U.S. pavilion explores ‘american framing’ at venice architecture biennale

U.S. pavilion explores ‘american framing’ at venice architecture biennale


although it was incredibly popular when long lumber was plentiful, balloon framing was gradually replaced by platform framing in the 1920s. although similar to the balloon frame, platform framing uses shorter lengths of lumber, as each story of the building is built individually and placed on top of the one below without the need for scaffolding. while the balloon wall studs extend from the foundation to the rafter of the second story, platform-framed walls are independent for each floor.

U.S. pavilion american framing venice
omaha reservation, nebraska, 1877. photo by william h. jackson, courtesy of the U.S. pavilion at the 17th international architecture exhibition – la biennale di venezia



platform framing remains the standard wooden framing method today. in fact, more than 90% of new homes in the united states are wood framed. ‘american framing’, the exhibition at the U.S. pavilion, will explore softwood construction in great detail. the exhibition’s curators, paul andersen and paul preissner, point out that the accessibility that shaped the early development of wood framing continues to influence contemporary life and reflect democratic ideals. for example, although wood framing is used for buildings of every size and style, the 2x4s used in their construction are always the same quality.

U.S. pavilion explores the history of 'american framing' at the venice architecture biennale
an example of platform framing on a house under construction in katy, texas | image by jaksmata, CC BY-SA 3.0



the curators say that despite, or perhaps because of, its ubiquity, wood framing is one of the country’s most overlooked contributions to architecture. since the early 19th century, the characteristics of softwood have seen the material developed and improvised in a variety of different ways, opening up a range of potential uses and resulting in a truly diverse collection of building typologies. the exhibition explores that history, while considering the potential trajectory of softwood construction going forward.



visitors to the U.S. pavilion in venice will be greeted with a four-story installation (previewed above) that forms a new façade and entrance for the historic pavilion. this half-section of a wood framed house encloses the pavilion’s courtyard and provides space for reflection and conversation. by immediately and directly introducing the world of wood framing outside of the pavilion, the curators encourage visitors to experience firsthand the structural method that underlies the majority of buildings in the united states.



inside, two types of works are exhibited within the pavilion’s galleries: newly commissioned photographs from daniel shea and chris strong address the labor, culture, and materials of softwood construction, while a collection of scale models, researched and designed by students at the university of illinois at chicago school of architecture, presents the history of wood framing. elsewhere, two sets of site-responsive furniture — produced from common dimensional lumber — by ania jaworska and norman kelley are installed within the courtyard.

U.S. pavilion explores the history of 'american framing' at the venice architecture biennale
paul andersen and paul preissner. photo by chris strong, courtesy of the U.S. pavilion at the 17th international architecture exhibition – la biennale di venezia



‘we want to work with a particularly american theme and open up new possibilities for design,’ says paul andersen, U.S. pavilion co-curator. ‘the exhibition will look back at the history of wood framing and speculate on how buildings might be different if we restrain or exaggerate the system itself.’ paul preissner, the U.S. pavilion’s co-curator and commissioner, adds: ‘by committing the entire exhibition to wood framing — the great forgotten basis of american architecture — our presentation at this year’s biennale will elevate an often dismissed or ignored form of construction.’


the exhibition is accompanied by a website, an instagram, and a 136-page book. the 2021 venice architecture biennale opens to the public on may 22, and remains on view until november 21, 2021. follow designboom’s ongoing coverage of the event here.

philip stevens I designboom

may 12, 2021

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