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Vetri d’Aqua: Light made solid

Benjamin Garcia Saxe was contacted by Global Art Affairs Foundation in 2013 to discuss the possibility of exhibiting at the world’s greatest exhibition of architecture from across the globe – the Venice Biennale. Ben was approached on the basis that his work, although primarily based in Costa Rica, demonstrates a contextual interpretation of specific locales. He was invited, along with 100 other architects from over 40 different countries, to exhibit in an ambitious show entitled TIME SPACE EXISTENCE, spanning two Venetian palazzi: the Palazzo Bembo and the Palazzo Mori. The opportunity to reinterpret Venice – the home of art, trade, science and religion in Renaissance Italy and one of the most intriguing architectural landscapes ever constructed – proved too good to pass up. Underpinning all the work of the practice is the sense that design and architecture should respond to its ‘place’ and that these responses must be beautiful and constructed using innovative technological methods. The first step in the design process was to explore Venice itself. An expedition to the ‘capital of canals’ would foster an understanding of the inherent qualities of the city, its historic past and its current practices. It became apparent that Venice has a unique light, unlike anything experienced in Costa Rica or on Ben’s travels around Europe, Asia or the Americas. This light is viewed in relation to the water that fills the ‘streets’ of the city; it reflects and refracts and is framed by the ancient structures that have grown around it, almost organically.


Venice is also famed for its production of elegant, fragile and colourful glassware. These translucent objects capture the light and reflect it back to the viewer, thereby enhancing their own surroundings. The team visited Murano, the home of Venice glass production, and witnessed first-hand how the local people have crafted objects of great beauty that have become a signature of the city and exported all over the world. Murano glass is essentially a microcosm of Venice itself. The installation, Vetri d’Aqua (meaning Water Glass), was revealed to visitors of the Venice Biennale on 7 June 2014 in the Palazzo Bembo. Comprised of 750 individual plastic bags of water, suspended above the head of the viewer, the final work represents a desire long sought by the Venetians themselves: the transformation of a transparent/translucent material to create beauty through light. The bags are hung from a series of beams to create an undulating wave that allows each separate object to capture the light shone upon it and sparkle with its own iridescence.


During the design process the team created a small mock up of a section of the overall piece so that they could test the installation’s structure, size, light reflectivity and connections. The bags were cut to form diamond-like shapes and in doing so the array takes on a crystalline appearance and forms a direct relationship with the glass sculptures bought and sold on the Rialto Bridge, located just outside the Palazzo on the Grand Canal. The final decision to shape the work in an inverted arc was realised with the help of a local artist. The installation therefore takes its cues from traditional Venetian chandeliers and the hulls of gondolas that have transported people around the city for centuries. The practice decided to exhibit Vetri d’Aqua in a small dark room with a single light source illuminating the installation. In this space the viewer is afforded an intimate experience with the work in a rare moment on calm serenity, while the glossy black walls reflect back a little ephemeral light. Many who first encounter the installation assume that the dangling objects are gems; the realisation that it is actually water that is glowing overhead causes the onlooker to reconsider how materials can be employed and how the work is responding to the city.  The experience of installing a sculptural object in Venice was enlightening and challenging for the office. Every location provides its own set of conditions and opportunities, and Venice brings with it a rich and unparalleled historicity. Vetri d’Aqua demonstrates how basic materials can become elegant and inspiring through the design process. This is the key tenet embedded in the philosophy of Benjamin Garcia Saxe Architecture.

Vetri d’Aqua is on display at the Palazzo Bembo as part of the Venice Biennale until 11 November 2014.