Venice Biennale – Giardini Pavilions

How is the idea of ‘Freespace’ interpreted in the national exhibitions of the Giardini –

British Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, photo © Marianna Wahlsten
Rooftop terrace built on top of the British Pavilion with views over the lagoon, photo ©MariannaWahlsten

Curated by Dublin-based architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the 2018 Architecture Biennale offers a broad view into the complexities of contemporary environments. With emphasis on details instead of the grand concepts of the previous Biennales, it’s a fresh look onto the multiple layers of meaning in architecture. 

The proposed theme ’Freespace’ leaves plenty of space for interpretation. Responses in the national pavilions were ecological, futuristic, social, poetic and conceptual, reflecting on the idea of architecture as a language within society. Farrell and McNamara seem to challenge architecture as purely technical or political, but instead looking at the complex systems where both the smallest details and the long history need to be understood simultaneously in order to make great environments.

British Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, photo: ©MariannaWahlsten
Titled ‘Island’ the British Pavilion was left empty inside, with an exterior scaffolding leading up to a temporary roof terrace, photo: ©MariannaWahlsten

What is a great city in the future? How can we make sustainable environments? How can architecture generate wellbeing to individuals and the planet? Social spaces and infrastructure were explored in several exhibitions, some with historical outlooks and others with futuristic proposals. Some offered intensely researched, multilayered shows such as the US Pavilion on ecology and individual responsibility, while the UK Pavilion was  more restrained, and rather bleak, but poetic – created by the leading contemporary architects Caruso St John in collaboration with conceptual artist Marcus Taylor. Both countries responded to their own political crisis in very different ways. UK was awarded a special mention by the jury.

Nordic Pavilion titled 'Another Generosity' Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, photo ©MariannaWahlsten
Nordic Pavilion titled ‘Another Generosity’ showcased experimental models for interacting with natural resources, photo ©MariannaWahlsten

The ’free gifts’ provided by nature (as also suggested in the overall curatorial proposal) is an elusive topic in the Nordic Pavilion, presented in a rather mysterious manner by young architect Eero Lunden, and nicely taking over the Sverre Fehn designed space. Ecology is equally beautifully evoked at the Australian Pavilion, where it was a collaboration between artist Linda Tegg and Baracco+Wright Architects.

Australian Pavilion titled 'Repair', Venice Biennale 2018, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
Australian Pavilion titled ‘Repair’ was home to rare plants, while showing films on projects nurturing the built environment, photo: ©Marianna Wahlsten
Swiss Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2018, photo: ©Marianna Wahlsten
Swiss Pavilion titled ‘House Tour’ showing alienating domestic interiors, photo © Marianna Wahlsten

Materiality and the presentation of architecture was a topic explored by the Swiss team, which was awarded the Best Pavilion Golden Lion. It’s a fun environment, showcasing the neutral minimalism of the domestic space, the utmost functionality as opposed to the poetic, unexpected and crafted environments imagined as ideal spaces. It was also the total opposite of the tense programs that could be found at the Korean Pavilion, the Spanish Pavilion (experimental and performative) and the French Pavilion. The Pavilions with plain statements won over the jury this year.

French Pavilion titled 'Infinite Spaces' , Venice Biennale 2018, photo © Marianna Wahlsten
French Pavilion titled ‘Infinite Spaces’ focusing on the unexpected in built environments by team Encore Heureux, photo ©MariannaWahlsten