'Fundamentals' was the title of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and Rem Koolhaas, the curator, asked national pavilions to respond to the theme 'Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014'.

Curators Sam Jacob, co-founder of FAT, and Wouter Vanstiphout, partner at Dutch practice Crimson Architectural Historians worked with the British Council to create the provocative exhibition at the British Pavilion, A Clockwork Jerusalem, which provided a fresh perspective on British modernism.

A Clockwork Jerusalem offered a fresh perspective on the large-scale projects of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in Britain, by exploring the "mature flowering of British Modernism at the moment it was at its most socially, politically and architecturally ambitious - but also the moment that witnessed its collapse."

The curators wrote: 

From Stonehenge to council estates, from Ebenezer Howard to Cliff Richard, from ruins and destruction to back-to-the-land rural fantasies, A Clockwork Jerusalem explores how the international influences of modernism became mixed with long standing British sensibilities. 

A variety of large scale projects, images, objects and artefacts offer insights into the way architecture was central to manufacturing a new vision of society at a scale inconceivable today. The modern future of Britain was built from an unlikely combination of interests and these projects have changed our physical and imaginative landscapes. Through architecture, records, books and adverts, A Clockwork Jerusalem examines how traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction, were absorbed to create a specifically British form of modernism.

Outside the pavilion, visitors were greeted by a pair of Concrete Cows on loan from Milton Keynes; the last of the post-war British New Towns. Originally produced by artist Liz Leyh in 1978, shortly after Milton Keynes was established, the cows have become unofficial mascots of the town. Shipped to Venice for the Biennale, the Concrete Cows assume a formal position on either side of the entrance to the British Pavilion in the manner of Venetian lions.

The portico of the British Pavilion had been transformed into an "Electric Picturesque" landscape. Tree trunks, installed from floor to ceiling, interrupt the symmetry of the Neo-Classical pavilion. Seen through the forest is an animated white LED galloping horse, representing a high-tech reworking of the Neolithic white horses carved into British hillsides.

The main room of the pavilion featured a giant earth mound which references thousands of years of British architecture; from ancient burial mounds to the rubble of demolished slums, sculpted into mounds as the central landscape feature of idealistic projects in places such as Arnold Circus and Robin Hood Gardens in London.

Surrounding the mound was a panoramic narrative image that tells the story of British Modernism, referencing British visual and architectural culture: William Morris, Stanley Kubrick, David Hockey, Archigram and more. The eye of William Blake, author of the famous poem Jerusalem, sits at the centre of the panorama, made up with a cog like a Droog from Stanley Kubrick's famous A Clockwork Orange.

In the rooms around the central installation, images, objects and artefacts tell the story of British modernism from Stonehenge to council estates, from Ebenezer Howard to Cliff Richard, from ruins and destruction to rural fantasies. Large scale models show three of the exhibition's significant housing projects: Hulme, Thamesmead and Cumbernauld.

Highlights from the exhibition:

Exterior of the British Pavilion in 2014 featuring concrete cows
The exterior of the Britsh Pavilion for A Clockwork Jerusalem, featuring the Concrete Cows by artist Liz Leyh from Milton Keynes. ©

Cristiano Corte

Constructed mound of earth in gallery
The main room of the British Pavilion, featuring the central mound and panoramic narrative image that tells the story of British Modernism. ©

Cristiano Corte

Models of British brutalist buildings in gallery
The outer gallery spaces featuring large scale models of three of the exhibition's significant housing projects: Hulme, Thamesmead and Cumbernauld. ©

Cristiano Corte

People attending the opening of the exhbition
The view from the mound in the central space as the first exhbition visitors enter the British Pavilion in 2014. ©

Cristiano Corte

Line of people involved in the exhibition having cut the ribbon
The official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for A Clockwork Jerusalem at the British Pavilion. Pictured: Graham Sheffield, Director of Arts, British Council; Christopher Prentice, former British Ambassador to Italy; Sam Jacob, curator; Tim Robinson, The Vinyl Factory; Wouter Vanstiphout, curator; Mark Wadhwa, The Vinyl Factory; Vicky Richardson, former Director of Architecture Design Fashion, British Council. Photo: Cristiano Corte ©

British Council

Selection Committee

  • David Bickle, Partner, Hawkins\Brown
  • Adrian Forty, Professor of Architectural History, the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
  • Edwin Heathcote, Architecture and Design Critic for the Financial Times
  • Philip Long, Director, V&A at Dundee
  • Irena Murray, Architectural Historian and Senior Research Fellow, Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Jane and Louise Wilson, artists                                                                    
  • Chair: Vicky Richardson, Director of Architecture Design Fashion, British Council

The Curators

Founded by Sam Jacobs, Sean Griffiths and Charles Holland, FAT Architecture was conceived to develop architectural culture through design, research and teaching. FAT's work has been characterised by a highly conceptual approach, combining the practical demands of architecture with critical and provocative thinking.

Crimson Architectural Historians is a Rotterdam-based practice that functions as a hybrid planning, design and research facility. Since contributing to the planning for the extension of the railway and neighbourhood in Utrecht’s Leidse Rijn, the office has been involved in the production of numerous books and papers on urban planning.

The Pavilion Sponsors

The Vinyl Factory is an independent British company that works with artists and creative individuals to produce limited edition releases, shows, exhibitions and installation works. Vinyl Factory are pioneering the development of new spaces in London for creative and media industries.

We also thank Arper for their generous support in providing the pavilion furniture.