Architectural Ethnography. The Japan Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Biennale Venice

Organizer: Chair of Prof. Stalder
Date: Saturday, 26 May 2018 to Sunday, 25 November 2018
Location: Giardini della Biennale, Venice

20th century modernization deeply transformed Japanese society. The country experienced an enormous rise in industrial productivity, bringing previously unknown levels of economic wealth and social wellbeing. At the same time, this transformation introduced increasing specialization and divisions in society, which found their most visible expression in architecture, urbanism, and territorial planning. In recent years, this evolution has been increasingly questioned by architects.

In this reappraisal, architectural drawings—the traditional tool to conceptualize, organize, and build space—have played a particular role. Besides being simply instructions for a coming building, they are also an ideal instrument to document, discuss, and evaluate architecture in a critical feedback-loop. As in ethnography, they allow usages, needs and aspirations to be investigated through the lens of the various actors—both human and non-human. Moreover, they form the basis on which a common approach in the design of individualized yet shared environments in today’s globalized society can be formulated.

The goal of the exhibition is therefore to propose “Architectural Ethnography” as a new methodology for engaging with our society. It does so by showcasing a collection of forty-two works from all over the world from the last 20 years, ranging from design specifications and spatial-activity charts, to maps of urban hybrids and large studies of rural farming and fishing villages following natural disasters, originating from university design studios, architectural offices, or artistic practices. They all reflect the search for a new approach in drawing—of, for, among, around—society, which we term “Architectural Ethnography.” On the first floor, various devices allow an in-depth engagement with the drawings on display and assist in deciphering them one by one, whereas the open space on the ground floor is organized with carts (yatai) and urban furniture as a place to draw, debate, rest, study, eat, or simply meet.

Architectural Ethnography is a collaboration between the Chair of Architectural Behaviorology of Momoyo Kaijima and the Chair for the Theory of Architecture of Laurent Stalder at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. Commissioner: The Japan Foundation. Curators: Momoyo Kaijima, with Laurent Stalder and Yu Iseki. Assistant curators: Simona Ferrari, Tamotsu Ito, Andreas Kalpakci. Landscape adviser: Christophe Girot. Graphic designer: neucitora.


Prof. Dr. Laurent Stalder