La Biennale di Venezia: ‘Other Ways of Living Together’

Posted on July 7th, 2021 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions

The Venice Biennale Architettura 2021: How will we live together?

Other Ways of Living Together
Arsenale, Interior

The built landscape has taken on a global scale. There is little on the earth that has not been impacted by the human footprint. How we live together and where we live is described by great environmental diversity from the urban to the rural with the suburban and industrial territories in between. There are certainly other spaces also, but the predominance of these four stands out, and we have examined them with a few principles in mind.

The first revolves around an ethic of Existenzminimum whereby the density, flexibility, and efficiency of residential buildings are challenged once again from an architectural vantage point; a legacy of the 20th century, this is a moment of reckoning in relation to current environmental and social challenges.

Secondly, because of this first ethic, many typological conventions and code constraints may require reconsideration in order to imagine other ways of living together. We have probed certain loopholes in each case

study to unleash certain plausible eventualities, drawing from common standards, but overturning them in the interest of invention.

Thirdly, all these studies emerge from a common interest in working with naturally renewable resources. We have worked with mass timber, in particular the relationship between cross-laminated timber and stud framing, the first being described by the combination of structural and thermal mass while the second being characterized by its hollow cavity, enabling the threading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services within a structural wall. Traditionally seen as independent or mutually exclusive, here we will present these two systems as symbiotically co-dependent.

The sites of these studies revolve around the greater Boston area, but their implications may be as relevant for many other international regions.


Similar to other urban centers, Boston has developed almost all of its inner-city infill sites. Thus, we are tapping into opportunities for rewriting zoning by-laws for urban corridors that are already tall in nature due to historical circumstances and acquiring air rights in areas that might

benefit from higher density. Such is the case on Washington Street in Boston’s South End where we propose establishing a building height that is double the neighboring row houses that will serve as a point of orientation for Worcester Square.

Berkeley and Commonwealth Ave, Boston, photo by Google

The mandate of two means of egress defines one of the indispensable elements of safety in residential structures. The double-helical fire stair serves to radicalize the efficiency of two means of egress contained within the same footprint. However, never before has the fire stair also served as a communicating stair between two floors of the same unit—or alternatively a communicating stair between two apartments on different floors that might be refashioned as a single unit.

With the introduction of added fire doors, the centerpiece of this vertical “slab” building takes advantage of this loophole to create a loft unit that is defined by a double-height living space in combination with a side ambulatory that can be separated into three bedrooms. The efficiency of the typical South End rowhouse is maintained in the tower at 84%. However, the number of bedrooms is tripled to 21 from 7 by up-zoning and hybridizing the double-helical fire stair (both public/private space).

A TOWER OF 14 BEAMS: The structure is composed of an envelope enclosure of cross-laminated timber, hybridized with infill walls of stud framing providing hollow cavities

for the MEP systems. The structural envelope beams are 8 feet deep and span 80 feet and are visible from the street as the main image of the building.


The suburban condition of Revere, Massachusetts is composed of residential lots, replete with front, side, and back setbacks that are an embodiment of the American dream: the prospect of one’s own lawn. And yet, ironically, with a front lawn that is socially evacuated, and side-lots that cannot be inhabited, it is only the backyard that offers the respite of an outdoor room. With an emphasis on

densification, this study eliminates those unused spaces, while optimizing circulation and ensuring that every unit has its own private outdoor room. The history of the mat building is illustrated by many examples the qualities of which are urban in their embodiment of roads, alleys, walkways, and outdoor rooms, the combination of which is an attitude towards the making of the city.

Mat Housing, Model Neighborhood, Be’er Sheva 1959-1956; architects Nachum Zolotov and Dan Havkin

Drawing from Zolotov and Havkin’s model neighborhood in Be’er Sheva our proposal is composed around a central skylit corridor, running the length of the block, from which all units are accessed. All apartment units are U-shaped, interlocked in plan, and section around individuated courtyards facing in opposite directions.

Opposing units can be connected to each other to create larger units of four bedrooms with workspaces. Sharing corridors and inverting outdoor spaces into courtyards allows for an 85% efficiency. The unit planning facilitates an aggregated mat configuration to have a density of 6 times the typical suburban block.

Collectively, the block contains several communal spaces that offer relief from the private quarters of the courtyard configuration. The inner block contains a green common for the entire block, inclusive of planting areas, dog area, children’s garden, and a lawn. The undercroft contains common parking, one level below grade, punctuated by two public arcades at street level that cross through the block.

These arcades contain the basic services of a residential block, inclusive of daycare, pharmacy, grocery store, and basic needs. The street facades are activated by live/work spaces on the ground level, offering varied ways of programming the sidewalk: studios, cafés, small offices, or other commercial activities.


Of the phenomena that the pandemic has unleashed, one stands to become the new normal: the substitution of large-scale shopping in favor of delivery of basic goods. Big-box stores such as Costco stand to become taken over by the economies of Amazon and other delivery-based businesses. The question is whether the millions of acres devoted to the big-box stores stand to be demolished, or alternatively re-used and adapted for new uses. This

proposal assumes the latter and maintains the big box intact, inserting a second floor hosting efficiency units within it, with the idea that the entire first floor may remain open for light industry. Composed of small businesses, artist studios, and workshops, among other possible workspaces, the ground level is maintained as is, with large lofts that can easily be subdivided and reconstituted in larger and smaller units at will.

Big Box typology, characterized by a large flexible space premised on the liberal use of outdoor parking space

The big-box adaptation introduces a microcosm of the city into an industrial shell. Inserting a cross-grain of program turns 100% commercial into 28% housing 72% mixed: civic, light industrial, and commercial programming. The 132 loft apartments across an expansive single-story

facilitates an efficiency of 81% compared to a typical high-rise efficiency of 60%. The hybridization of programming also allows for the re-zoning of neighboring lots, allowing for the development of new streets, transportation systems, public spaces, and supporting lots.

The Big Box characterized by ceilings at heights of 27 feet allows for the introduction of loft units 14 feet in height above the flexible space of commerce, fabrication, studio/maker spaces, and light industry below.

This is made possible without the demolition of its structural system, but rather the mere addition of CLT beams and slabs that set up a parallel structural system within. This new structural system is slipped into the building as if stored on their existing racks.


Located ten minutes from the Shirley train station and less than a three-minute walk from the village center of Ayer, the house embodies a footprint whose relationship to Boston is as proximitous as its connection to the nature of the Nashua River. The idea of a country cabin in the rural landscape is normally thought of as a luxury, and yet we are reminded how the social landscape of our world changed so much in 2020.

The necessity of social distancing, the possibilities of working productively online, and the dynamic nature of the family unit all point to the need for certain new forms of flexibility that only good design can address. In great part, the Rural House/Apartment is a response to this complex array of programmatic possibilities, but it is also a project about overcoming the normative dichotomy between urban and rural living.

SOLID WALL/ HOLLOW WALL: The staircase defines a poché zone of five feet, using the diagonal of the stair to define areas of program below and above its rake. As such, the house is virtually exempt from corridors, as each inch of space is programmed in the thick wall between the central room and the external skin. The exterior wall, outside the stair,

is composed of cross-laminated timber panels, forming a solid load-bearing slab structure are prefabricated off-site. The inner wall beside the stair is conceived of as a traditional stud system—hollow, as it were—to allow space for the infrastructure of the entire house: mechanical, electrical, plumbing systems, and inclusive of acoustic insulation.

FLEXIBILITY: While thought of as a three-room home, the poché spaces offer a wide flexibility, housing anywhere from three to fifteen people without much complexity. Thus, three people could as easily be redefined as three families, three apartments, three Airbnb’s,

or a combination of a host with various rentals, in-law suites, and other combinations that require both integration and autonomy. The living area on the top floor is yet another suite, composed of a long couch and a mezzanine that houses four people on its own.

THE PROMENADE AS PROGRAM: The house is also a typological study of how a single device—a staircase that winds around the periphery of the stacked one-room structure—may bring varied possibilities to the same

structure. Because of the specific arrangement of the stair on each floor, every room offers added space for bunk beds or ancillary bays in which seating can be situated in support of the room.

THE POCHE SPACE: The staircase in the peripheral zone defines a poché zone of five feet, using the diagonal of the stair to define areas of program below and above its rake.

The house is virtually exempt from corridors, as each inch of space is programmed in the thick wall between the room in the core and the external skin, beyond the stair.

The 17th Venice Architecture Biennale “How Will We Live Together?” is curated by Hashim Sarkis.

Principals: Nader Tehrani, Arthur Chang
Project Coordinator: Alexandru Vilcu
Project Team: Christian Borger, Nicole Sakr, Harry Lowd, Phoebe Cox, Adrian Wong

Printing and Graphics Installation: Arteurbana

Photography by Roland Halbe

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La Biennale di Venezia and Future Assembly

Posted on June 9th, 2021 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions

The Venice Biennale Architettura 2021 asks, How will we live together?

Future Assembly is a response to curator Hashim Sarkis’s invitation to imagine a design inspired by the United Nations ­– the current paradigm for a multilateral assembly. The Future Assembly curators invited all Biennale participants to come together with this prompt: “The Assembly of the future we envisage consists not only of humans but also of animals and plants, the ephemeral traces and voices of multiple species, and of the air, the water, the trees, the soil. How do we, as spatial practitioners, imagine giving standing to these more-than-human voices in a vision for our shared future?” More than 50 proposed new planetary representatives now make up the Assembly.

NADAAA’s contribution to Future Assembly is an animation on The Zayandeh-rud River Basin, which brings together the aerial view of Isfahan, in combination with a planimetric scan and the revelation of the various institutions that populate the urban fabric in confrontation with the larger watershed of the river.

The delicate balance between cities, historic preservation, and social ecologies is commonly overlooked, especially when questions of energy policy and larger territorial legislation are involved. At the same time, certain key historical examples help to frame these possible connections in poignant ways. The Zayandeh-rud river basin in central Iran is a critical hydrological conduit that overcomes the commonly held divide between rural and urban cultures. In an arid region where water is “the” critical resource, it serves agricultural lands as much as it gives birth to the city of Isfahan as we know it.

Beyond the Seljuk Period, the Safavid dynasty extended the City of Isfahan southward, building Sio-se-pol, Pole Khaju, and the Marnan bridges, all of which not only connected to agricultural lands beyond but became public destinations in their own right. In 1972, in the name of progress, the Shah Abbas Dam recalibrated its water flow leading to the “dehydration” of the very river that gave life to this historic city. These viaducts have been left to whither in this new landscape, having lost the very waters that once gave them a reason to bridge. The Zayandeh-rud, Sio-se-pol, and the entire river basin are our “more-than-human” voices we nominate to include in this narrative dedicated to the United Nations Assembly of the Future.

Arguably the most classic of Iranian cities, Isfahan is characterized by Naqsh-e Jahan Square, one of the world’s largest plazas. However, beyond this public space, there is the organic path of the Bazaar to the north which is the focus of this animation speculating on the connection between the topographic conditions of the site and the historic watershed of the river at large around which human occupation occurred. Further to this, the camera’s eye follows the extensive green-scape, the Chahar Bagh to the south, which connects the large Maidan to the Zayandeh-rud only to reveal the now desolate and barren landscape of a deserted river bed. As epilogue, the Sio-se-pol offers an image of restrained optimism, at once in awe of its architectural majesty as well as its impending vulnerability.

The animation draws on the Beaux-Arts tradition of the Analytique, a composite representational technique, which here has been critically reinterpreted in the seamless kinetic montage sequences that synthesize divergent representational methods including the photographic, the planimetric, and the perspectival towards a shared narrative.


Future Assembly Curators

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art

Sebastian Behmann, architect, co-founder of Studio Other Spaces

Olafur Eliasson, artist, co-founder of Studio Other Spaces

Caroline A. Jones, professor of art history at MIT

Hadeel Ibrahim, activist

Mariana Mazzucato, professor and founding director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London

Kumi Naidoo, ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity

Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders and adjunct professor of climate justice at Trinity College, Dublin

Google Earth, Klaus Herdeg, Farshid Emami, Nader Ardalan, Laleh Bakhtiar, Pascal Coste. Lyrics: Sam Cooke.

NADAAA Project Team
Nader Tehrani, Arthur Chang, Alexandru Vilcu, Amin Tadj, Christian Borger

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The Architect’s Newspaper on NADAAA at Venice

Posted on March 24th, 2021 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions, Press

AN’s Samuel Medina writes on NADAAA’s dual exhibits for La Biennale di Venezia 2021–that both happen to revolve around the potentials of CLT.

‘[The NADAAA] installations pursue opposing trajectories for CLT and, for that reason, should be taken together as a complementary pair. As Tehrani explained, whereas the portico is “a one-off that radicalizes, let’s say, the ‘figure’ of architecture,” its counterpart “suppresses it to instead explore how something as standard as a CLT panel can become the basis for mass customization.”’

Read on HERE.

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New Public Art Project in Somerville

Posted on March 9th, 2021 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions

As the MBTA’s Green Line Extension (GLX) spreads to Somerville and Medford, the new stations will host public art pieces, including one by NADAAA at the East Somerville Station. NADAAA’s Domino Frame in Tension will serve as a visual beacon for the station and neighborhood. More HERE!

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Posted on March 3rd, 2021 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions

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NADAAA a Venezia

Posted on February 3rd, 2021 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Events, Installations + Exhibitions

A sneak peek of NADAAA’s installation planned for La Biennale di Venezia 2021: How will we live together?

The cross-laminated timber (CLT) portico will define the edge of the Giardino delle Vergini. It is, at once, a civic yet domestic structure, operating at the scale of the lagoon on the waterside, while intimate and responsive to the garden on the other. Attenuated as it is, it anticipates community, whether in isolation, physical distancing, or social engagement.

The portico exposes a latent grain when it is routed on a diagonal axis, revealing V-shaped herringbone configurations that are an innate part of the layout of the stacked timber. This pattern speaks to the structure of the wood being used, it also speaks to the ornament it exposes as a result of a semantic richness of its own. It speaks to Venice and to a tradition of iconography its construction systems have held for centuries.

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NADAAA participating in La Biennale di Venezia

Posted on March 2nd, 2020 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions, Things We Like

NADAAA is participating in the Biennale’s 17th International Architecture Exhibition with a pavilion in the Giardino delle Vergini. This year’s Biennale Architettura titled How will we live together?, will be curated by Hashim Sarkis and organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta. Read Baratta and Sarkis’s statements on this year’s exhibition HERE.

We will share more soon!

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Daniels Experimental Gallery launches

Posted on November 6th, 2019 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: _Daniels Building, Events, Installations + Exhibitions

photo by Scott Norsworthy via Canadian Architect

The NADAAA-designed 7,500-square-foot experimental gallery at the Daniels Building is launching with an installation curated by Dean Richard Sommer and New York-based designers, Pillow Culture. The installation is titled New Circadia (adventures in mental spelunking) and is launching tomorrow, November 7th, 2019 at 7:30pm. Registration is required for this event. Please register at the link here

More on New Circadia via: Canadian Architect | Canadian Art | CBC Radio | The Spaces | Globe and Mail  | Toronto Life  | Archinect  | Toronto Society of Architects  | Designlines  | ArchNewsNow 

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“Decoys & Depictions” Symposium and Exhibit

Posted on October 21st, 2019 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Installations + Exhibitions, Lectures

This Friday, Nader will lecture at the Sam Fox School of Design and Digital Arts at Washington University in St. Louis on the role of digital images in contemporary architecture. Concurrently, NADAAA’s work will be included in an exhibition, also titled Decoys & Depictions, at the Des Lee Gallery in St. Louis.

“This collaborative discussion between architects and artists raises questions about our operations concerning contemporary images: How can a deeper understanding of electronic imaging and the ongoing technological developments therein reshape how we design and build? How might we reconsider conventional methods of display in relation to the circulation of images through social networking and web-based media? How can interfacing with images directly change how we structure design pedagogy? Decoys & Depictions: Images of the Digital aims to address critical questions about the capacity of images to transform architecture through a dualistic analysis of data and picture.”

For more information on the symposium check HERE.

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MIT Mock-Up featured in DAVID K. ROSS Exhibit

Posted on August 26th, 2019 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: _MIT Site 4, Installations + Exhibitions

The Patrick Mikhail Gallery in Montréal will present, from August 28 – October 19, 2019, “ARCHETYPES” by David K. Ross, featuring new photographic works. There will be an artist reception Wednesday, August 28th at 5:30pm. More info HERE.

“The result of four years of research and exclusive access to construction sites around the globe, Ross’ photographs take us behind the scenes and over the hoardings to encounter these rarely-seen fragments from the world of architecture. Captured using flash photography on building sites locked down for the evening, the scale and location of these structures remain ambiguous.” – Patrick Mikhail Gallery

“Mock-ups carry something of the photographic within them. Both the mock-up — and its image — physically and indexically reference concepts and ideas that are in formation but are not viewable in their totality. Like photographs, mock-ups are framing devices that focus attention on specific elements taken out of context.” – David K. Ross 

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