The future may be 3D-printed, but at the Israel Pavilion at the 14th Architecture Biennale, cutting-edge technology is printing designs in sand — and this time, the product isn’t an omen of what lies ahead, but a look back upon modernist Israeli architecture and urbanism. Across the pavilion’s two floors, a sequence of four sand printers, manufactured specifically for the occasion, continuously print reproductions of 20th-century buildings and city schemes at different scales.
Photos by Francesco Allegretto
After the designs are complete, the automated apparatus lowers and sweeps across the floor, collapsing the sand formation before starting the process all over again. The project acts as a lesson on Israel’s rapid modernization as well as a meditation upon the country’s relationship with its landscape and resultant urban formations.
The curators, Ori Scialom, Roy Brand, Keren Yeala-Golan, and Edith Kofsky, deemed these formations so singular that the exhibition spawned a neologism that serves as its namesake: the urb-urb. “We want to show how urbanism and suburbanism work together in Israel,” Brand told Architizer of the hybrid landscape of new towns that were influenced by the British garden city movement, planned by the mid-century Bauhaus-trained Arieh Sharon and set alongside ancient villages and sprawling metropolises.
Image via Sternthal Books
“It’s a characteristic of almost 80% of residential construction in Israel today,” he explains, “but I think it also typifies development going on all over the world now. It’s a new urbanism that isn’t dense, but a medium city that’s spread out with lots of open spaces in between.” For example, the urb-urb may feature residential high-rises beside identical row houses, knit together by green expanses rather than a city grid.
When navigating the Israeli urb-urb in person, this scattered pattern can be difficult to grasp, but when printed in sand at the Israel Pavilion in Venice, the story of modern architecture comes into full light. The machine-printed cities and buildings echo both the era’s mass industrialization and top-down, automatic planning systems imposed on an implied tabula rasa terrain. Brand cites C&C machines and XY printers as clear practical predecessors to the exhibition’s sand printer, but the functions of charting on sand and self-destructing its own designs were entirely new innovations. “We bought the parts separately like LEGOs and assembled them, and then the engineering and computation systems input our images into the machine, which then created the sand compositions,” explains Brand.
The chosen medium, sand, also carries many meanings. First, it inherently references the country’s desert regions, as the sand in the exhibition is sourced from the Great Crater in the Negev. “This sand is supposed to carry traces from dinosaur bone,” asserts Brand, “but the combination of that and the machinery creates a juxtaposition that exists in Israel, between the cities that look like modernist inventions and very, very old mythologies.”
“Since the sand is also capable of bearing inscription and being erased, it has the ability to show how the authorities are treating the landscape as a blank slate which can be continually reinscribed,” says Ian Sternthal, who published the exhibition’s catalogue under the imprint, Sternthal Books.
Adding to the mix of interpretations is that the word for “sand” in Hebrew also means “secular,” a dual translation that Brand says can also be applied to the mundane, everyday aesthetic of so much modernist architecture. The designs the sand printer carves aren’t iconic structures, but buildings and cities conceived to contain ordinary people and functions. Nevertheless, implementing 21st-century technology to reconsider the evolution of generic 20th-century architecture — effectively blurring the sands of time — is by no means a bland approach to the Biennale.