The Venice Biennale Gets Fleeced

This year’s tenth annual architecture exhibition is invaded by a fuzzy, oversized, and sustainable sweater.

Leave it to Canada to find an alternative use for your outdoor gear. For their selected entry to the 2006 architecture exhibition at the Venice Biennale , architects Stephanie Robb and Bill Pechet of Vancouver-based Pechet and Robb Studio will debut SweaterLodge. The aptly-named project is a large-scale, inhabitable installation made of polar fleece.

The four-story SweaterLodge is composed of 350 square-meters of bright orange fabric (Polartec Classic 200 fleece), made from more than 3,150 recycled 2-liter plastic soda bottles. The fleece will coat the octagonal-shaped Canadian pavilion. “We wanted to do something that would be memorable, and fun, and a bit witty, mostly because architectural exhibitions quite often rely on models, photos, and drawings of built work that is elsewhere, so you’re getting a second generation representation of an architectural experience, ” says Robb. “We felt that we would rather give the attendees and viewers something different, something that would be an immediate experience.”

Within the warm tangerine glow of the SweaterLodge, there will be a row of three stationary bicycles, each one doubling as a digital video projector. As visitors pedal, vignettes showing wilderness scenes mixed with scenes of modern urban life are projected onto the inside of the sweater. The vignettes were shot by Heidi Nesbitt, a colleague of Pechet and Robb, as she rode her bike around Vancouver with a camcorder attached to the front.

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All of the furniture chosen for the inside of the installation will be made from the shipping crates and baggage used to ship the pieces of the exhibition, allowing each component to boast a secondary use—the sweater as a lodge, the bicycles are projectors, the shipping material becomes furniture.

With a budget of only $400,000—supplied mainly by the federal government, Foreign Affairs Canada, and the Canada Council for the Arts —the duo have found a clever way to do more than just talk about recycling and sustainability. When the Biennale comes to a close, the giant sweater will return to Vancouver to be recycled, once again, into gloves, hats, and scarves at a public “sew-in.”

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