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What is 'Freespace'? Venice Architecture Biennale theme revealed

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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
– Paolo Baratta, Biennale president

The creation of vibrant and meaningful public spaces will be the focus of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have revealed.

Meeting the press last week in the Italian city, the duo announced that the 16th International Architecture Exhibition is to be themed ‘Freespace’ and will “celebrate architecture’s proven and enduring contribution to humanity.”

Explaining the concept, they said in a statement: “We’re interested in going beyond the visual, emphasising the role of architecture in the choreography of daily life.

“We believe that everyone has the right to benefit from architecture. The role of architecture is to give shelter to our bodies and to lift our spirits. A beautiful wall forming a street edge gives pleasure to the passer-by, even if they never go inside. So too does a glimpse into a courtyard through an archway; or a place to lean against in the shade or a recess which offers protection from the wind and rain.

“We see the earth as client. This brings with it long-lasting responsibilities. Architecture is the play of light, sun, shade, moon, air, wind, gravity in ways that reveal the mysteries of the world. All of these resources are free.

“It is examples of generosity and thoughtfulness in architecture throughout the world that will be celebrated [at the Biennale]. We believe these qualities sustain the fundamental capacity of architecture to nurture and support meaningful contact between people and place.

“We focus our attention on these qualities because we consider that intrinsic to them are optimism and continuity. Architecture that embodies these qualities and does so with generosity and a desire for exchange is what we call Freespace.”

Paolo Baratta, president of the Biennale, added: “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.”

As usual, the Biennale will present national pavilions reflecting on the main theme, which will be located at Venice’s Giardini, Arsenale, and in the historic city centre.

The festival – one of the most important in the architectural calendar – will run from 26 May to 25 November 2018.

Farrell and McNamara are co-founders of Irish practice Grafton Architects; winners in 2016 of the inaugural RIBA International Prize for the UTEC University campus in Lima, Peru. They were announced as the curators last January. They follow in the footsteps of Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, who also explored the relationship between architecture and civil society in his 2016 Biennale, which was themed ‘Reporting from the Front’.

In their own words
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara on the notion of ‘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 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 manmade 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.

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.

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The creation of vibrant and meaningful public spaces will be the focus of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have revealed.
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