The 2018 Venice Biennale Guide

Beyond my 2017 Biennale Guide (about Biennale sculptures), I have once again visited Venice in order to discover this year’s Architecture Biennale.

From 1895 until 2018: A brief history of the Biennale

The idea of an art exhibition in Venice was developed during spontaneous meetings of a small circle of artists and art lovers at the famous Caffé Florian at Piazza San Marco. Among them was Riccardo Selvatico (poet and mayor of Venice) who supported the idea of an artistic event with an international profile. The first Biennale thus opened in 1895.

However, architecture as an exhibition theme was officially added to the Biennale’s activities only in the 1970s, in events, which adopted a historical approach, such as “Italian Architecture during Fascism” (1976). In 1980 the 1st Architecture Biennale opened its doors. This marked the beginning of a new phase of the Biennale, which was characterized by various collateral events and the expansion of the locations in the city, including the Arsenale.

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Freespace: The 16th Architecture Biennale

The 16th Architecture Biennale edition focuses on the question of free space, the free space that can be generated when a project is inspired by generosity.

“Our desire to create Freespace can be, specifically, a characteristic of individual projects. But free space also becomes a paradigm, in that it reveals the presence or absence in general of architecture, if we mean by architecture thinking applied to the space in which we live and reside. Free space is a sign of a higher civilization of living, an expression of the will to welcome.
 Of course, generosity cannot only be hoped for: the cultural and institutional framework of a community must know how to recognize it and must want to stimulate and promote it.” 

— Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale di Venezia

 Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the curators of the 16th Architecture Biennale, have made an approach to describe this year’s theme: Freespace.

“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 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. Freespace encompasses freedom to imagine the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together.”

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My top 8 Biennale pavilions:

The exhibition “Freespace” includes 63 national participants in total. I have chosen my favourite ones from both venues: Arsenale and Giardini.

Arsenale: The Arsenale was the largest production center in the pre-industrial era and in full-time periods it had up to 2,000 workers a day. It was a huge complex of construction sites, a symbol of economic power, politics and military of the city. Since 1980 the Arsenale has become the exhibition site of La Biennale on the occasion of the 1st International Architecture Exhibition. Later on, the same spaces were used during the Art Expositions for the Open section.

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1. Croatia: “Cloud Pergola” at the Croatian pavilion is conceived as a collaborative site-specific environment, an installation crossing the boundaries of architecture, art, engineering, robotic fabrication and computational models. By mathematically capturing cloud formations, the installation integrates site-specific environmental data into a synthesis of form, figure, posture, tectonics, and light effect. A wall-based work titled “To Still the Eye” by Vlatka Horvat comprises a series of drawings made by bare feet. The works act as metaphors for the future and for a sense of possibility. Additionally the pavilion hosts a sound installation titled “Ephemeral Garden” by Maja Kuzmanovic which evokes a sense of convivial gatherings under a pergola.

  • Curated by Bruno Juričić

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2. Kosovo: The Kosovo pavilion is focusing on the violent 1990s period in Albania and how the private space opened to the public making the house a metaphor for the city during occupation period. The pavilion is an unfinished house, acting as a compensation for the public space that was lacking. The inside space is surrounded by mirrors to create an effect of extended space and openness as a metaphor of psychological freedom. The ceiling of the pavilion is covered by satellites, a metaphor of gloomy days where Albanians nourished their souls with foreign information. The carpets have been and still are one of the central elements of the Kosovo Albanian dwelling. The living room is structured and organized around the carpet. The pavilion interiorizes the exterior and therefore it’s not a matter of chance that it uses the carpet.

  • Curated by Eliza Hoxha

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3. Singapore: Singapore – with a population of 5.6 million – is one of the densest countries in the world. Can there be any free space left in this highly urbanized island state? The Singapore pavilion tells the story of how they have created delightful free spaces, in spite of the countries size. It is a study of how architects and designers have innovated and borrowed from nature to create useful and delightful spaces and places. Singapore’s tropical urban environment serves as both context and inspiration for architects and designers, who borrow free natural resources like light, air and water. They imagine spaces that did not exist by going upwards, sideways or underground. A cloud of acrylic knots in the Singapore pavilion invites visitors to experience these delightful free spaces via a multi-sensorial experience. Some examples that I have seen at the pavilion included: T House (by linghao architects) and Skyterrace @Dawson (by SCDA)

  • Curated by Erwin Viray

4. Turkey: “Vardiya(shift)” commits a programme full of public events to turn the pavilion of Turkey into an open space for temporary accommodation, production and encountering. It is envisioned as a hotspot for workshops, roundtable discussions and informal meetings. It welcomes over a hundred international students of architecture, tutors, guest professionals, keynote speakers and visitors; it invites all to a continuous learning and production process throughout the weeks of the Biennale Architettura 2018. Among five hundred applicants responding to the questions “Why does La Biennale exist? What does La Biennale do? For whom does La Biennale exist?”, shortlisted participants invite visitors and guests to think on the purpose and role of the biennials through their video installations. Along with the outcomes of this open call, students are encouraged to be active producers of the evolving exhibition content in the pavilion through workshops with a variety of contributing actors. 

  • Curated by Kerem Piker

Giardini: The traditional site of the Biennale Art Exhibitions since the first edition in 1895 are located at the eastern edge of Venice and made by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. The Giardini now host 29 pavilions of foreign countries, some of them designed by famous architects such as Josef Hoffmann’s Austria Pavilion, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s Dutch pavilion or the Finnish pavilion, a pre-fabricated with a trapezoidal plan designed By Alvar Aalto.

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5. Nordic Countries: “Another Generosity” explores the relationships between nature and the built environment, and how architecture can facilitate the creation of a world that supports the symbiotic coexistence of both. It seeks to create a spatial experience which heightens our awareness of our environment. Moreover, it is an attempt to start a critical dialogue that helps generating ways of shaping our world with generosity. A generosity not just between humans, but between humans and nature. The installation consists of two basic elements: air and water. The simple structures are combined to create a visible and dynamic cellular structure. The elements respond to external and sometimes unseen stimuli, creating a new kind of experience and greater awareness of our surroundings.

  • Curated by Juulia Kauste and Eero Lundén

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6. United States: “Dimensions of Citizenship” challenges architects and designers to envision what it means to be a citizen today. In a time when the expansion of the United States – Mexico border wall looms over more nuanced discourses on national citizenship, it is urgent to rethink ideas of citizenship in a critical way. Questions of belonging, of who should be included and how we could interpret political data. The installation works do not solve the complex relationships of governance, affinity, and circumstance that bind us. Instead, they use architecture’s disciplinary agency to render visible paradoxes and formulations of belonging. What I liked most about the US pavilion was the critical approach to current political issues.

  • Curated by Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui and Mimi Zeiger

IMG_5264IMG_52717. Great Britain: Commissioned by the British Council, the design for the British pavilion for the 2018 Venice Biennale responds to the theme of FREESPACE through the construction of a new public space on the roof of the original building. The pavilion itself is open to the public but empty, with just the peak of its tiled roof visible in the center of the public space above, suggesting a sunken world beneath. The two spaces host a programme of events including poetry, performance and film, as well as architectural debate. There are many ways to interpret the experience of visiting “Island”, the 2018 British pavilion. An island can be a place of both refuge and exile. The state of the building, which is completely covered with scaffolding to support the new platform above, suggests many themes; including climate change, abandonment, colonialism, Brexit, isolation, reconstruction and sanctuary.

  • Curated by Marcus Taylor, Caruso St John Architects

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8. Belgium: Europe’s core is in Brussels. Despite being the EU’s principal territorial anchor, the European Quarter in Brussels barely contributes to a collective European identity. By accepting the role of hostess to the common enterprise of Europe, Brussels accepts responsibility for its territorial anchor. The EU Quarter is above all the expression of the European political system. The Belgian pavilion therefore addresses the deficiency of democratic and citizen spaces in the EU Quarter. By offering a public agora, it hopes to arouse political commitment in European citizens and extend an invitation to to pursue the construction of Europe as a political ideal, as well as its anchor in Brussels. Based on urban architectural traces, its guidebook, Voyage en Eurotopie, offers a glimpse of what Europe and Brussels may be and how space-makers may learn from the supranational city.

  • Curated by Traumnovelle & Roxane Le Grelle

Belgium

Opening times: The 16th International Architecture Exhibition is open to the public from Saturday May 26th to Sunday November 25th 2018, at the Giardini and the Arsenale in Venice, Italy // 
Closed on Mondays! Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 6pm 
Public transport: "Vaporetto" ACTV lines 1, 2, 6 or 5.1, 5.2.to "Arsenale", "Giardini" (direction: Lido di Venezia)

Sources and further reading: Marco Mulazzani, Guide to the Pavilions of the Venice Biennale since 1887; www.labiennale.org

Photo credits: Judith Bradlwarter. ©

Video credit: Artsy. ©