The Art of American Timber Framing is On Display at the Venice Biennale

Two professors at the University of Illinois Chicago have brought a unique piece of American architectural history all the way to Venice, Italy for the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. “American Framing” is a monumental timber installation showing off the aesthetic power of wood-framed construction in American architecture, taking form as a pavilion guests can enter and explore.

In fact, when you step inside, you can climb stairs to all four levels and peek out between the studs and rafters or through a series of triangular dormers. It’s a pretty neat way for non-builders to get an up close and personal look at an unfinished building, which most people don’t get a chance to do, and to introduce this style to European viewers. 

Each year at the Biennale, nations around the world present architectural pavilions representing some of their most exciting, avant-garde and experimental architecture. That’s part of what makes “American Framing” so remarkable. Designers and co-curators Paul Preissner and Paul Anderson wanted to draw attention to the beauty and complexity of these rough wooden structures, which is only visible for a short period during construction.

“Wood framing is of course physically seen, but what is overlooked about the material isn’t its usefulness or popularity so much as soft-wood framing having any capacity for criticality, design innovation, or political purpose,” Preissner told DesignBoom. “Wood framing has been so widely used for so long in so much of our domestic world. It gets covered in whatever tastes builders or homeowners or developers are into at the moment, leading it to become just so normal that it’s literally and figuratively invisible. And invisible things don’t get inquiry and normal things aren’t imagined as having any qualities of merit, even when their contribution is of more consequence and reach than the exotic, or the special.”

“For us, it’s these terms of existence that Paul Andersen and I take interest in, because it’s relatively easy to make something exotic and to ignore the common, but design outliers generally have no consequence, and create no social spaces, or conceptual spaces, they just make novelty. Wood framing is the same something for everyone, and that egalitarian nature of it as a tectonic type allows for participation that opens things up for weirder, less uptight forms of creativity: productive messes and improvisational gestures with architecture that other construction types just don’t allow due to expense, the need to pre-plan everything, and the rigidity of the structures to their plan. you can change framing as it’s happening without suffering consequences that a little more framing can easily solve.”

Check out more photos and the rest of the interview at DesignBoom.