Venice 2018 – How can architects contribute to improve our lives through public space? Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara curators of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition invited National pavilions to reflect on the generosity of architecture which creates free spaces able to tackle nowadays challenges. We highlight 5 recurring keywords at Venice Biennale: holy, holistic, resilient, rebellious and on-the-border.
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#1 – THE HOLY FREESPACE
Religion is one of the most recurring themes. The Vatican debuts with its first architecture pavilion. The curator Francesco Dal Co invited 10 leading architects including Norman Foster, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Smiljan Radic and more to design “chapels in the wood” in the new Vatican Gardens on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The 10 structures facing the sea invite to undertake and spiritual pilgrimage through architecture.
At Giardini, the Israeli Pavilion presents In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation. Visitors discover the fragile system of coexistence of five iconic holy sites. On show the busy timetable of functions of the many Christian communities sharing the Holy Sepulchum and The Mughrabi Ascent, the permanent ‘temporary structure’ leading the only one gate of the Temple Mount that is open to non Muslims and runs above the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In the upper floor, visitors can discover visionary and never-realized masterplans for the Western Wall Plaza by Moshe Safdie, Superstudio, Isamu Noguchi and more.
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#2 – THE HOLISTIC FREESPACE
“Earth is our client” say curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelly Mc Namara in an interview with Archipanic. Indeed, many pavilions approached the FREESPACE main theme with a holistic attitude. After all aren’t we all part of the universe, how can architecture tune respectfully with a greater system? The Nordic pavilion at Giardini features huge balloons filled with air and vapor which inflate and deflate based on atmospheric conditions. “We have the responsibility to balance the built environment with the natural environment” says co-curator Eero Lundén to Archipanic.
A large patch of nearly extinct grassland species of southeast Victoria flourishes at the center of the Australian pavilion. The exhibition highlights the importance of the ground which is the first element to be carelessly eroded by architecture. “Consequences of the disregard of natural systems are now being felt. How can we repair the ground’s public and social relevance? We are asking to architects to look anew at the ground and how we treat it.” Says to Archipanic curator Louise Wright of Baracco+Wright.
Gravitation, water circulation and the day/night cycles are just some of the greatest powers informing architecture. The Amplifying Nature exhibition at the Polish pavilion at Giardini “is based on the premise that architecture is part of processes occurring on a planetary scale”. On show a sport complex harnessing the water flow to create public spaces tuning with Nature’s powers, a rain pavilion and a house designed to take advantage of twilight to optimize its energy efficiency.
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#3 – THE RESILIENT FREESPACE
Resilience is a keyword in both national participations and collateral events. The Italian pavilion invites for an architectural journey through some of the most remote – and underestimate – areas of the country. Curated by Mario Cucinella, the exhibition is divided in two main sections. The first one proposes 8 itineraries showcasing innovative and often resilient projects built from the Alps to Sicily. The second section focuses on five selected projects aiming to relaunch and redeem territories which have been either forgotten or left behind.
UNCEDED: Voices from the Land, Canada exhibition at Arsenale, showcases the work of 18 indigenous architects and designers from across Turtle Island. Visitors walk through an immersive and audio-visual experience that tackles the difficult truths of colonialism and celebrates the strength of indigenous resilience. From imposed architectures which were informed by racist policies of genocide and apartheid to the resilient effort to revive and create a modern Indigenous architecture. On show “buildings, schools and public spaces drawn on local languages, songs, art, games, spirituality and the teachings of the Elders.” Explain curators David Fortin and Gerald McMaster.
#4 – THE REBELLIOUS FREESPACE
Sometimes it takes a rebel community to free spaces. The French Pavilion presents ten experimental case studies of social and cultural regeneration of neglects sites – from former office to former funeral homes – that have become avant-garde free spaces for artists, creative individuals and groups, entrepreneurial or civic initiatives.
The Infinite Places exhibitions hopes “to free architects from all the constraints that have been impairs in on them in the effort to respect the cultural heritage, the environment and issues of security.” Explain curators at Encore Hereux. This is the meaning of the ‘permission to do’ which has been written into the law and I wish to expand.”
The Hungarian Pavilion narrates the story of Budapest’s Liberty Bridge which has become a symbol of rebellion and freedom. In 1976 taxi-drivers occupied it in the first free strike after the the end of Soviet influence. In 2001, Hungary joined the European Union and the bridge was transformed into a field for a peaceful march. When it became car-free in 2016, citizens, mostly millennials, turned the bridge into street furniture, hosting picnics, grill-parties, yoga classes. “How can architecture become a medium of freedom?” Say curators at Kultúrgorilla studio.
#5 – THE ON-THE-BORDER FREESPACE
Several pavilions went political showcasing the divisive and protectionist nature of frontier walls across the globe. A game of perspective creates a black wall blocking the view of visitors entering the German Pavilion curated by GRAFT architects and human rights activist Marianne Birthler. As soon as you walk in the structure unfolds narrating how Berlin’s infamous border zone was transformed into culturally vibrant spaces.
On show also video interviews of people living on both sides of the Israel/Palestine wall, the DMZ dividing North/South Korea, the Us/Mexico barrier, the fence separating Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast, the Greek-Turkish border in Cyprus and the Spain-Marocco divisive construction in Ceuta.
At the US Pavilion, Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman defy Trump and blur the US-Mexico border. Nature doesn’t comply with the lines drawn by political agendas, the Chicago-based architects showcase a study on the impact of the border-wall with an ecological point of view. The duo suggests a border zone not based on politics but defined by shared natural resources and cooperation opportunities.
Video interviews on US-Mexico border wall – courtesy of the German Pavilion.
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