Architecture Biennial Venice 2018 | Freespace exhibition Yvonne Farrell Shelley McNamara

Freespace: Preview of the exhibition at the 16th Architecture Biennial in Venice

Promisingly vague

8. May 2018 | Words: Jasmin Jouhar, Photography: La Biennale di Venezia
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

At last, the 16th Architecture Biennial in Venice kicks off at the end of this month. This year, architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara from Grafton are presiding over the main exhibition entitled “Freespace”. A summary of what awaits visitors to the Arsenale and Biennial Pavilion.

Every other year, the Venice Biennial sees the world of architecture determine where it stands and reaffirm its identity. Of some importance here is the motto for the main exhibition that flanks the country presentations in the Pavilions and is presided over by different curators each time. Indeed, it sets the tone for the entire Biennial. The motto this time round is “Freespace”. Sounds open-minded, affable, maybe a touch esoteric. Less combative than Alejandro Aravena’s “Reporting from the Front” two years ago at any rate. And more indefinite than Rem Koolhaas’ “Elements of Architecture” in 2014. The task of pin-pointing the free spaces in architecture has been taken on by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. Two architects from Dublin who have been running the Grafton architects’ practice together since 1978. They became internationally known with their new-build venture for the Bocconi University in Milan. Biennial President Paolo Baratta has (again) displayed an instinctive grasp of prevailing trends with this choice. Placing two women in charge in these #metoo times certainly fits the bill.

Yvonne Farrell Shelley McNamara Architektinnen Grafton Venedig Venice Biennale Architektur Biennial Architecture Palazzo Lagune Porträt Portrait

The two curatrices of the 2018 Architecture Biennial: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of the Grafton practice in Dublin.
(Photo: Andrea Avezzù)

Freespace architecture is spacious, humane, sustainable and offers areas of potential that have yet to be specified and are open to a range of uses: This, at any rate, is how Farrell and McNamara define it in their manifesto for the Biennial exhibition. “We believe everyone is entitled to profit from architecture”, they declare. “We are interested in going beyond the visual and emphasizing the role of architecture in the choreography of day-to-day life.” That all sounds as promising as it is vague. Promising in that it is suggestive of qualities our contemporary everyday architecture, caught as it is between efficiency maximisation, property speculation and regulatory madness, often fails to deliver on. Vague in that this generic theme merely sets the scene for the main exhibition and has of necessity to give the various contributions sufficient air to breathe.

Grafton Bocconi Universität University Milan Milano Mailand freespace biennale architecture shelley mcnamara yvonne farrell

A “freespace”: Grafton became internationally known with their new-build venture for the Bocconi University in Milan.
(Photo: Grafton)

The thematic framework is to be fleshed out by the architects Farrell and McNamara have invited. The show in the Arsenale and Biennial Pavilion will involve a total of 71 participants this time, straightforward architects’ practices for the most part, including many familiar names from Europe. Though the curatrices did, of course, also ask colleagues from China, India, Indonesia, Peru and Brazil to submit entries to the main Biennial exhibition, the Western hemisphere is far more numerously represented. “Freespace” accordingly has a less experimental and globally oriented feel about it than its 2016 forbear, whose format Alejandro Aravena radically opened up. Two German practices – Anna Heringer and Sauerbruch Hutton – are featured this time, incidentally. Neither the manifesto nor the list of attendees can shed light on whether the exhibition will actually be a success, however. That’s something visitors to Venice will be able to find out themselves as of 26 May.

FSB is again inviting those attending the Biennial to its Points of Contact meeting point right by the Grand Canal. From 24-28 May, the historic Palazzo Contarini Polignac will open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Further information is to be found at the Points of Contact website.

The 16th Venice Architecture Biennial runs from Saturday, 26 May, to Sunday, 25 November, 2018. The main “Freespace” exhibition and the country pavilions in the Giardini and Arsenale will be open every day except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.