The 2018 Architecture Biennale (May 26 – November 25) will be a fascinating exhibition dedicated to ‘Freespace’. Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara will emphasize the role of architecture in the choreography of daily life. They will look at architecture from the point of view of the quality of the public and private space, of urban space, of the territory and of the landscape. Their Freespace concept will therefore appeal to every visitor, even if they are not professionally active in architecture.
With 71 participants at the Freespace exhibition, 65 national participations and 29 participants to the Special Sections, the official program of the Architecture Biennale brings a global experience to Venice. On top of that, several collateral events will be organized in parallel.
The main sites are, as usual, Giardini and Arsenale. There are however also 9 national pavilions across the historic center of Venice and one on the San Giorgio Maggiore island. The curators also want to integrate the context and atmosphere of Venice within the atmosphere of the Biennale.
This post will present you more details about the history of the Architecture Biennale, about the curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara and about the theme Freespace. I will also give you an idea of what the national pavilions have in mind for you.
The history of the Architecture Biennale
The Venice Architecture Biennale is a relatively new event compared to the Art Biennale. The 2018 Architecture Biennale is the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, which is the official name of the Architecture Biennale.
The first steps were taken in 1975, when three exhibitions were organized in the Magazzini del Sale on Zattere. These can be considered as the precursors of the current Architecture Biennale. The first International Architecture Exhibition was organized in 1980. Since the 7th Architecture Biennale in 2000, the exhibition takes place in the 2 main locations Giardini and Arsenale. In 2016, the exhibition period was extended to 6 months (from the end of May until the end of November).
The previous edition in 2016 ‘Reporting from the Front’, curated by Alejandro Aravena, attracted 260,000 visitors (excluding collateral events and national participations outside Giardini and Arsenale). There was a record number of visitors under the age of 26 years, who represented 45 percent of the total attendees.
If you want to know more about the history of La Biennale, you can read my guest post which is published on the website of Monica Cesarato.
Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
The Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are the first to curate this major event as a duo. They co-founded the firm Grafton Architects in 1977 and are famous for working as a team. It is the second time that the Architecture Biennale will be curated by women. The first female curator was Kazuyo Sejima in 2012 (‘People meet in Architecture’).
The curators are well-known for the refinement of their work, for their intense didactic activity and for their ability to involve and fascinate new generations. The combination of architecture and education is a thread throughout their career. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara designed and built several schools and architectural works for institutions and universities, mostly in Ireland. Their office was recently awarded the gold medal of the RIAI Royal Institute of the Architecture of Ireland for the project of Università Bocconi in Milan. Both partners are full Professors of architecture at the Accademia di Mendrisio (Switzerland) and Adjunct Professors in the University College of Dublin. They have also taught and lectured widely throughout Europe and in the United States. This background is without any doubt the foundation for this Biennale’s special project ‘The Practice of Teaching’ and the increased focus on educational activities.
Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara have a long experience at the Architecture Biennale in Venice. They participated for the first time in 2002. You might also remember their Silver Lion in 2012 for their project for the UTEC University campus in Lima, or from their ‘The Physics of Culture’ project at the previous exhibition in 2016.
“We believe that the practice of architecture is about contributing, engaging and refreshing the continuity of architectural culture. We need to tend to culture, like tending to a garden. In architecture time is not linear. Architecture brings past, present and future together. This is represented as a special focus within the overall Exhibition where the past is reinvigorated from the viewpoint of contemporary architects.”
Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara believe that everyone has the right to benefit from architecture. A beautiful wall forming a street edge gives pleasure to the passer-by, even if they never go inside. They also believe that the practice of architecture is about contributing, engaging and refreshing the continuity of architectural culture. Architecture brings past, present and future together. At the Architecture Biennale, the past will be reinvigorated from the viewpoint of contemporary architects.
Freespace = architecture that nurtures and supports meaningful contact between people and place and does so with generosity and a desire for exchange
Freespace is much more than a guiding principle for all the national participations. It is primarily a combination of several events: a central exhibition and related activities, all organized under the guidance of the curators.
- Freespace exhibition. The exhibition includes a wide variety of 71 participants from all around the world. There are some notable names amongst them. Barclay & Crousse were the curators of the Peruvian pavilion in 2016. Sandra Barclay was named ‘Architect of the Year’ in the prestigious Women in Architecture Awards at the beginning of March. David Chipperfield Architects are working on the restoration of the Procuratie Vecchie, a 16th century building on the Piazza San Marco. This project fits perfectly in the overall concept of combining old and new in architecture. Finally, Elemental, the office of Alejandro Aravena (curator of the 2016 Architecture Biennale) returns to Venice to participate in this exhibitions. ‘Our Amazon Frontline’ of Barclay & Crousse and the Curator’s Room of Alejandro Aravena were part of my favourite pavilions in 2016, as you can read in ’12 exhibitions you cannot miss at the Architecture Biennale 2016’.
The Freespace exhibition is spread over the Corderie in Arsenale and the Central Pavilion in Gardini. The set-up is designed to reveal the qualities of these buildings, such as the repeated brick structure and huge dimension of the Corderie and the light in the Central Pavilion.
- Special Sections: In ‘Close Encounter’, 16 Irish participants will present remarkable projects that reflect on well-known buildings of the past. Examples include forgotten buildings that are re-visited and brought to life, transformative typologies of habitation and public and civic facilities. For the second section ‘The Practice of Teaching’, 13 participants collected architectural projects developed as part of teaching experiences.
- Special Projects: The Forte Marghera houses an installation by architects Sami Rintala and Dagur Eggertsson and will also be the location for a series of events. The Applied Arts Pavilion (in collaboration with Victoria and Albert Museum, London) in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale reflects upon the future of social housing. The pre-cast concrete elements of the Robin Hood Gardens will be reconstructed on a scaffold. This will allow visitors to walk along a ‘street in the sky’.
- Meetings on Architecture: This programme of 10 conversations is an opportunity to discuss the different interpretations of the Freespace Manifesto. The meetings take the form of panel discussions, a talk by the curators, two conferences and a supporting film programme. They take place at the Teatro alle Tese or Teatro Piccolo in Arsenale and are spread over the entire period of the Architecture Biennale.
65 countries have accepted the invitation of the curators to bring their Freespace to Venice. They were encouraged to come up with new ways of seeing the world and with solutions where architecture provides for the well-being and dignity of each citizen on this fragile planet. This will certainly result in plenty of interesting and beautiful pavilions. Seven countries are participating for the first time: Antigua & Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Holy See.
Below you can find the 3 pavilions which caught my attention with their special angle and which appeal a lot to me.
Religion: The most intriguing participation is without any doubt the Holy See with ‘Vatican Chapels’. The Vatican already participated to the Art Biennale in 2013 and 2015, but never focused on architecture before. Curator is Francesco Dal Co, an Italian professor in the history of architecture at the IUAV (Istituto Universitario di Architettura Venezia). He was director of the architectural division of La Biennale di Venezia from 1988 to 1991, and curator of the Italian Pavilion in 1998. He asked 10 international architects to design a chapel for the upcoming Architecture Biennale. After the event, these will be moved to other locations where a house of worship is needed. One of these architects is Norman Foster, who presented his drone ports at the previous Architecture Biennale. This pavilion is located on San Giorgio Maggiore.
History: For 28 years, Germany has been united – exactly as long as the Berlin Wall existed (1961–1989). On the occasion of this parallel, Lars Krückeberg, Wolfram Putz and Thomas Willemeint (GRAFT) and Marianne Birthler are curating ‘Unbuilding Walls’. The exhibition responds to current debates on nations, protectionism and division. A special focus will be given to outstanding examples of urban and architectural design that address aspects of division and integration. By analyzing architectural projects on the former border strip, the question of what happened on this unprecedented void in the middle of a new capital will be examined. The exhibition will also examine historical as well as current barriers, fences and walls beyond Germany’s specific national perspective.
Ecology: Mauro Baracco and Louise Wright (Baracco+Wright Architects) are collaborating with artist Linda Tegg on ‘Repair’, a living installation inside the pavilion of Australia. The starting point is the damage created to the natural environment by making buildings and cities. There is a shift of thinking towards repairing the natural environment as a meaningful and enduring framework for urban form and architecture. The installation uses 30,000 seeds of 65 species of western plains grassland plants. It aims to remind all of us what is at stake when we occupy land. Alongside this installation, the pavilion will also show Australian projects that address the theme of repair. The project is supported by the Australian Institute of Architects.
Does this all sound interesting to you? If so, make sure to read my post ‘How to prepare your visit to the Architecture Biennale 2018’ with lots of practical information. Similar as for the previous Architecture Biennale, I will add previews on several national pavilions on a regular basis to the site. I will start with the ones mentioned above in the coming weeks. Shortly after the opening of the Biennale Architettura 2018, I will publish additional details and let you in on my favourite pavilions of this year’s event.
All practical details on the Biennale, as well as an overview of all the artists and national participations can be found on the website of La Biennale.
Enjoy the Biennale!
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