kantrowitz, katherine koh, kelly loudenberg (film), alexandra sutherland-brown, alexandra tell, samantha topol, julia van den hout, toni griffin / j. max bond center

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
    all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


    a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

    architecture news

    keep up with our daily and weekly stories
    502,528 subscribers
    - see sample
    - see sample