Eight prominent cultural leaders have been invited to explore the relationship between the pool, its architecture and the Australian cultural identity at The Pool, the Pavilion of Australia’s exhibition now running at the Biennale Architettura 2016.

The Pavilion of Australia’s exhibition, The Pool has officially opened at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia with Ian Thorpe, Olympic gold medal winning swimmer in attendance. The pool, considered one of Australia’s greatest cultural symbols, forms the foundation of the Australian Exhibition at the Biennale Architettura 2016, which will run from May 28 to November 27, 2016.

Presented by the Australian Institute of Architects and curated by Aileen Sage Architects (Isabelle Toland and Amelia Holliday) with Michelle Tabet, the Australian Exhibition uses the pool as a lens through which to explore Australian cultural identity.


According to the Creative Directors of The Pool:

“Pools in Australia are currently facing significant challenges as social institutions. The threatened closure and demolition of Australian public pools is a perennial theme of community protest and activism and is an issue to which architects and urban commentators are inevitably drawn.

“By identifying the pool’s cultural importance to Australia, we are pushing for a more critical engagement with the civic and social values that underpin our work as architects. The power and breadth of these places should not be underestimated nor simply jettisoned as uneconomical. Architecture can and does have an impact that transcends conventional economic models.”

The Pool is about public space as a vital component to society and shows the many ways in which its public character is interpreted and occupied. Through the description of events, experiences, histories or memories, the narratives presented by the cultural leaders collectively describe a powerful relationship between place and society, intrinsic to this year’s Biennale Architettura theme, Reporting from the Front.


These eight cultural leaders include Olympic gold medal winning swimmers Ian Thorpe and Shane Gould; environmentalist and 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery; fashion designers Romance Was Born; writer of best-selling book The Slap Christos Tsiolkas; winner of the 2012 Miles Franklin Prize Anna Funder; Indigenous art curator Hetti Perkins; and Australian rock-musician Paul Kelly.

Each narrative touches on a different scale of experience of the pool, coming together to reveal the myriad meanings and impacts of the pool on Australian society.

Olympic gold medal winner Ian Thorpe noted that Australians have a very special relationship with water, which is shown in many different ways through the pool as an important social space in the country.

The voices of the storytellers will be presented as an immersive sound installation within the Pavilion of Australia, engaging visitors using sound and light reflecting on water and casting fluid patterns on the walls of the white box interior of the pavilion. All these sensory triggers will transport the visitors poolside and evoke the pools of Australia in all their forms.

The main room of the Pavilion features a 60-square-metre water-filled pool, which covers about a third of the space, and is about a foot deep. The Creative Directors have commissioned the Centre for Appropriate Technology, based in Alice Springs in Central Australia, to fabricate steel-framed pool lounger chairs for the exhibition space. The design was developed in collaboration with industrial designer Elliat Rich.

The new Pavilion of Australia designed by Denton Corker Marshall opened in May 2015 for La Biennale Arte and will host its inaugural architecture exhibition for the Biennale Architettura 2016.

Photography by Brett Boardman