snøhetta`s versatile installation shifts in constant imbalance and invites interactive play

Designboom_Snøhetta introduces Counterbalance, an interactive landscape installation that invites play and perception altering experiences of land, air, water, and sky. Commissioned by the European Cultural Center as part of their Time Space Existence exhibition series in Venice, Snøhetta’s play furniture offers a new experience of the public garden overlooking Venice’s famed lagoon. Like the engulfing pine trees of the garden and the foundations of the city, the installation is constructed primarily of locally sourced pine wood — a material chosen for its cultural significance and sustainable, renewable, and carbon sequestering qualities.

Counterbalance maintains a purposeful element of instability, providing visitors with ever-shifting sensory encounters of both the park and the city beyond, inviting interaction between users of all ages. As each person who sits or moves on the installation alters the experience of others, it creates a dynamic shared experience of the piece as well as the natural environment around them.

Snøhetta aimed to bring attention to the often unnoticed connections between humans and their environment while fostering joy and cooperation. This installation acts as a collective furnishing — a bench, a seesaw, a room, an instrument, an artifact, and a folly — all within the dense grove of trees, offering scenic views of the lagoon.

Its design and the engulfing natural context create apparent themes of balance/instability and rising/falling. With its form emulating arms stretching out amongst the trunks of the surrounding trees, an invitation is presented to draw curiosity for seekers to explore, touch, experiment. Unoccupied, a seemingly stable center touches the ground. Engaged, the participant takes the lead, to destabilize, balance, or gently rock together, until a new guest arrives or departs. ‘One-person is predictable, but the more people the more uncertainty prompts coordination, movement, and discussion,’ notes the design team. Underfoot, the installation leaves subtle marks on the ground as evidence of each visitor’s presence, reflecting the passage of time and the evolution of the constructed landscape. These markings subtly denote historic water elevations particularly during significant floods—a poignant reflection of the growing vulnerability faced by Venice due to changing climate conditions.

In inviting visitors to interact playfully with Counterbalance and the garden in which it sits, Snøhetta hopes to draw restrained attention to the impact each individual has on their environment. The installation serves as a profound reminder that seemingly stable elements, such as the ground beneath our feet or the structures we create, can be deceptive in a world constantly shifting and changing.

From concept to execution, Snøhetta has worked closely with structural engineer Jay Taylor of MKA, to design Counterbalance with a key focus on functionality, materiality, and the approach to joinery, resulting in an installation aligned with the garden’s aesthetics. The team further worked alongside local fabrication partners 3DW to optimize the design for fabrication, installation, and reuse. The installation was officially opened to the public on May 20 in the Marinaressa Ponente Garden in Venice and will be on view until November 26.