Wolff Architects Receives Critical Acclaim at Venice Architecture Biennale 2023

WORDS Cheri Morris PHOTOS Heinrich Wolff

Cape Town-based Wolff Architects receives a Special Mention award at the eighteenth Venice Architecture Biennale for “Tectonic Shifts”: a nuanced approach to resources, research and representation through an artful meditation on solar energy.

Ghanaian-Scottish Curator Lesley Lokko titled this year’s event “Laboratory of the Future” and invited 89 participants from underrepresented groups, particularly from Africa and her diaspora. The challenge? Address the twin themes of decolonisation and decarbonisation.

Wolff Architects

A reflection on their current work and the nature of creative collaboration, Wolff’s submission to the Biennale feels like a studio visit. Viewers have front row seats to some of their latest outputs, including a temple in Kinshasa; “Summer Flowers”, a film on Bessie Head; a provincial hospital in Vredenburg and a school for learners with special needs in Cape Town. The latter two projects both received Awards of Excellence by the South African Institute of Architects in 2022.

Wolff’s Biennale submission is an unfolded book with ten chapters and nine themes. A special chapter is dedicated to work currently engaged in, yet unnamed and undefined. The most fascinating part of a studio visit is not the well known work but rather the brand new work, the significance of which is yet to be determined. 

The indigo blue colour of Tectonic Shifts originated from cyanotype printing, a technique that uses sunlight to generate print – a medium that speaks to confronting the intermittent electricity supply in South Africa. Printed on linen, it fills an enormous 15 x 5 m wall. However, it weighs only 15kg which allowed it to travel neatly in a suitcase on a flight to Venice.

The Architectural Biennale runs from 20 May 2023 to 26 November 2023. For more information, visit labiennale.org.

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