Shifting Ground: Beyond National Architecture

John McLaughlin

    Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


    The Irish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2012 charts a position for Irish architecture in a global culture where the modes of production of architecture are radically altered. Ireland is one of the most globalised countries in the world, yet it has developed a national culture of architecture derived from local place as a material construct. We now have to evolve our understanding in the light of the globalised nature of economic processes and architectural production which is largely dependent on internationally networked flows of products, data, and knowledge. We have just begun to represent this situation to ourselves and others. How should a global architecture be grounded culturally and philosophically? How does it position itself outside of shared national reference points?
    heneghan peng architects were selected as participants because they are working across three continents on a range of competition-winning projects. Several of these are in sensitive and/or symbolic sites that include three UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Giants Causeway Visitor Centre in Northern Ireland, and the new Rhine Bridge near Lorelei.
    Our dialogue led us to discussing the universal languages of projective geometry and number are been shared by architects and related professionals. In the work of heneghan peng, the specific embodiment of these geometries is carefully calibrated by the choice of materials and the detailed design of their physical performance on site. The stone facade of the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre takes precise measure of the properties of the volcanic basalt seams from which it is hewn. The extraction of the stone is the subject of the pavilion wall drawings which record the cutting of stones to create the façade of the causeway centre.
    We also identified water as an element which is shared across the different sites. Venice is a perfect place to take measure of this element which suggests links to another site – the Nile Valley which was enriched by the annual flooding of the River Nile. An ancient Egyptian rod for measuring the water level of the Nile inspired the design of the Nilometre - a responsive oscillating bench that invites visitors to balance their respective weights. This action embodies the ways of thinking that are evolving to operate in the globalised world, where the autonomous architectural object is dissolving into an expanded field of conceptual rules and systems. The bench constitutes a shifting ground located in the unstable field of Venice. It is about measurement and calibration of the weight of the body in relation to other bodies; in relation to the site of the installation; and in relation to water. The exhibit is located in the Artiglierie section of the Arsenale. Its level is calibrated against the mark of the acqua alta in the adjacent brickwork of the building which embodies a liminal moment in the fluctuating level of the lagoon.
    The weights of bodies, the level of water, changes over time, are constant aspects of design across cultures and collectively they constitute a common ground for architecture - a ground shared with other design professionals. The movement of the bench required complex engineering design and active collaboration between the architects, engineers and fabricators. It is a kind of prototype – a physical object produced from digital data that explores the mathematics at play – the see-saw motion invites the observer to become a participant, to give it a test drive. It shows how a simple principle can generate complex effects that are difficult to predict and invites visitors to experiment and play with them.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationDublin
    PublisherIreland at Venice Architecture Biennale
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    EventInternational Architecture Biennale - Venice, Italy
    Duration: 27 Aug 201225 Nov 2012


    • Venice Architecture Biennale Irish pavilion

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Engineering(all)


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