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The Pool: Lapping it Up

The Pool is proving a hit at the 2016 Architecture Biennale as visitors lap up a deliberately different approach to architectural storytelling.

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live


June 6th, 2016

Michelle Tabet couldn’t be happier to see little piles of belongings dotting the poolside timber bleachers at the Australian exhibition for Biennale Architettura 2016, which she created with fellow creative directors and officemates Isabelle Toland and Amelia Holliday of Aileen Sage Architects.

The exhibition, which opened just over a week ago, explores Australian culture through the cherished local institution of the public swimming pool. And while the water in the 60-metre-pool that dominates the space may only be 30 centimetres deep, visitors are clearly entering into the spirit of things, enticed by clever lighting, scent design evoking gum trees after rain, and stories of the pool from well-known Australians including Ian Thorpe and Paul Kelly, broadcast via poolside radios.

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

“It’s amazing because the exhibition opened and within a couple of hours people were just taking to the water and wading through it and sitting on the bleachers and leaving their stuff in little piles – like you do at the pool, you know?” Tabet says. “My shoes, my bag, kind of covering it up so that nobody will steal it but I don’t expect anyone to steal it? That’s what started happening, people colonising the space in exactly the way we intended it. People keep telling us that this is going to be really popular in the summer months.”

Tabet is delighted that design team’s determination to “break away from that purely architectural show” is paying off. Even non-English speakers have been mesmerised by the aural storytelling at the heart of the exhibition, which has also been captured in a commemorative book and a podcast series by Radio National. “It puts all these different people in conversation,” Tabet says.

Fittingly for an exhibition designed to engage non-architects in a conversation about public space, the designers were inspired by stories and images crowd-sourced from pool lovers from Fitzroy in inner Melbourne to the Kimberley and Far North Queensland. “The massive insight from the crowd sources that was really, really helpful was that the way to talk about the pool wasn’t listing pools or dissecting the way they were built or their siting or any of that kind of architectural stuff,” Tabet says. “It was really much more about the stories people were offering up. This is where I’m terrified of jumping off the diving board, or this is where I used to go with my grandpa, or this is where my kids are learning to swim. There were all these personal stories and we realised that the crowd-sourcing had become a platform for us to curate those stories and we needed to respect the story format. We couldn’t analyse or present the information in a different way because that’s the most natural way that the pool wants to be talked about.”

Australian Institute of Architects

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live

The Pool Venice Architecture Biennale | Indesign Live


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