By kristin


We’ve all had those moments: recognizing the need for a bike lane or walking past a dilapidated storefront thinking, “This could be something!” Being engaged and active citizens, we identify problems in our neighborhoods and cities all the time. Yet we usually leave it up to city planners and developers to solve them.

The U.S. Pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice – now open through November 25th – celebrates people who take action. From guerilla gardening and community farms to pop-up markets and temporary architecture, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good presents 124 examples of citizen-led urban improvements by architects, designers, planners and artists across the country. Conceived by commissioner and curator, Cathy Lang Ho, with co-curators David van der Leer and Ned Cramer and organized by the Institute for Urban Design – a New York-based think tank and advocacy group – the exhibition resonates with the overall theme of the Biennale (Common Ground) but also identifies a growing democratic movement of tactical urbanism in the U.S.

Rockwell Group’s “Imagination Playground” at the Serra dei Giardini in Venice

The collaborative idea behind the exhibition, which received a Special Mention in the Biennale’s coveted Golden Lion Awards (a first for the American Pavilion), is also mirrored in the pavilion’s design. Working with three design firms, the curators present an interactive installation – rather than a conventional exhibition of projects – inside and out of the 4,000 square foot space.

Walking up to the Palladian-style building, visitors are welcomed to an outdoor living room, as envisioned by Interboro – a New York-based firm who won last year’s MoMA/PS1’s Young Architects Program. Appropriately dubbed “Common Place,” the courtyard features a clever arrangement of passarelle – Venice’s emergency sidewalks used during acqua alta – and modular orange blocks that can be easily reconfigured for lectures, socializing and play. (For more information on event programming in the U.S. Pavilion during the three months of the Biennale, click here.)

Photo courtesy of Interboro

Meanwhile, a video installation by filmmaker Kelly Loudenberg, inside the main entryway to the pavilion, acts as an intriguing backdrop to onlookers. It shows a cross section of exhibition participants who share their thoughts on and hopes for the American city.

Inside the pavilion, Brooklyn design studio Freecell devised a simple yet brilliant system of banners suspended from an open scaffold with the project description on one side and a unique color-coded flag on the other. When pulled down for closer inspection, the banners trigger the movement of counterweights that reveal the problem and solution for each spontaneous intervention.

Photo courtesy of M-A-D

Placing the exhibition into a broader historical and cultural context, Sausalito-based communication design studio M-A-D created a supergraphic floor pattern that narrates the history of city-making and points out key precedents in urban activism in America and abroad. The company also designed the semantic bar code on the back of each banner that evokes the iconography of city flags.

Photo courtesy of M-A-D

For an in-depth look at the collection of Spontaneous Interventions featured in the U.S. Pavilion and to join the conversation on guerilla urbanism, visit www.spontaneousinterventions.org

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