Freespace

The 2018 Venice Biennale will focus on generosity and thoughtfulness within architecture

Architecture International
The 2018 Venice Biennale will focus on generosity and thoughtfulness within architecture. Image: Grafton's Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) building won the inaugural 2016 RIBA International Prize. (Courtesy Iwan Baan)

Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who are both principals at Dublin-based Grafton Architects and are curating the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, have disclosed their agenda for the Biennale. Titled Freespace, Farrell and McNamara explained at a press event that the 16th Biennale will exhibit “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself.”

Officially, La Biennale Architettura 2018 will be known as The 16th International Architecture Exhibition Freespace and will begin on May 26th, running through November 25. At the press event held yesterday at Ca’ Giustinian in Venice, Farrell and McNamara elaborated on their plans, defining Freespace as the following:

  • 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 man-made 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.
  • 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.



Farrell and McNamara continued, adding that the Biennale will showcase works of architecture—built and/or unbuilt—that exhibit “modulation, richness, and materiality of surface; the orchestration and sequencing of movement, revealing the embodied power and beauty of architecture.” The pair also stated that they wish for the Biennale engage visitors emotionally and intellectually and to invoke discussion on architecture’s contribution to humanity.

In this sense, Farrell and McNamara’s agenda is a riff on Alejandro Aravena’s previously curated Reporting From the Front, which took a more hedonistic approach in addressing the overlap between architecture and global social issues. The Irish duo concluded their statement by saying:

We are interested in going beyond the visual, emphasizing the role of architecture in the choreography of daily life. 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 in the 16th International Architecture Exhibition. 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.

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” – Greek Proverb.

About Grafton Architects: 
Farrell and McNamara founded Grafton Architects in 1977 and made their first Biennale appearance in 2002. In 2012, their firm won the Silver Lion for a promising practice. Their projects are mostly institutional—for universities, schools, and governments—and are spread across the globe. Most recently, their Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) building, seen above, won the inaugural 2016 RIBA International Prize.
Their statement in full, along with President of La Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta’s remarks, can be found here.
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