A Waterloo project designed to reflect an optimistic and inclusive environment is part of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale.

Philip Beesley, a School of Architecture professor, along with a team including Rob Gorbet, a Faculty of Environment professor, dozens of Waterloo students and hundreds of other collaborators from around the world created the installation called Grove for the international exhibition, which opened May 22.

Interpreted by The New York Times as “overcoming social and political polarization by replacing hard walls with open environments”, Grove includes a canopy of what looks like luminous, lace-like clouds embedded with liquid-filled glass vessels.

Below the canopy, a pool-shaped screen projects the film entitled Grove Cradle. The projection pool is surrounded by what is described as “a forest of totemic, basket-like columns” with embedded custom speakers that carry “a 4DSOUND composition” created especially for the exhibit.

Brand new concept

The final installation is completely different from what the Waterloo team started working on before the pandemic, which postponed the launch of the Venice Biennale twice last year.

Moving away from their first heavily interactive design, Beesley and his collaborators came up with a concept that includes a unique multi-mediaPhilip Beesley system offering expanded physical and virtual experiences.

Architecture professor Philip Beesley

The new design reflects the overall theme of the Venice Biennale that asks the question “How Will We Live Together?”

“We came up with a vision of a transformed world where future architecture seeks communion with plants, animals, and inert matter alike,” says Beesley, director of the Living Architecture Systems Group.

Parts of the exhibit evolved from Meander, another installation located in Tapestry Hall near the School of Architecture in Cambridge.

Also integrated into the design of the installation were thesis work by Tahir Pervais and Bianca Weeko Martin, now architecture alumni, and experimental engineering structures built by Richard Mui and Soo Woo, who are also now architecture graduates.

Waterloo's Grove installation is featured in this year's Venice Biennale. 

Created to inspire hope and action

Beesley says developing and installing Grove during the pandemic was a “wild experience” with social distancing and lockdowns complicating all steps during the process.

One way team members responded to Covid-19 restrictions was by developing extensive online content that can be shared using any laptop or mobile phone.

Grove’s “deeply-felt artwork” is intended to stir both hope and action.

“During a time of such deep strain and uncertainty, expressions that build realistic kinds of optimism seem important,” says Beesley.

Waterloo’s School of Architecture has played a prominent role in past Venice Biennales with faculty members invited to curate exhibits at most of the recent ones.

This year’s Venice Biennale is open to the public with health and safety precautions in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The exhibition closes on November 21.

Philip Beesley appeared on the UWaterloo podcast Beyond the Bulletin to discuss his fascinating work and collaborations. Listen to the interview here.