Commissioned by the European Cultural Centre as a part of their exhibition series Time Space Existence, Counterbalance opened to the public on May 20, 2023, in the Marinaressa Ponente Giardini. The asymmetrical piece creates deliberate instability for users, and through play creates new perceptions of land, trees, sky, and water, all of which are part of experience of the Giardini. Counterbalance is a meditation on the fragility and ebbing quality that makes Venice unique and uniquely vulnerable in the age of climate change.
European Cultural Centre
In Venice, ground is not given. It is an amphibious place with an uncertain future moored to the sea, the moon’s tides, and penchants of world culture.
Perched at the edge of the lagoon, the Marinaressa Ponente Garden is bounded by buildings to the west, north, and east, and opens to the lagoon to the South. Maritime pines and sky create the garden’s ceiling, with pine duff, earth, and water underfoot. Within the densest grove of trees with views of the lagoon, we have created a collective furnishing: a bench, a seesaw, a room, an instrument, an artifact, a folly. Its design, and the garden space it creates, make the themes of balance/instability, rising/falling apparent.
With arms stretching out amongst the trunks of the surrounding trees, an invitation is presented to draw curiosity seekers to explore, touch, experiment. Unoccupied, a stable-seeming center touches the ground precariously. Engaged, the participant takes the lead, to destabilize, balance, or gently rock together, until a new guest arrives or departs. One-person is predictable, but the more people, the more uncertainty prompts coordination, movement, and discussion. Underfoot, the surface below your feet is left marked by the presence of each visitor as time is made evident by the grinding of a once stable material against the ground. Around the trunks, markings subtly denote historic water elevations, anticipated water levels, and your relationship to this changing context.
Like the pine trees of the garden and the foundations of the city of Venice, our installation is constructed primarily of wood. Chosen for its cultural significance, this ever-present material is also a sustainable, renewable, carbon sequestering source. From concept to execution, Snøhetta has worked closely with our structural engineer, Jay Taylor of MKA, to design the piece, focusing on functionality, materiality, and the approach to joinery. Through sketches, collages, models, prototypes, and mockups, we have refined how the tools we use inform geometries, tectonics, and the poetics of a garden installation. We continue to work alongside our local fabrication partners, 3DW, to optimize the design for fabrication, installation, and reuse.
We invite visitors to be playful, to interact with this moment within the garden. Whether alone or together, we hope to call attention to the impact we each have on the environment around us. Something as stable as the ground beneath our feet, or the structures we construct for comfort or shelter, are not always what they seem when placed into a world that is shifting and changing around us. In uncertain futures, we hope to humble yet inspire, to remind each of us of our precarious place in this world that we share. What seems to be is not always as expected.
“Venice is one of the most beautiful yet vulnerable places on Earth. Counterbalance is interactive and intends to call attention to oft-invisible networks linking us to our environment, while also fostering joy and a positive outlook on working together in harmony. We are thrilled to be part of this exhibit, joining others to heighten collective awareness of the splendor and fragility of Venice and its environs.”
Michelle Delk A Partner at Snøhetta and the Landscape Architecture Discipline Director