Australia uses technology to visit a range of projects that, for a number of reasons, were never actually constructed.

Australia's exhibition at the 2014 Architecture Biennale in Venice uses technology to visit a range of projects that, for a number of reasons, were never actually constructed.

Hybrid Cathedral in Victoria, by Tessellate a+d 

An intoxicating showcase of architecture, the 2014 Architecture Biennale, entitled Fundamentals, kicked off in Venice in early June, running until November 23.

Organised by la Biennale di Venezia at Venice’s historic Giardini and Arsenale venues, the Architecture Biennale is held every two years, and is recognised as the world’s biggest celebration of architecture.

“As an architect, being involved in the Architecture Biennale is probably one of the biggest privileges,” says Professor Rene van Meeuwen, on Australia’s Biennale team. “It’s a bit like an architecture Olympics. The creative team is like a bunch of athletes, in terms of thinking and ability to create an exhibition that represents your country.”

Fundamentals is three interlocking exhibitions – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014; Elements of Architecture; and Monditalia – that together illuminate the past, present and future of architecture.

Director Rem Koolhaas says it’s a biennale about architecture, not architects. “After several biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will focus on histories, on the inevitable elements of all architecture used by any architect, anywhere, anytime (the door, the floor, the ceiling), and on the evolution of national architectures in the last 100 years.”

Australia is one of only 29 countries to have a permanent national presence at the Biennale, having had a national pavilion in the prestigious Giardini since 1988. The original Phillip Cox-designed pavilion, which was actually built as a temporary structure but remained for a quarter of a century, is now being replaced. By next May, for the 56th Art Biennale, Australia will be the first country to have redeveloped and built a 21st century pavilion in the Giardini.

The Darwin City Waterfront Signature Restaurant, as designed by Susan Dugdale & Associates.

The new pavilion, designed by Denton Corker Marshall, is currently under construction, so Australia has no venue at this year’s Biennale. While challenging, the lack of pavilion created an opportunity for this year’s Australian creative directors to break new ground with their Augmented Australia 1914-2014 exhibition, which uses innovative technology that allows architecture to be experienced in ways never before seen at the Biennale.

The felix._Giles_Anderson+Goad creative team of Rene van Meeuwen, Craig McCormack, Matt Delroy-Carr, Sophie Giles, Simon Anderson and Philip Goad, has ‘augmented’ a temporary Australian pavilion, known as Cloud Space, where
the new Australian area is being built. “It’s a collecting space under which people can meet, and holds fields of unrealised dreams together,” says Sophie Giles, director of Giles Smith Architects.

Augmented Australia 1914-2014 pushes the boundaries of architecture and technology, taking visitors on a virtual journey through a selection of Australia’s most intriguing unrealised projects.

The exhibition showcases 11 historical and 11 contemporary Australian projects from the past 100 years, which, for various reasons, were never built. The projects vary in scale and typology, from a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site in Western Australia, to a climate-modifying glass house for the Prime Minister in Canberra.

Nervi’s unconstructed concept for the New Norcia Cathedral.

The projects are brought to life via 3D augmented models, images, voiceovers and animations, activated by the Augmented Australia app that is free to download on common handheld devices. Cloud Space houses trigger images of each project and forms a physical portal to Augmented Australia, while real-world scale 3D models are positioned around Venice.

“This groundbreaking technology has allowed the 2014 Australian exhibition to extend beyond the Giardini and use the entire island city of Venice as our exhibition space,” says Rene, director of felix. “For example, visitors with the Augmented Australia app can experience the spectacular 60m-high ceilings and stained glass of Nervi’s unbuilt New Norcia cathedral while standing in Piazza San Marco.

“We’ve done this so visitors can admire the true scale and greatness of each project. Some are so big that we couldn’t even fit them on land. Harry Seidler’s 1952 design of the Melbourne Olympic Stadium has had to be positioned over water and is only accessible by boat.”

Harry Seidler’s 1952 stadium design for the Melbourne Olympics.

The creative team has also turned the buildings into small 3D models. “These can be downloaded via the app and either printed at home or sent to people as little gold beings,” says Rene. “It turns something virtual into a physical being and exhausts every possible way of experiencing the building without it actually being a building.

“Augmented Australia is an open source-style exhibition. One of the ambitions of the creative team was to bring good architecture to the public and show how important architecture is to our built environment. By using new media techniques, including the Internet and 3D printing technologies, it gives more currency and depth.”

Biennale director Rem Koolhaas’s thoughts on the globalisation of style (“The erasure of the national characteristics in architecture in favour of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language and a single repertoire of typologies”) do not conclusively agree or disagree with the stories of the buildings, says Rene.

“What they do say is that Australian architects of today are interested in the notion that architecture is about ideas as opposed to identity or style,” says Rene.
Australian Pavilion Commissioner Janet Holmes à Court AC describes Augmented Australia as a groundbreaking exhibition that tells the story of Australia’s architectural heritage through reimagining and hi-tech innovation.

The Jewel Cave Visitor Centre, as visualised by Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects.

“The technology is beyond me,” says Janet. “It is quite phenomenal. I’ve seen it in operation at the launches and it’s quite astonishing that they can place images in specific places using GPS positioning.

“I’m full of admiration and pride that we’re taking this cutting-edge technology to Venice. It shows the innovative nature of Australian architects.”

As commissioner, Janet also helps the Australian Institute of Architects raise funds for the Biennale. “The Australia Council spends a lot of money showcasing one or two artists at the Art Biennale, but there is no funding for the Architecture Biennale. So we have to raise money from architecture firms, sponsors, universities, city councils, state and federal governments.”

She says the Architecture Biennale is the most important event on the world’s architecture calendar, and it’s important Australia has a strong presence. “It allows the world to get an idea of the cutting-edge and diverse work Australian architects are engaged in,” says Janet. “Australian architects are doing beautiful work all over the world and Australian architecture is up there with the best.”


An enhanced impression of the Carlton United Brewery site in Melbourne by ARM Architecture.

The Architecture Biennale is for anyone who has even a vague interest in architecture. “It’s an opportunity to see the work of hundreds of international architects all in the one place,” says Janet. “See what they are thinking, what the issues are around the world and how architecture is addressing those issues.

“This year, with Fundamentals, it’s an opportunity to look at the way architecture has changed over last 100 years and whether there’s still a national architecture anywhere. It’s a great opportunity to have an intense international architecture experience in a beautiful city.”


You don’t have to be in Venice to get a taste of what Australia is contributing to the Biennale – the Augmented Australia app brings the projects to you.

1. Download the free Augmented Australia app from the App Store (for iOS) or Google Play (for Android) and open on your handheld smart device.

2. To preview the ‘1:1 GPS Models’ function, you will need to be situated in a central location of one of the following Australian cities: Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne or Perth. The device will ask to detect your location. Select ‘yes’. A ‘radar’ icon at the top left-hand side of the screen will show the direction of the model by a yellow dot. By moving towards the dot, you can preview a full-scale cathedral and ‘walk through’ the building, viewing it from the outside and inside.

3. To preview the ‘Animation and Scale Models’ function, simply hover your smart phone camera over one of the three preview trigger images (either on screen or in print). A suite of virtual material will automatically appear. Ensure your device has the sound switched on to listen to the voiceovers. 


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