This week, French-Lebanese architect and founder of HW Architecture Hala Warde revealed plans for the Lebanese Pavilion at the 17th Venice Biennale of Architecture with “A Roof for Silence.” The multidisciplinary exhibition examines the significance and meaningfulness of empty spaces in both natural and urban structures.
Having been forced to postpone the opening of the biennale amid uncertainties due to COVID-19, Warde’s project will now be staged from May 22 to November 21, at Venice’s historic Magazzino del Sale.
“We as architects need to reflect on the relationship between architecture and other disciplines, be it art, poetry or photography,” Warde told Al Arabiya English. “We also needed to think about void and vacuum in architecture [and] the need for these spaces dedicated to silence. Lately, during the pandemic, we discovered that those who suffered the most were those who could not access this space.”
Curated by fellow Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis, the 17th edition explores the question: “How will we live together?” a theme that has since taken on an additional level of poignancy following the global coronavirus pandemic. The events of the past year and a half in Lebanon are reflected in Warde’s project, which has developed significantly since it was originally chosen back in October of 2019 when anti-political protest swept the country.
“It’s a miracle we managed to finish the project, especially with what has happened in Lebanon over the past year, all the tragedies that hit our country,” said Warde. “I chose to speak about Lebanon by speaking about what represents Lebanon for me: its culture and nature.”
The project features additional elements from Etel Adnan, Fouad Elkoury, Alain Fleischer and the late Paul Virilio, along with a score provided by the Soundwalk Collective that will accompany visitors as they move through the exhibition space.
The primary focus of Warde’s offering is centered on a grove of 16 millennial olive trees, located in the Lebanese village of Bchaaleh. These ancient trees, which are several thousand years old, have served as a gathering place for residents for generations, used for everything from wedding celebrations to discussing the affairs of the village.
“I visited those 16 olive trees and discovered they have within their trucks a hollow space which, to me, is a metaphor of the architectural space, because it represents a space for coming together, reflecting and contemplating,” said Warde. “These trees remind [me] of the Biblical myth of Noah’s Ark, and the dove that brought an olive branch to announce the end of the suffering of humanity.”
The exhibition itself will be divided into four distinct sections, each one investigating a different artistic interpretation of these vacant spaces.
Visitors will begin their journey through the pavilion with Virilio’s “Antiforms,” exploring notions of space and absent matter, in tandem with photogrammetric records of thousand-year-old trees and Elkoury’s black-and-white photographs of Lebanese olive trees.
From here, visitors will move to the second section, where shards of shattered glass will be scattered on the ground in rings, echoing both the debris left following the explosion and the rings of a tree, combining elements of life and death. At the same time, a triptych projection of the 16 olive trees, filmed overnight by Fleischer, and the Soundwalk Collective’s score offer a multisensory experience.
“We had the privilege and luck of filming the olive trees during a storm, so we have been able to take pictures at night and during the day as well,” said Warde. “You can feel the wind. You can feel the rain, and hear them as well.”
Once the biennale is concluded, Warde hopes to take “A Roof for Silence” around the globe after exhibiting in Venice, presenting at both the National Museum of Beirut and Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, as well as other destinations, to carry the message of Lebanon.
“I hope that this project will become a cultural ambassador of our country around the world,” said Warde.