Time, space, existence

 WORDS Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor

Enrico Daffonchio is the only SA-based architect exhibiting at the ‘Time Space Existence’ exhibition in Venice this year. Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor tells us why.

“It’s like winning an award or someone you admire patting you on your back,” says architect Enrico Daffonchio about being the only South Africa-based architect exhibiting at the Venice Architecture Biennale’s ‘Time Space Existence’ exhibition this year. “The curators researched each country and decided on my work, which inspires me with confidence.” He was there for the opening in June and tells me, “It was without a doubt the best event I’ve ever been to in my life.”

“It’s a massive exhibition and one of the oldest showcases of art and architecture in the world,” says Daffonchio, who is presenting 14 years of work at the exposition, including his “favourite project” – Arts on Main in Maboneng. Once a cluster of decaying industrial buildings in the heart of Johannesburg, Arts on Main is now a sexy success story of mixed-use spaces in a vibrant, urban neighbourhood. Using the history of each building as a base, he adopted a minimal approach, while bringing “affordable high design” to a younger generation who wanted to reconnect with the streets of the city.

Organised by the Holland-based GlobalArtAffairs Foundation, and running until November, the Biennale is showcasing the work of more than 100 architects from 40 countries with different cultural backgrounds in different stages of their career.

Curator Rene Rietmeyer explains the prevailing rationale: “Architects’ structures have an enormous impact on the way we experience our surroundings, on the way we experience time and space. They influence our daily existence, they leave a mark on the earth from the moment of construction – usually outliving the architects themselves.”

For his part, Daffonchio describes architecture as a way of perceiving time and space. “It’s a sequence of spaces and side spaces arousing a specific emotion in a well considered area; a space can be calming, exciting, sexy or cold. It’s a series of states of consciousness.”

Urban strategist Alice Cabaret from Propertuity, the company that developed Arts on Main and the greater Maboneng Precinct, says that Maboneng fits into the ‘Time, Space, Existence’ theme in various ways: It acknowledges ‘Time’ by regarding the entire development as a “correlation of temporalities”, with heritage buildings being converted for futuristic development.

‘Space’ addresses the link between inner-city high-rises and residential suburbs, while the transformation of the area also creates new socio-spatial dynamics.

The idea of ‘Existence’ is addressed by the development “bringing back to life a formerly vacant part of the city, while creating a strong identity relating to the democratic transformation of the city,” Cabaret explains.

“Our Maboneng work represents almost half of our output,” Daffonchio tells me, “and the exhibition shares the cultural aspects of these projects, which act as a counterweight to our high-end residential and commercial work.”

“The Venice Biennale is a great platform to communicate our ideas to a very broad international audience, while also serving as a fantastic opportunity to meet and engage with the best in the professional and academic spheres,” he says.

What makes his work stand out? “Attention to detail and taking the time to understand the client’s goals.”

TIME SPACE EXISTENCE runs until 23 November 2014 at the Palazzo Bembo in Venice. Find out more info at www.labiennale.org