* Project text: "A Brick for Venice" reinterprets the iconic forms of the beautiful Venetian chimneys while exploring the potential of using dredged waste sediment from the Venetian canals and other waste by-products from the surrounding industrial areas to create a low-carbon brick for Venice. This is of particular importance in a time of climate emergency and provides a vision for forming closed-loop systems in our built environment.
The pavilion is a 2 sqm room for sitting and reading a book. It was exhibited as part of the European Cultural Centre’s ‘Time Space Existence’ program, running in parallel to the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale. It acts as the first proof of concept for this novel waste-based construction product, which has been tested, specified, and is now available for construction. These research findings address complex issues surrounding the circular economy in our cities that, if implemented on a wider scale, could lead to significant savings in global carbon emissions.
Many thanks to our collaborators AKT II engineers and Local Works Studio material designers, the Venice Port Authority, as well as our friends Gaetano di Gregorio and Jacopo Vantini.
In 2023, brick is still a primary construction material, with around 1.5 trillion bricks produced globally every year, burning 375 million tonnes of coal. Around 87% of this production is clustered within Asia, adding an extensive carbon footprint to the bricks as they are transported to other continents.
"A Brick for Venice" rethinks these outdated manufacturing methods through the upcycling of local waste materials, in conjunction with a profoundly local production strategy, to drastically reduce the notional brick’s embodied emissions.
The pavilion offers a clear proof of concept that, when scaled up, strengthens the operational sustainability of Venice’s day-to-day maintenance, providing a closed-loop, circular-economy framework that is undeniably critical if we are to attain a carbon-neutral future."
01 Why is this project particularly relevant for Pionira?
Our project showcases how research and cross-disciplinary collaboration can lead to innovative solutions and problem-solving that responds to localities as well as global urgencies of the climate crisis. Through this small project, we were able to ask big questions, which if scaled up, could make a significant impact in reducing carbon footprints in the building industry. The project also exemplifies the close collaboration between the three different teams and subsequently, a design approach that is holistic as well as more extensive than its components - architecture, structure, material.
02 What have you learned from the project? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you solve them?
We understood Venice as a wider ecology and a system that, to function, requires infrastructure, city, and nature to be closely intertwined. Working within the fragile context of Venice has allowed us to see how even a small building is connected to and comes together under this system - therefore highlighting how interconnected our actions and our environment really are.
The making of the project allowed us to gain insights into the wider impact and networks that we often do not think about and that make buildings happen. It made us understand how material passports may be useful, as well as strengthened our ethos to invest in understanding locality to develop an architectural language that is circular and hyper-local. Some challenges we encountered were obtaining special licenses to access and extract material from the uninhabited island on which the dredged canal mud is deposited and finding people who were willing to, like us, work towards something new and unknown. This was particularly challenging as we had a very short timeframe from January 2023, when we knew our small funding was approved, to May 2023 when the project was built. Working together and in collaboration with people we trust and share common values with enabled us to quickly respond to and resolve any issues. Through personal contacts and connections, we managed to pull a special team together and make this possible.
03 What advice could you provide, based on the project?
What guidance would you like to pass on to others? To be flexible, to be in dialogue with collaborators and partners early on, to think of a “problem” holistically, to think about design in the long term. We believe our approach has allowed space for dialogue, to shape the project as we went through the various stages, rather than having a clearly defined outcome and then going to our collaborators or consultants and saying: “this is how it looks, this is what it is, how do we do it?”. We feel an open approach is important if we are to make projects that are meaningful, impactful, and able to advocate for positive change.
04 How would you like to build in the future?
We would like to delve further into the research, questions, and the prototypical projects we've built and imagine how they could develop and be adapted into civic buildings, public infrastructures, and spaces for people. We are interested in building as a means to understand context, locality, and origins, which make places and, in turn, shape behaviors and cities that are open, in dialogue, and accessible to all.