Universal Symbols

Collaboration with Factum Foundation

Universal Symbols was designed for the 58th Venice Biennale, in response to ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’, Ralph Rugoff’s 2019 theme, and located in the private, one-hectare garden belonging to the Knights of Malta, a unique, little-known place between the Piazza San Marco, the Arsenale, and the Giardini beyond.

Universal Symbols is an ethereal, minimal structure of brushed, extruded aluminium, clad in a pale, translucent, silicon-rubber skin. The floor of the pavilion is mirrored, to make the diagram of the roof structure more legible, turning it back into a two-dimensional representation. It is a structure for the exhibition of Paula Crown’s new body of work, ‘Can We Talk?’ and was developed in direct response to it.  As well as a showcase, it is to provide a space for meetings, talks, informal discussions and accidental encounters. It will be conceptually completely self-contained but will resonate with the installation by the Kuikuro people with which it shares the site.

The structure will effectively be a built diagram, drawing on an illustration by the 17th century scholar and polymath, Athanasius Kircher. Kircher’s dense but elegant pattern of connections illustrates his own investigations into universal symbols and their potential. It became the architectural starting point for the pavilion, where his web of communication is very literally translated, in identical proportions, into an inhabitable, three-dimensional form: a 5-metre tall, rectangular box of 12 x 7.7m. The two lengths of the box are defined by extruded aluminium columns at .8 metre intervals, with each column representing a different universal symbol. Each symbol is connected to all the opposite symbols, and vice versa, just as in Kircher’s drawing. The lines of the drawing have been made physical by turning them into a 1.5 metre deep, connective mesh of elastic cord.

The structure is stripped back to its essential form becoming a demonstration of its own, inherent structural forces, a perfect balance between tension and compression. The roof pushes the two side walls apart, while elastic cords pull them together with equal force. The proposal sits on a Cartesian grid, a reference to Descartes, as an emblem of rational thought and demonstrable logic.