In Therapy: Nordic Countries Face to Face positioned the Nordic Pavilion, an exhibition hall designed by the Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn for the 1962 Biennale, as a civic extension of the giardini. The central installation of the exhibition—a truncated step-pyramid, or ziggurat, built with pine and using traditional Swedish wood construction techniques—attempted to frame the charged narrative of the pavilion by way of radical spatial occupation, as an inhabitable display, and through the temporary insertion of a profile amphitheatre.
Seeking to distance itself from the historic weight of the space by way of tectonic play, the exhibition—displayed on paper and through film—offered an impression of the state of contemporary built Nordic architecture across a nine year timespan (between 2008 and 2016). Here fundamental questions were raised as simple provocations: How has Nordic architecture (Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish) developed in recent years? Which threads tie them together and what unifying direction, if any, might be discerned?
In Therapy sought not to demand visitors’ full attention as much as it did not seek to deliver its message all at once. In the context of the Biennale, the project aspired to deflect the monotony of the archetypal ‘stand-and-look’ show by creating a clearing amid the congestion; a space in which visitors were invited to pause, absorb, and reflect on the material gathered and the voices convened.
The ‘ziggurat’, formed and engineered by Marge Arkitekter (Stockholm) as an interpretive gesture of Fehn’s design, behaved as an urban artefact as well as a display; an inhabitable installation and an invitation for investigation. It was felt that architecture, at least in the form and quantity that had been convened, would best be experienced in a state of distraction.
State of Impressions
The steps of the ‘ziggurat’ held responses to an open call that had invited architecture practices from around the world to submit built projects they had realised in the Nordic region between 2008 and 2016. Each submission was self-categorised as Foundational (architecture that cares for society’s basic needs, and presented in red), related to Belonging (architecture which enacts public programs and creates public spaces, enabling people to become citizens, presented in green), or in a state of Recognition (architecture positioned to appreciate and reflect upon the values of Nordic society, presented in blue). Each practice was invited to indicate how the project has (or, indeed, has not) contributed to the present condition of Finnish, Norwegian, or Swedish society.
This tripartite classification represented an interpretative take on the structure of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1954), a theorised system outlining the basic and complex motivational ‘needs’ representing the progress of the individual in society. Maslow described the pinnacle of the hierarchy, which he diagrammed as a pyramid, as ‘self-actualisation’ – the realisation of one’s full potential.
A central impetus behind In Therapy was in the acknowledgment of the ‘ghosts’ of Nordic architecture – those architects, historians, theorists, and educators who have exerted a profound influence on contemporary practice and pedagogy at home and abroad. This exhibition aimed to address an acute challenge faced by Finnish, Norwegians and Swedish architects today (consciously or otherwise): How might a contemporary architectural project exist in a dialogue with its setting when that setting is so charged? How might architecture occupy a legacy while at the same time harnessing it in a contemporary context?
Face to Face
In Therapy offered a provocation – a collection of installations which presented the breadth of contemporary Nordic architecture, assembled under one roof, in order to set up a framework for conversation and proposition. It positioned Finland, Norway and Sweden—three countries with distinct histories, cultures, and attitudes to design—face to face in the context of the compressed world of the Biennale, interrogating perceptions and preconceptions of Nordic architecture by openly addressing its built manifestation.