tired wooden statdium-style structure in gallery
The Stadium of Close Looking was a scaled-down section of the Olympic Stadium for London 2012, constructed in the central gallery space in the pavilion by local Venetian carpenters.  ©

Cristiano Corte

In 2010 the British Pavilion was transformed into Villa Frankenstein by muf architecture. Drawing on the work of John Ruskin, the British Victorian social critic and historian of Venetian architecture, the pavilion acted as a stage for drawing, discussion and scientific enquiry. muf sought to demonstrate how meaningful development in architecture can only come from close observation and understanding a place in detail.

Villa Frankenstein enabled an exchange of ideas between Venice and the UK, examining the city’s relationship with the UK and the situation of Venice as an archipelago that has given birth to some of the most iconic architecture in the world.

In all of his writing, John Ruskin emphasised the connections between nature, art and society. He also made detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, and architectural structures and ornamentation. The centrepiece of the pavilion was the Stadium of Close Looking. A scaled-down model of the Olympic Stadium for London 2012 took over the central gallery space. Visitors could climb on the structure, sit and draw or simply observe others as they entered the pavilion. Local groups were invited into the space from school children to organisations, to use the space for discussion and enquiry.

The 'Made in Venice' theme was continued through a series of separate installations in the outer galleries of the pavilion, including a 15 square-meter slice of salt marsh, showing a close‐up view of the native flora and fauna of the Venice Lagoon. Other exhibits included a project by Wolfgang Scheppe, drawing on both Ruskin’s original notebooks and a series of historical photographs of Venice taken by local residents, Alvio and Gabriella Gavagnin. Seven of Ruskin’s Venetian Notebooks (1849‐1850) were lent by the Ruskin Foundation from the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University, while interactive electronic access to his research in Venice was provided within the pavilion.

"Villa Frankenstein shifts our perception of Venice as a historic backdrop to the Biennale, to one of a dynamic participant. muf has introduced many new collaborators to the British Pavilion including the schools of Venice, the scientific community, community activists, historians and artists. By emphasising the importance of close looking and observation, which takes many different forms, muf demonstrates an alternative approach to architecture based on understanding what we already have."
Vicky Richaardson, Commissioner for the British Pavilion 2010

"Even before John Ruskin and The Stones of Venice, the British have been preoccupied with Venice and in different ways have taken the city home. Villa Frankenstein attempts to breach the Giardini fence by bringing Venice and some of its preoccupations inside the Pavilion as a series of diverse collaborations."
Liza Fior, co-founder of muf archituctrure

Debates, workshops, drawing classes and scientific discussions took place during the three months of the Biennale at Villa Frankenstein and were captured in the form of a catalogue, edited by Adrian Dannatt, and acted as a further creative platform to inform thinking for London, as it moved towards the 2012 Olympic Games.

Explore the exhibition through these photos and film:

tiered desks descenging to a black door
The view from the Stadium of Close Looking, where visitors and groups were encouraged to sit on the structure and invited to host workshops and discussions, draw objects or visitors as they entered and left the pavilion.  ©

Cristiano Corte

woman in a gallery peering into a glass cabinet
A visitor looks at John Ruskin's Venetian Notebooks (1849‐1850) in the outer galleries of the pavilion. ©

Cristiano Corte

taxidermied birds in glasses cases against blue background in a gallery space
The back gallery of the pavilion where visitors are encouraged to sit and draw the birds and other natural objects, inspired by the work of John Ruskin. ©

Cristiano Corte

Liza Fior and Katherine Clarke of muf Architecture with the model of the British Pavilion. ©

Phil Sharp

About muf architecture:

muf was established in London in 1995. The practice has an international reputation for its site‐specific and research-driven public projects, which negotiate between the built and social fabric; between public and private spaces. In 2010, their projects were predominantly focused in East London around the approaches and margins of the Olympic site. Awards for muf projects include the 2008 European Prize for Public Space (the first UK winner) for a new 'town square' in Barking, East London. Publications include This is What We Do: a muf manual. The partners are visiting professors at Yale, where their last studio explored alternative legacies for London’s Olympic site.

Exhibition collaborators:

  • Lorenzo Bonometto, President of the Società Veneziana di Scienze Naturali
  • Lottie Child, artist
  • Jane da Mosto, environmental scientist, advisor to Venice in Peril
  • Professor Robert Hewison, cultural historian, author of Ruskin on Venice: “The Paradise of Cities”
  • ReBiennale, Venice-based international collective
  • Wolfgang Scheppe, artist‐philosopher
  • Dr Tom Spencer, Director of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit and Senior Lecturer in Geography, Cambridge University
  • Professor Stephen Wildman, Director of The Ruskin Library and Research Centre, Lancaster University