James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Thomas Muirhead
To speak of the book pavilion is first to evoke things past, namely the two rows of trees between which the architectural office of Stirling Wilford & Associates situated their building in 1991. With the exception of two or three, these trees have since disappeared, and the book pavilion now stands on a surface sparsely covered with grass. The park has undoubtedly been neglected. Even more than for other buildings in the Giardini, earlier visits to the pavilion need to be brought to mind to regain the meaning of this poetic design.
Even before the visitor takes the path to the biennial pavilion with its massive white pillars, a building appears on the right, set back behind bushes. This is somewhat unsettling given how its façade asserts a striking axis with the facing entrance to the Giardini. A short white “tower” with a grating above the door stands on a semicircular platform tiled with cement. However, the iron I-beam puncturing this grating and extending far outward disrupts my initial associations with a northern village church. Instead it brings other, industrial images to bear, or at least it is reminiscent of a goods lift. In effect, the beam serves to hoist the necessary machinery for the pavilion’s air-conditioning to the room above the door.
A further element on the tower comes into view between the trees and evokes a third association: The large yellow pipe brings to mind the chimney on one of the ships that ferried us to the Giardini. While initially painted white, it is now a color frequently found in Venice. The red “E” for “Electa” remains. The colored beam of a laser points to the night sky, or at least it used to. Even on its first appearance, the pavilion evokes contradictory and commingling images that resist coming together to a single meaning. From its symbolic façade the pavilion extends back beneath a steeply inclined roof topped with a lantern. Gaps in the surrounding wooden deck still indicate where the trees used to stand and how accurately the pavilion was located between them. The green copper roof overhangs the windows that wrap around the long, narrow room like a ribbon. Fine ribs structure the wide roof and secure the copper sheets. Its color conjures up the kind of Chinese pavilions sometimes found in an 18th-century park—however, there is no gold. The cement balustrade, painted grey along the bottom part and white along the top, makes the pavilion look like a Vaporetto.