How my book on immigration became the voice of Germany at the Venice Biennale

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How my book on immigration became the voice of Germany at the Venice Biennale
The German pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale includes four large openings in the walls meant to symbolize that the country is open / © Felix Torkar
How my book on immigration became the voice of Germany at the Venice Biennale
The German pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale includes four large openings in the walls meant to symbolize that the country is open / © Felix Torkar

As you pass through the forested parkland on the far edge of Venice’s 12th-century naval district and enter a treed clearing, you’re confronted with the looming white stone walls and heavy columns of a fascist-era building – an inhuman-scale 1930s temple to the powers of German architecture.

Then you notice the holes we have jackhammered into its walls. These raw openings, their steel lintel beams exposed, have transformed this austere national shrine into something else entirely. Open to the elements and the passing crowds, it becomes an informal, improvised place, a teeming marketplace not just of ideas but of real-life things: Turkish street vendors we’ve brought from Berlin pouring glasses of yogurt, clusters of people seated on piles of bricks holding discussions, none of it planned or orderly.

We have turned the German pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, which runs for the next six months, into another kind of European architecture, the kind you find in the poor immigrant districts of the big cities, fashioned by newcomers themselves from low-cost materials to suit their changing commercial and residential needs. Inside, you find an exhibition devoted to this kind of architecture, to the best ideas for using architecture to make immigrant integration succeed.

My own first encounter with this structure last month was doubly jarring. After all, it is quite literally a building-sized rendition of a book I wrote in 2010. Its walls are stencilled, in what I call an Honest Ed’s typeface, with my words, its many exhibits designed to illustrate my arguments with European architectural examples. Each room is an invocation of one of its key ideas. […]

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