Rolex is contributing to architectural progress through its support for the International Architecture Exhibition as Exclusive Partner and Timepiece for the third time since 2014. This year the company’s participation is being celebrated with an inspired new pavilion.
For six months every two years, the Giardini and two vast Arsenale buildings in Venice host the world’s greatest festival of architecture, which attracts about 600,000 visitors. This is where the great and the good of the profession gather, along with throngs of students and cosmopolitan design aficionados. Architects, academics and national organizations from 65 countries will participate in exhibitions and other events.
In the first weeks of the Venice Architecture Biennale, visitors can expect to spot well-known architects, and more than a few of the profession’s superstars, as they hop on or off vaporettos, or lunch in the nearby Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. The vibe is always relaxed and expectant.
The serene, tree-shaded setting of the Giardini provides a laid-back experience for those who meander through themed installations in the national pavilions – some designed by legendary architects. In the big, shadowy rooms of the Arsenale, a naval production-line in the 16th century, the 450 m stroll through the buildings is more intensely atmospheric.
This is where the profession’s latest big ideas are revealed. With design excellence being paramount in both architecture and watchmaking, it is no surprise that Rolex is continuing its role as the Exclusive Partner and Timepiece of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Held between 26 May and 25 November 2018, this is the third time since 2014 that Rolex has supported the world’s biggest and most important forum for architectural debate, which contributes to building better living and working environments across the world. “Freespace”, the theme of the 2018 Biennale, was set by its directors, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of the Dublin-based practice, Grafton Architects. Their wish for this year’s event was to highlight the most inspiring examples of architecture’s “generosity of spirit and sense of humanity”, and to do so by focusing on the human qualities and meanings of space.
Rolex and architecture
Rolex’s appreciation of architecture mirrors the processes of imagination, technical innovation and the best use of form and space that have been of critical importance to the design of the company’s timepieces since 1905.
The company’s connection with outstanding architecture started in the 1960s when it began to develop relationships with some of the world’s most acclaimed architects to design buildings in Switzerland, the United States and Japan. They include the Pritzker Prize-winner, Kazuyo Sejima, co-principal of the Japanese practice, SANAA, which was commissioned by the EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) to design the inspirational Rolex Learning Center. The great Japanese architects, Fumihiko Maki and Kengo Kuma, designed Rolex service and sales centres in Tokyo and Dallas, respectively; and one of the giants of postmodern architecture, the American architect Michael Graves, designed Rolex’s Watch Technicum in Pennsylvania.
This is the third time since 2014 that Rolex has supported the world’s biggest and most important forum for architectural debate, which contributes to building better living and working environments across the world.
The “Freespace” theme is of fundamental interest to architects such as Sejima, whose characteristically transparent, internally uncluttered architecture arises from her very early interest in the qualities of different kinds of space. One of the first buildings that influenced her approach to design was the Sky House, by Kiyonori Kikutake. She first saw it in small photographs when she was a child, and rediscovered it in a book at her university – “it was lifted in the sky, with the wonder of space, but also very beautiful and very modern,” she recalled.
“When I started my own architectural practice, I began to think about what kind of space I liked to make – and it was kind of a park,” she explained. “In Japan, in a park, each group of people, each person, has different aims. Some people have a rest, some people are dancing, some people are in a group, or sometimes they are alone; and every age is so different.”
“Each person has their own way of how to spend their time there,” she added. “But at the same time, people can feel some sense of community and of sharing the space together. Without talking. This is the ideal I have. I think it’s important that buildings also have this type of space.”
For fellow Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, a visit to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Gymnasium by Kenzo Tange caused an epiphany. “It was such an impressive space, that I decided to become an architect there and then.”
Kuma’s sensitive rendition of the relationships between space and the materials he uses is widely recognized by his appreciative peers. His new tower for Rolex in Dallas, which will be opened later this year, has gapped boards in its interior to create a sense of lightness, for example. He wished to create what he describes as “a sense of wonder and imagination, and a real care for human presence in craftsmanship”.
Inspiring new Rolex Pavilion
The creative connection between architecture and the design of Rolex timepieces is captured in the new Rolex Pavilion, constructed to celebrate the 16th edition of the Biennale. The pavilion has a lightweight structure, with walls made of glass and pleated bronze anodized metal. And the inspiration for them? The uniquely fluted bezel of an Oyster Perpetual Day-Date watch, which has been an iconic timepiece since its first appearance in 1956.
The exhibition in the new pavilion highlights the collaboration between Sir David Chipperfield, architecture mentor in 2016–2017, and his Swiss protégé Simon Kretz. The pair, who were brought together through the Rolex Arts Initiative, focused on how to create better cities.
The pavilion highlights the collaboration between eminent British architect Sir David Chipperfield and his Swiss protégé, Simon Kretz, who spent a year in 2016–2017 working together through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
This philanthropic programme seeks out gifted young artists in seven disciplines – architecture, dance, film, literature, music, theatre and visual arts and brings them together with great masters for a period of creative collaboration in a one-to-one mentoring relationship. Acclaimed architects who have been mentors in the Initiative include Kazuyo Sejima (Japan), Álvaro Siza (Portugal) and Peter Zumthor (Switzerland). Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye is the mentor for 2018–2019.
Chipperfield and Kretz’s successful partnership resulted in a book: On Planning – A Thought Experiment. Published with support from Rolex and ETH Zurich, the book explores how more holistic approaches to urban development can create cities that promote the well-being of their citizens through greater inclusiveness and innovative thinking – the same thinking that has driven Rolex for more than a century.