Romance Was Born – the fashion label that will feature at the Venice Biennale next year

Close your eyes and imagine it’s the Venice Biennale, the architectural one, next year. What will the Aussies spring on the world this time? You approach Australia’s new pavilion by Denton Corker Marshall. “A sleek, simple structure proudly representing Australia” it’s billed. And so it is (you’ve peeked).

You are impressed. Next, eyes closed remember, you will smell something that is not Venice. What is that? Eucalyptus? A bushfire? Maybe one that’s just been extinguished. Strange. Inside you step. There’s some evocative music. You hear the sound of water. Open eyes. Before you is a pool, its reflections splashing onto the walls and ceiling. There’s strange edgy fashion. Isn’t that the label Cate Blanchett likes to wear, Romance Was Born? You hear someone telling stories of prominent people.

On all counts the next Venice Biennale will do what it is the Biennale is meant to do: surprise, reveal, shock the senses and hopefully make you think in new ways about our built environment.

But this next gig by the Aussies in La Serenissima will push the edges that little bit further out and in some ways back to an experience that can communicate to all.

For a start, the creative directors will comprise young women, not all architects, and this itself is a departure from the past.

One half of the Sydney-based team is urban strategist Michelle Tabet, well known to The Fifth Estate readers as one of our Salon guests on Sustainable Precincts, as well as for several provocative columns she’s contributed to our Spinifex masthead on placemaking. Tabet always manages to stir some ripples in the pond. She’s an urban planner by profession, formerly with Arup.

The second half of the duo is the innovative architectural practice Aileen Sage, made up of Isabelle Toland and Amelia Holliday. There’s also a senior advisor, Olivia Hyde from the NSW Government Architect’s Office, previously with BVN Donovan Hill.

Together these women want to deliver new thinking about our urban and, in particular, interior spaces. They also want to draw on the myriad creative people not just from the built form but who all the same contribute to the software of our cities.

Tabet says the concept is in early days and will evolve in the next 12 months.

“We’re interested in the way our exhibition can have universal appeal. It’s about the experience and not content heavy.”

There will be a sound track, and the scents – what are they about?

These, commissioned with Sydney-based French-originated Maison Balzac will try to suggest what it feels like to be in Australia. An “after the bushfire” scent will be the most evocative of all.

“The challenge is to find a smell that has an urban landscape scale and suggests a bigger landscape, a bigger scale.”

Overall the concepts won’t be “speculative”, Tabet says. The idea is for the space to “perform, rather than imagine what it could be”.

So perhaps not like former projects such as the idea for a new inland city by the banks of Lake Eyre, brought about by re-routing permanent water-courses that would create a new micro climate.

For 2016 Tabet says she is “really excited” about the possibilities and describes the co-creative directors in Aileen Sage as “very poetic and collaborative, using architecture to tell stories, with a finger in the art and fashion worlds. That kind of spirit, architecture and urbanism as a platform for broader creativity.”

The whole experience, she says, will be “very immersive”.

“We want people to smell the place before they step into it. We want them to interact with a body of water.

“I’m really interested in how the water has a captivating and seductive quality; to see the reflections of it on the wall and ceiling.”

There will be stories of prominent people told through simple language, the pool a metaphor for a lens, a way to “understand Australia through the point of view of a person”.