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Building cities of the future at Venice

The inside of the Swiss pavilion, designed by Bernard Tschumi.

(Bernard Tschumi Architects)

Swiss star architect Bernard Tschumi is representing his homeland at the tenth International Architecture Exhibition in Venice with a futuristic design for a city.

In "Elliptic City", designed for a Caribbean island, the architect explores the real and imagined qualities of a project that manages to merge nature and finance.

The Venice Exhibition, entitled "Cities, Architecture and Society", is this year devoted to the challenges facing urban development.

More than half of the world's population now live in cities compared with just ten per cent a century ago. There is also a trend towards huge agglomerations in the developing world, while many western cities are shrinking or reinventing themselves.

"Bernard Tschumi's project, as presented in the Swiss pavilion, actually confronts another issue, that of the city which arises out of nothing," Andreas Münch, from the Swiss Federal Culture Office and one of the curators, told swissinfo.

Tschumi, who is based in New York and Paris, first came to prominence after designing the Parc de la Villette, a 125-acre, $900-million (SFr1 billion) public park in Paris. He is currently building the New Acropolis Museum in Athens in Greece.

"Elliptic City: Independent Financial Center of the Americas" is planned for the Dominican Republic.

In the display, Tschumi proposes a flexible landscape of buildings and gardens to accommodate a range of activities including a business centre, a hotel, an ocean club and shopping areas.

An array of bright images, a large model, and a music video highlight the simultaneously local and global dimension of architecture, according to the publicity blurb.

The project is meant to house 12,000 people, but could be expanded to 30,000.

Raising eyebrows

The Swiss pavilion has raised a considerable amount of interest among the public, especially during the panel discussion held to open the exhibit, in which Tschumi was joined by fellow architects, the Italian Pier Vittorio Aureli and the American Jeffrey Kipnis.

Münch says he has had very positive feedback, which he welcomes, especially as the pavilion has raised some eyebrows among the more traditional Swiss architectural circles.

In addition to the official presentation, Switzerland is also being represented in other areas of the Venice exhibition.

The Studio Basel Contemporary City Institute has presented a report on the developing urban landscape in Switzerland.

Herzog and de Meuron

An offshoot of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Studio Basel attracts big names in Swiss architecture, with Roger Diener, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron all having taught there.

Studio Basel's Sophie Rönnskog told swissinfo the first part of the report documented the present situation in Switzerland, which is very divided between cantons, cities and communities.

"In the last part we offer a few innovative solutions, for example for Bern and its agglomeration, where we suggest better public transport connections to other cities which would allow the region to develop as a more homogenous network."

Many other aspects of cities are on show at the Venice Biennale, including presentations by 16 world cities from four continents, including Los Angeles, Istanbul, Shanghai and Berlin and Bogotá.

The University of Texas at Austin has investigated the consequences of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans as well as the effects of natural disasters on other cities.

The future of cities will also be considered in a special programme. But the Swiss will have to wait until November, when the exhibition wraps up, to see whether any of their projects receive one of the coveted Venice prizes.

swissinfo

In brief

Bernard Tschumi is an architect based in New York and Paris. Born in Lausanne, he holds both French and Swiss nationalities.

First known as a theorist, his first big project was the Parc de la Villette in Paris. He is currently building the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece and the Athletic Center at the University of Cincinnati.

He was Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University in New York from 1988 to 2003.

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International Architecture Exhibition

The International Architecture Exhibition in Venice is aimed at those in the industry as well as fans of architecture. This year's theme is cities.

16 cities are taking part, plus 13 research institutes, 50 countries and 20 architecture schools.

The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement has been awarded to British architect Richard Rogers, whose works include the Pompidou centre in Paris.

The Exhibition continues until November 19.

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