In 2012, we were invited by curator David Chipperfield to participate in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. David’s theme was “Common Ground.” We chose to invite thirty-five colleagues from around the world to select objects that speak to the work that each does, and place them in a simple wooden box or “chest.”

As architects and artists, we draw inspiration from the most unlikely everyday objects. These things often provide insight into how we think and what moves our work. We have been acquiring objects from around the world for many years and these objects have become, in a sense, a part of the DNA of our work as designers. While we are entranced by the individual objects, it is more interesting for us to try to decipher the personalities of the collectors from the things that captivated them.

We worked with our great friend and talented woodworker Stephen Iino to design simple yet elegant gray boxes that would originate in New York, then travel to each participant before arriving in Venice. We chose to display the boxes at the Casa Scaffali (“House of Shelves”), an old, dilapidated garden shed that was used to house seeds and gardening equipment on the shelves lining its interior.  It was located in a little-visited area called the Garden of the Virgins. Engulfed by vines and shrubbery, the structure appeared as a huge bush—a building in hiding. It was the perfect place to hide the secrets we had asked our friends to share.

We arrived with a small team, and opened all the boxes to survey their contents before positioning everything along the shelves in the Casa Scaffali. The result was a wunderkammer: a collection, or tapestry, of the commonalities and differences we share as architects, artists, thinkers, and friends.

In 2012, Yale University Press published Wunderkammer, a book that shares more about our idea for the exhibition as well as the thirty-five varied and evocative environments created for it.

Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy