The Venice Architecture Biennale begins later this week, and includes New Zealand's first-ever exhibition at this prestigious event (an initiative led by the New Zealand Institute of Architects). In our February issue, we spoke to David Mitchell of Mitchell and Stout Architects, the creative director of the New Zealand exhibition, about what they're planning for the show.

David Mitchell (centre) with the other creators of New Zealand's first-ever exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale. From left, back row: Mike Austin, Claire Natusch, Sara Lee Chia-lin, Julian Mitchell, Frances Cooper, Rick Pearson and Ginny Pedlow. Front row, from left: Julie Stout, David Mitchell and Rau Hoskins. Photograph by Jane Ussher.

HOME What is your team planning for your exhibition at the architecture biennale?
DAVID MITCHELL, CREATIVE DIRECTOR [Dutch architect] Rem Koolhaas is the overall creative director this year, and he’s chosen the theme ‘Fundamentals’, which addresses the evolution of national architectures in the last century. He’s saying that modernity is taking over everything – that there’s an increasing homogeneity in architecture around the world. He’s probably right in general, but we think there’s a Pacific gene in New Zealand architecture that has got more distinctive over the last 100 years. It shows in light post-and-beam and panel structures, often with big roofs. We cross over between the Pacific and the European.

So will you convey these ideas in a structure, or an exhibition format?
We’ll have our own room in a palazzo to work within. One of our key pieces is going to be a brand new pataka which is being carved at this moment. It stands on a pole and is the first thing visitors to the exhibition will meet – a Pacific structure if ever there was. Then we’ll have a whare-like, or house-like tent structure within the space, the walls of which will show images of New Zealand buildings that back up our thesis about how deeply lightweight structures inform New Zealand architecture. These images could include wooden houses of the 1950s, the Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre, holiday homes by Herbst Architects, Wellington’s Futuna Chapel, Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral – a Pacific structure by an architect of sufficient prominence to get noticed around the world – and the Auckland Art Gallery, which won World Building of the Year. It couldn’t be a better moment to showcase New Zealand architecture. 

Your exhibition will be called ‘Last, Loneliest, Loveliest’. Where does the name come from?
It’s a quote from Kipling, written about Auckland. We like it because it implies a lot about what makes New Zealand’s situation unique. 

The Venice Architecture Biennale runs June 7 to November 23 You can read more about the New Zealand exhibition and see video of David Mitchell presenting the exhibition concept at this link.