At Architecture Biennale, Israeli Pavilion Looks to the Future

Instead of investigating existing situations, the Israeli pavilion in Venice will showcase a newly created conversation between the worlds of biology and architecture.

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Investigating biomaterials.
Investigating biomaterials. Credit: Prof. Ilana Kolodkin-Gal
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

At the end of the month the 15th Architecture Biennale will open in Venice, where the Israeli pavilion will be showing the exhibition “LifeObject.” The curators — architects Noy Lazarovich, Arielle Blonder, Bnaya Bauer, scientist Dr. Ido Bachelet and curator Dr. Yael Eylat Van-Essen — explain that at first the exhibition had a Hebrew name, which was changed to an English one, like all the texts accompanying the exhibition, which are published in English only.

Within a few months and with a limited budget of 1.2 million shekels ($317,000), which is designated both for setting up the exhibition and the various research studies, they have created a pavilion that is very different from most of Israel’s offerings in recent years. The exhibition includes no criticism of Israeli construction. The team does not investigate existing situations such as suburban neighborhoods or kibbutzim, but instead presents new options for creating architecture.

“Our exhibition looks to the future,” says Eylat Van-Essen. “There is a concept here of a formative exhibition and not only a display.”

The team members insist that it’s not an exhibition about green architecture. “We’re trying to create a conversation between the two worlds of biology and architecture,” says Blonder. “We’re at the start of a biological era and everything is becoming blurred and we have an opportunity here to connect them.”

Part of the exhibition in Venice.
Part of the exhibition in Venice.Credit: Eyal Tagar

One of the points of interface between the fields will be implemented in the design of the entry floor to the pavilion, where they will build a dense network of intertwined poles from a new material that they created, which is composed of three different materials: epoxy, fiberglass and Kevlar (a type of synthetic fiber). The inspiration is a bird’s nest.

“We looked at the amazing system of the nest. There’s no glue, no joints and no mold, and it’s round and perfect. The bird creates a system that’s relatively flexible, but has a certain resistance. Without this resistance it would be liked cooked spaghetti.”

Bauer explains that the design of the network of poles was done following a CAT scan of the nest of the Dead Sea sparrow. “An analysis of the CAT scan enabled us to receive numerical data about the way the components of the nest combine,” he says. “This information helped us to plan an algorithm that makes it possible to build a human construction that includes the structural software of a bird’s nest.”

The dense construction contains 11 scattered and concealed “breathing cells,” based on the principle of a stoma, or opening, in nature. Within the stomata they will place results of research studies that could become integrated into the world of architecture. For example, a fungus that is capable of breaking down paints, even the most aggressive of them, such as textile industry paints — among the most difficult to break down. One of the exhibits will be a collage of fungi displaying various levels of paint breaking down.

Clockwise from right: Bachelet, Bauer, Blonder, Lazarovich, Eylat Van-Essen.
Clockwise from right: Bachelet, Bauer, Blonder, Lazarovich, Eylat Van-Essen.Credit: Moti Milrod

“The idea is that if there is a structure that we want to renovate and revive, instead of peeling the paint and painting, not always very successfully, we’ll be able to let the fungi spread over the façade and to get a whitened structure. It’s harnessing nature to our ranks,” explains Lazarovich.

The curators have assembled seven teams of architects and scientists. Each team presents a product that connects the two fields. For example, architects Nir Chen and Guy Austern joined Prof. Oded Shoseyov, who specializes in synthetic biology and studies the use of nano-cellulose. In the joint study they created solutions for Bedouin housing in the Negev. They are planning a series of shell-like structures in the shape of a wave, which are designed to become part of the desert surroundings and create a meeting place for the residents of the region. The structure will include, in a manner developed especially for the project, the organic material of nano-cellulose that will enable the filtering of rays of light.

Architect Tagit Klimor, of the Knafo-Klimor firm, joined Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, a cancer researcher who is developing specific medications designed to destroy the cancerous cells without harming the healthy cells surrounding them. Their joint architectural project relates to the problem of urban density. They created a theoretical model of a building with pipes containing healing substances. Klimor explains that just as Satchi-Fainaro’s healing materials operate in a pinpointed area, the architectural proposal tries to handle a specific location rather than offering an overall solution.

“In Tel Aviv there is hidden density of young residents who aren’t registered in the city. As a result there is an illegal division of apartments and a lack of community services and open spaces. That can be handled properly, identifying the problems ahead of time and suggesting a legal way of adding apartments and community needs.

Sparrow’s nest.
Sparrow’s nest. Credit: Amit Ofek

The landscape architectural firm Nahalat Haclal joined Prof. Uri Shavit, who is involved in civil and environmental engineering and focuses on the study of environmental problems originating in the flow of water and sediment. The project, which was designed in cooperation with the Netanya municipality, deals with Netanya’s sandstone cliffs, which have been in danger of collapse for years.

The erosion processes have accelerated in recent years due to the construction of the marina in Herzliya, construction and development behind the cliff and the channeling of sewage water. In the joint study they discovered that it’s preferable not to intervene in natural processes and to try to stop them, and accordingly to design alternatives like a park, as opposed to the artificial means used by the government, such as building breakwaters.

In their opinion, the main achievement of the exhibition is the cooperation between architects and scientists. “Even if there’s a disaster and the container sinks on the way to Venice,” says Bauer, “we have created cooperative projects here. This is the first time that a scientist is hosting an architect.” The studies and the products they created with about 100 partners and dozens of laboratories are fascinating, but it’s not clear how their ideas can be integrated into the Israeli construction world.

“We’re trying to ask basic questions. We still don’t understand their significance in terms of implementation,” says Eylat Van-Essen. And Lazarovich adds: “The projects can be used. ... There’s an attempt here to create a new concept that deals with all kinds of environmental and climatic situations.”