4.6.2021

Weengushk Film Institute (WFI) at the Italian Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2021

Along the coast of Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, Ontario, a peculiar landmark will soon be taking shape. A landmark that implies an environmental and cultural message.

Elastico Farm, the architecture office led by italian architect Stefano Pujatti, in partnership with local firm KFA Architects and planners, has been recently entrusted to design the new home for the Weengushk Film Institute.

The project makes its first public appearance within the italian pavilion at the upcoming 17th international architecture exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, opening on Saturday 22 May, 2021.

Italian architect Stefano Pujatti, principal at Elastico Farm – architecture studio with offices in Italy and Canada and at least three nominations for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award to its credit –, has recently been commissioned to design a new building in Canada. He partnered with Toronto-based KFA Architects and Planners, a team he had already collaborated with for the design of the Maison Glacé, an experiment that seeks to connect the building to the environment in the face of Toronto’s harsh winter climate.

Elastico Farm and KFA Architects and Planners have been asked to design the new home for the Weengushk Film Institute, a non-profit, artist- focused film and television-training centre, dedicated to unlocking the creative potential of Indigenous youth, on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, Canada. It’s a project that celebrates the rich aboriginal culture of the place, its traditions and myths, as well as its magnificent natural setting.

The project is presented in world premiere at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, that opened on Saturday 22 May, 2021, as part of the Italian Pavilion curated by Alessandro Melis and dedicated to “Resilient Communities”.

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What does Elastico Farm put on display in the Italian Pavilion.
Elastico Farm, in collaboration with StudioErrante Architetture and Davide Tommaso Ferrando, conceived an iconic installation within the Italian Pavilion, a large 3,5 meter by 1,5 meter metal-mesh model signaled by a tall beam.
The imposing metal structure — a salvaged beam whose wings were partially detached and the core, left free, was then flame-carved — alludes to the soon-to-be iconic edifice for the Weengushk Film Institute and has an strongy materic feel to it, reminiscent of Stefano Pujatti’s academic background at SCI-Arc in the early 1990s, his interest in the Italian “Arte Povera” movement, and his early professional experience with Coop Himmelb(l)au. A red dress hangs from the structure, a dramatic symbol for many missing and murdered indigenous women.

The significance of the turtle.
The large model that is placed at the foot of the beam includes a curious object, which vaguely resembles the shape of a turtle.
It’s the metaphorical reference the client held as a pre-requisite for the project. Indigenous oral histories tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back, and Turtle Island is the name used by some indigenous people to indicate North America.

The turtle evoked by this terracotta model, whose dark color was obtained by firing it in the absence of oxygen, has a deep symbolic value: it is an icon of life itself, a marker of identity, culture, autonomy and a deeply-held respect for the environment.

The Weengushk Film Institute.
Acclaimed filmmaker, artist and activist Dr. Shirley Cheechoo wished to refer to this myth for the new home of the Weengushk Film Institute. She founded it in 2002 as a professional arts organization devoted to unlocking the creative potential and talents of at risk indigenous and diverse youth through the creative arts and land based training. Through an understanding of tradition, culture and identity, WFI envisions the collection, preservation and representation of new voices from marginalized communities.

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The choice for the project location.
Dr. Cheechoo met with architect Stefano Pujatti, with the WFI Board of Directors and with local firm KFA Architects and Planners, to imagine the creation of the perfect environment to support the institutes’ goals for expansion on Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world, surrounded by Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

A long process of exchange of experience and vision culminated in the identification of the ideal building site, located on the western shore of the island, at the end of an existing road in the midst of a dense forest. Elastico Farm proposed a building whose shape and profile were based on these principles: limiting the structure’s impact on the landscape and providing views of the the absurdly photogenic panorama all around, while maintaining a safe distance from the shoreline and its wildlife.

Referencing the mobile, nomadic character of the turtle, that lives detached from the land it rests on, the building is propped up by piers, thus creating shaded outdoor spaces for community gatherings. It is embedded in the woods while remaining easily accessible from the entry road. At its heart is a large 6,000 ft conference room around which the rest of the program revolves: instructional labs, theaters, production and post-production areas, archives and food facility.

Nature permeates the entirety, with the ever-changing light on the lake and the dense forest all around.

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