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Photo: Giorgio Squillacciotti

Freespace: A View of the 16th Architecture Biennale in Venice

The invitation was quite a surprise, recall Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. Just before Christmas last year, the two Irish architects from Grafton Architects got a call from Venice. They were asked to curate the 16th Architecture Biennale 2018 – and were immediately enthusiastic about the prospect.

Together with their team, Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara worked for three months on their concept for the Biennale and developed a programme that focuses on the fundamental questions and qualities of architecture. "Freespace" is the term under which they gathered all of these aspects, and which defines the framework for the Biennale. Their eponymous manifesto serves as a guideline for the 71 participants who have been invited to participate in the main exhibition in the Giardini and the Arsenale. Among them are renowned offices or Pritzker Prize winners such as Álvaro Siza, Wang Shu and Peter Zumthor – as well as unexpected participants such as Angela Deuber from Switzerland, Arrea Architecture from Slovenia and Carla Juaçaba from Brazil. Each of them has been given a carte blanche to develop a "freespace" according to their own vision.

The Freespace manifesto sets a direction – it reads like a political statement, recalling the qualities and tasks of architecture, its potential and responsibility, while looking optimistically into the future. The exhibition concept of the two curators also includes two special areas, dedicated to historical buildings and the practice of teaching, respectively. Yonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara approach the notion of "freespace" not only literally, but also as a metaphor that also encompasses the freedom to imagine and the free space of time.

For the first time, Vatican City is included among the 65 countries represented with national pavilions at this year’s Biennale, with its contribution located on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Also new to the line-up are Antigua & Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mongolia and Pakistan. The German Pavilion is curated by the Berlin architects Graft in cooperation with Marianne Birthler.

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