A puff of strawberry-scented perfume permeates the air. The sweet smell of contemporary architecture is lip-balm flavoured, according to International Festival, which is exhibiting its perfume dispenser at the Venice biennale this year. “We really want to expand the field of what architecture could be,” says Tor Lindstrand, one of the partners of the Stockholm-based practice, as he grins and pushes the spray button once more for luck.
Perfume is everything buildings are not: ephemeral, invisible, instant, lingering and out of control all at once. It makes perfect sense for International Festival, the product of architect Lindstrand and choreographer Mårten Spångberg, to engage and thrive in the immaterial. It is in a way their stock-in-trade. They believe architecture should be committed to being more than building, that it should be about engaging people with their city, and lightening up their day. They set up temporary theatres and organise fireworks and cheerleading displays. “Environments can function both on the levels of architecture and performance. It’s all out there for us, individuals and groups, to engage in,” says Lindstrand. International Festival is about turning architecture into a spectator sport for the many, rather than an end product used by the few.
The Piazza Taxingeplan project in Stockholm in 2006 showed what could be achieved without structures. Together with design group Front, the practice decorated a car park with road markings and had it redesignated a public square. In Graz, Austria, in 2007, it built a transparent, temporary theatre open to the public, curating a programme of performances, parties and interventions around the city.
It follows a school of thought established by British architect-provocateur Cedric Price, whose Fun Palace was a light, temporary structure open to all. In 2002 International Festival “activated” a space in Cologne by recruiting a group of cheerleaders to perform feats of architectural choreography in the literal sense.
“Cheerleading is pure spectacle, labour without an end product,” says Lindstrand. “It’s a formation of temporary architecture producing geometries in space and configuring complex forms such as pyramids and cathedrals.”
International Festival’s work is now coming out of the peripheries and into the mainstream. The office won architect of the year in Sweden last year and Spångberg and Lindstrand have been appointed professors in choreography and architecture respectively at universities in Stockholm.