Freespace is the theme developed by this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale: let’s see how four National Pavilions interpret it

Until November 25th, 2018, the protagonist in Venice will be architecture. There are 63 National Participations in the Pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the historic city centre of Venice. The call of the curators of the Biennale 2018 ( Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (Grafton Architects) was to “present in Venice their own Freespace.”

This year, 6 countries are participating for the first time: Antigua & Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Pakistan and the Holy See (with its own pavilion on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore). Among the many pavilions, we have chosen some: Great Britain (which received a special mention), the United States, Japan and France.

Aerial view of the Giardini during the preview 

Great Britain, refuge or exile?

The special mention was given to Great Britain (curated by the British Council) for the “courageous proposal that uses emptiness to create a ‘free space’ for events and informal appropriations.” But Great Britain (the curatorial team consists of Caruso St John Architects and artist Marcus Taylor) also offers an Island, a place for reflection – and there are many topics you can think about while sipping your tea (offered every day at 4 pm): abandonment, reconstruction, shelter, Brexit, isolation…

Visitors approaching the British Pavilion find the building covered with scaffolding supporting a wooden platform at roof-level. A staircase running along a side of the building leads up to an elevated piazza, a place to meet or to relax. The empty Pavilion hosts a programme of events, performances, installations and debates concerning the theme of Freespace and to ideas raised by Island.

The terrace of the British Pavilion (© British Council, photos by Cultureshock Media)

United States, what is citizenship?

The curators of the US Pavilion – Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui, Mimi Zeiger – have invited seven transdisciplinary groups, composed of architects, landscape architects, theorists and artists, who have been asked to deal with the possible meanings and architectural implications of the concept of citizenship, based on different dimensional levels. Seven spatial scales are explored to define the sense of citizenship: Citizen, Civitas, Region, Nation, Globe, Network and Cosmos. The works use architecture to examine contemporary social, political and economic issues, including the meaning of home, the right to public spaces, the different uses of civil monuments, the dynamics of border areas, and the conditions of global migration.

The part of the US Pavilion related to the ‘Region’ spatial scale 

Japan, direct and shared observation

“The Japanese pavilion’s exhibition showcases 42 projects from all over the world made over the last 20 years: detailed drawings, spatial-activity charts, maps of urban hybrids and thorough studies on rural farming and fishing villages following natural disasters, conceived by architectural, design or artistic studies. All agreeing on a new design approach “of, for, among, around society, which we define Architectural Ethnography” – this is how the curatorial team, Momoyo Kaijima, Laurent Stalder and Yu Iseki, described the Japanese Pavilion.

Visitors, using large magnifying glasses, binoculars or ladders, are invited to observe the drawings hanging on the walls. There are several actions to be taken: choosing a drawing, immersing into it, staging life with architecture, observing the lines and the thicknesses of the drawing, looking at the drawing in detail, but moving away to see it as a whole, using a ladder to get another point of view, sharing opinions with other visitors and finally drawing and freely expressing themselves.

Ladders and magnifying glasses to carefully observe the Japanese Pavilion

France, building or making places?

The curators of the French Pavilion, Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin, Sébastien Eymard-Encore Heureux, care about the creativity of people who revived spaces left abandoned. 10 places are involved: Le CentQuatre (Paris), Hôtel Pasteur (Rennes), La Grande Halle (Colombelles), Les Ateliers Médicis (Clichy-sous-Bois-Montfermeil), La Friche la Belle de Mai (Marseille), Le Tri Postal (Avignon), Les Grands Voisins (Paris), Le 6B (Saint-Denis), La Convention (Auch), La Ferme du Bonheur (Nanterre). The title of the exhibition, ‘Infinite Places’, suggests the range of possibilities opened by the authors of these places and the sense of architecture: should we simply build buildings or seek to make places?

Pavillon Français_Encore Heureux©Sophie Scher

[Text Paola Molteni]