Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, Freespace, La Biennale di Venezia

Yvonne Farrell, Grafton Architects, Shelley McNamara,

Andrea Avezzù,

Venice, Italy,


Venice Biennale, Exhibition, Event,

From the Central Pavilion to the Gardens and the Arsenale, 71 participants bring the FREESPACE exhibition to life, but there is a lot more in store for us at the 16th International Architecture exhibition at the Biennale in Venice, curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, Freespace, La Biennale di Venezia

FREESPACE, the 16th International Architecture Show at the Biennale in Venice, directed by chairman Paolo Baratta, was presented to the public on March 2 at an unusual press conference held with the two curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, via Skype because they were snowed-in in Dublin.

The 16th International Architecture Show opens at the Biennale in Venice a little over two months from now: the opening will be held on May 24 and 25, followed by the awards ceremony on May 26 and the opening to the public of the exhibition, which will continue until November 25 2018. A series of significant images chosen by the curators introduce FREESPACE, the theme / title of the exhibition, distributed in poster form since June 7 2017.
The image is of a cement chair covered with ceramic tiles that architect Jørn Utzon places at the entrance to Can Lis in Majorca, a space modelled on the human body to contain and welcome people coming home. Another image is the viewpoint Lina Bo Bardi creates by raising the modern art museum in San Paolo to offer citizens a new point of view over the city. Or the glass façade of the new Università Bocconi building in Milan, designed by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara themselves, as Grafton Architects. The emotions called up by the images add significance to the words appearing on Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara’s poster even for non-architects. The issues the curators raise, with an emphasis on the social role of architecture. “We’re convinced that everyone has the right to benefit from architecture”, they say, underlining that the unconscious way we all use “freespace”: by enjoying the view of a courtyard through an archway, using a sheltered space to get out of the wind and rain, enjoying the façade of a building as we walk by, and so on; a relationship between people and buildings that can also be unintentional, not planned by the architect and may be revealed gradually and evolve over time.

A theme we will see translated into the spaces of the participating architects, working hard to reveal the Freespaces hiding in their projects. By their own admission, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara approached their appointment as curators of the 16th Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale in Venice as architects, considering the existing buildings as specific sites, a reference context in which to design the exhibition so that it cast light on the spatial qualities of the Corderie dell'Arsenale and the Central Pavilion. These are the places that will be hosting the 71 participants in FREESPACE, including curators of previous shows in Venice, such as Alejandro Aravena (2016), David Chipperfield (2012) and Kazuyo Sejima (2010). Two special sections will appear beside FREESPACE: Close Encounter, meetings with remarkable projects, with 16 participants, looking at work arising out of reflection on famous projects of the past; and The Practice of Teaching, in which the 13 participants show products developed in the course of teaching projects.

The Biennale exhibition is completed with 65 participating nations in the historic Pavilions in the Gardens, at the Arsenale and in the city centre of Venice, including seven countries that have never participated before: Antigua & Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Holy See. The Italian Pavilion curated by architect Mario Cucinella, was presented in Floornature as part of the The Architects Series. Related events include meetings on architecture (conversations with participating architects), the Biennale Sessions and educational activities (intended for universities and for students at all levels of schooling, respectively), and finally, two special projects. The first is Forte Marghera in Mestre, presented by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, regarding the installation by architects Sami Rintala and Dagur Eggertsson. The second, at the Applied Arts Pavilion, curated by Christopher Turner and Olivia Horsfall Turner, uses a fragment of the Robin Hood Gardens designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in 1972 in East London as the starting point for questioning the future of social housing.

(Agnese Bifulco)

Images courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
1 & 2. Yvonne Farrell, Shelley McNamara & Paolo Baratta photo by Andrea Avezzù
3. Entrance seat at Can Lis, Mallorca, 1973 Jørn Utzon, photo by Beatrice Pedrotti
4. Atelier Grafton students research trip Albi Cathedral, France, 1480 Grafton Architects photo by Wendy Smith
5. Freespace undercroft Universitta Luigi Bocconi, Milano, 2008 Grafton Architects photo by Federico Brunetti
6. Windows Housing at Santa Maria della Porta, Milan, 1961 Caccia Dominioni photo by Yvonne Farrell
7. Open courtyard Casa Mila/La Pedrera, Barcelona, 1912 Antoni Gaudi photo by Shelley McNamara
8. Circulation space Gallaratese Housing, Milan, 1974 Carlo Aymonino and Aldo Rossi photo by Shelley McNamara
9. Landscape and housing Ivry Sur Seine House, 1969 Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet photo by Yvonne Farrell
10. Le Thoronet Cloister: Materials and light - Le Thoronet Abbey, France, 1157 photo by Shelley McNamara
11. Exterior of Doge's palace Palazzo Ducale, Venezia photo by Shelley McNamara
12. Lina Bo Bardi's Freespace (vão livre) Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 1947 Lina Bo Bardi photo by Shelley McNamara
13-14-15. Robin Hood Gardens, completed 1972, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson © The Victoria and Albert Museum, London



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