Monday, 15 October 2012

San Lorenzo

On, then, to more of the Architecture Biennale. I think I just about get the idea behind the Luxembourg pavilion (hosted in a palazzo looking out onto the Grand Canal), but it's a bit cryptic and the overriding impression is not so much "hmm, a thoughtful deconstruction of the idea of the mega-city in a hypothetical future" but more "wow, I really wish I lived here".

Latvia have a small but thoughtful installation in Campo San Zaccaria : a reconstruction of a section of a street in Riga next to a mirrored section that reflects the Venetian space around us (and they also provide a space to sit for the weary architecture hound).

We head on to the Georgian pavilion, in an office on the Riva degli Schiavoni, but it's closed. Peering as best I can through the window, it appears they might have gone home already. Oh well.

The real highlight of the day, however, is a visit to San Lorenzo,  the church that no-one ever quite got around to finishing. It was last rebuilt four hundred years ago, but the facade was never finished. It was suppressed by Napoleon, fell into disuse, and was badly damaged during World War I. There have been a number of restoration efforts since, and attempts to make use of the space (viz. Luigi Nono and Renzo Piano's staging of Nono's opera Prometeo) but, infuriatingly, the interior of the building has been closed off for years now. As Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti reflects "The brick fa├žade of San Lorenzo had been free of scaffolding for the last few months but the church still remained closed...he knew that the church would never be reopened, not in his lifetime...".

Well, the good Commissario was wrong, because San Lorenzo is open again. The reason is that Mexico have taken a lease on the church for the purpose of hosting their Biennale exhibitions for (I think) the next five years; as a result of which the space has been opened up.

The Mexican "pavilion" itself is actually in a temporary wooden structure directly outside the church. We have a look around it, but we find it hard to get too enthused. Part of the problem is the annoyingly insistent background music that loops over and over and over again, making it impossible to concentrate on the actual exhibition itself. We also feel a sense of injustice on behalf of the stray cats, whose home has had to be moved from its usual position in order to accommodate it. But the main reason is that we're mainly here to see inside the church.

You can't just wander around the interior, as most of the floor is dug up at present. But you can make your way through the door and see pretty much all there is to see. What strikes you is the sheer scale of the place. It's a ruin, yes, but a magnificent one.

Prometeo must have been something to see!

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