by Alessandro Colombo. When, slightly under a year before the opening of the 16th Architecture Biennial, the two curators issued their manifesto, Freespace, it was clear to see that they were undertaking to produce an exhibition in which they would “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”. Freespace is described as “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.” A hugely broad theme that betrays an undeniable love of architecture as well as an equally great faith in the results that can be obtained through practice and familiarisation with what Leon Battista Alberti conceived as liberal, not mechanical, art.
From late May, right through the summer and for most of the autumn, the outcome of this reflection on this particular theme, thrown open as always to all the participating countries and structured by the curators themselves, is there for all to see.
Bearing in mind that the Biennale is first and foremost an event and an opportunity for reflection, dialogue between different conceptions and, why not, for the batting about of ideas between critics, thinkers and architects, this edition does not baulk at the clichéd comments, the factions of supporters and detractors, the reflections both on and outside the theme (perhaps less common this time, given the vastness of its range). On the roof of the British pavilion (the internal rooms miraculously empty), Freespace has taken the form a terrace with a “lagoon view”; Switzerland has produced a compelling play on scale (which, moreover, has been awarded the Golden Lion), challenging the visitor’s powers of perception; in the small but noteworthy Indonesian space there is a lyrical take on emptiness, highlighted by the enormous white canvas; the Japanese space features a packed exhibition of wonderfully graceful drawings and models; there is a pretext to talk about the boundless vastness of the Russian Federation, crossed by the longest and biggest rail system in the world; a wunderkammer opening onto the infinite natural bounty of Argentina and a fascinating play of Peruvian ropes and knots; a manifesto of new policies for the development of rural areas in China; a mature reflection on the sustainability of an urban system after the bigness pursued over the last few decades by the United Arab Emirates. And there is more: Spain’s own Freespace is filled with dominant hypergraphics; Germany has brought back the Wall as protagonist of an installation that alludes to a free space that had been lost and has now been refound; delicate pneumatic balloons fill the beautiful Nordic Countries’ space (Sweden, Norway and Finland).
In the Corderie at the Arsenale, the centre of which is completely empty, there is an almost endless street lined with proposals and yet more proposals from architects from across the globe selected by our very own Grafton Architects, who have also filled the spaces in the central pavilion at the Giardini, the former Italian pavilion, with all a huge variety of contributions, from designs by Caccia Dominioni to models by Peter Zumthor.
The Applied Arts pavilion, curated by the Victoria & Albert Museum, offers an exciting chance to climb a piece of real architecture, a fragment of Robin Hood Gardens in London – a brutalist residential megastructure from the notorious Seventies – subjected to merciless demolition. From the Holy See, present in the lagoon for the first time, comes a series of 10 architectural variations on the theme of the “chapel”– but they will cost you a trip to the wonderful island of San Giorgio.
To sum up, there is everything and more, something for everyone in this Freespace, a celebration/event of the sort of architecture that we should stop and consider as a common asset of our civil lives and therefore deserving of no little consideration, by making a trip to the Biennale, in the most extraordinary city in the world: Venice.
Curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
16th Architecture Biennale
Venice (Giardini and Arsenale)
From 26th May to 25th November 2018