Venice Goes 'Freespace'

John Hill
14. June 2017
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, curators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale (Photo: Andrea Avezzu)

Architects and curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have developed the theme Freespace for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, which will take place in Venice from 26 May to 25 November 2018.

The duo from Grafton Architects was selected in January for the next Venice Architecture Biennale, a good sixteen months before the event's opening next year. (For comparison, their predecessor, Alejandro Aravena, had about ten months between appointment and opening.) Last week Farrell and McNamara, with Biennale President Paolo Baratta, announced the Freespace theme. Their statement:

Freespace describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself.

Freespace focuses on architecture’s ability to provide free and additional spatial gifts to those who use it and on its ability to address the unspoken wishes of strangers.

Freespace celebrates architecture’s capacity to find additional and unexpected generosity in each project - even within the most private, defensive, exclusive or commercially restricted conditions.

Freespace provides the opportunity to emphasise nature’s free gifts of light - sunlight and moonlight, air, gravity, materials - natural and man-made resources.

Freespace encourages reviewing ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world, of inventing solutions where architecture provides for the  well being and dignity of  each citizen of this fragile planet.

Freespace can be a space for opportunity, a democratic space, un-programmed and free for uses not yet conceived. There is an exchange between people and buildings that happens, even if not intended or designed, so buildings themselves find ways of sharing and engaging with people over time, long after the architect has left the scene. Architecture has an active as well as a passive life.

Freespace encompasses freedom to imagine, the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together, building on inherited cultural layers, weaving the archaic with the contemporary.

What does this mean exactly for people visiting the Biennale next year? The duo further elucidates:

With the theme of Freespace, the Biennale Architettura 2018 will present for public scrutiny examples, proposals, elements - built or unbuilt - of work that exemplifies essential qualities of architecture which include the modulation, richness and materiality of surface; the orchestration and sequencing of movement, revealing  the embodied power and beauty of architecture.

The exhibition will have a spatial, physical presence of a scale and quality, which will impact on the visitor, communicating architecture’s complex spatial nature.

The exhibition invites emotional and intellectual engagement of the many who come to the Biennale in order to understand architecture more fully, to stimulate discussion on core architectural values and to celebrate architecture’s proven and enduring contribution to humanity.

Finally, Mr. Baratta describes Freespace as follows:

As was the case for the previous editions of Biennale Architettura, we continue our investigation into the relationship between architecture and civil society. The divide between architecture and civil society, caused by the latter's increasing difficulty in expressing its own needs and finding appropriate answers, has led to dramatic urban developments whose main feature is the marked absence of public spaces, or the growth of other areas dominated by indifference in the suburbs and peripheries of our cities.

The absence of architecture makes the world poorer and diminishes the level of public welfare, otherwise reached by economic and demographic developments. To rediscover architecture means to renew a strong desire for the quality of the spaces where we live, which are a form of public wealth that needs to be constantly protected, renovated and created. 

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