At the 2012 Biennale of Architecture I was delighted to discover the Arsenale, something that had eluded me on previous visits to Venice. A cluster of armories and shipyards housed within formidable walls, the Arsenale is where the extensive array of Venetian naval and merchant ships were built and serviced. Quite by accident, I stumbled on the Porta Magna “main gate” (c. 1460). It’s a magnificent structure, but what I loved most about it were the graduated unsymmetrical archaic sitting and reclining lions (four in all). I read subsequently that two are from Greece. One, known as the Piraeus Lion, boasts runic symbols on it carved by Scandinavian mercenaries who invaded Venice in the 11th century.
Inside is the recently restored boat “garage” for the Doges’ barges. It reminded me of the scull boathouse at college. On steroids. I passed by it on the way to the Casa Scaffali (house of shelves) situated within a lovely garden. Here I found the Tod Williams Billie Tsien exhibition Wunderkammer, which I had come to Venice to see. The two invited 35 esteemed colleagues to select objects that spoke to them and the work they do, place them in a gray painted wood box provided by Tsien and Williams and ship them to Venice. Originating from Williams and Tsien’s New York office the boxes were sent out across the globe collecting each architect’s contribution. In Venice, the boxes and objects became a collection, representing the commonalities and differences all the individual architects share. This collection of architectural DNA played directly into Curator David Chipperfield’s notion of Common Ground.