On May 26, the Venice Architecture Biennale was inaugurated. This is the sixteenth appointment for an international exhibition that, since 1980, has entered the circuit of the prestigious cultural events taking place in the fascinating city of Venice. The curators of this edition, entitled Freespace, are the Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, founding partners of the Grafton Architects studio.
Apparently circumscribed to the non-constructed space, the main theme chosen for this Biennale embraces a variety of meanings as it is clarified in its Manifesto.
“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 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 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. Architecture has an active as well as a passive life.”
If architects are usually considered as the “creators of space” (spacemaker), the term freespace is the extra component that comes from the design process. The Irish curators refer to “Architecture” not as the built environment but as an instrument capable of elevating and giving value to things. Therefore, the generosity of the project mentioned in the Manifesto represents the gift that architecture is able to give back to the places where it intervenes through the quality of the space that it is able to creates. A portico, a precious façade that becomes a fifth, a public space.
Thanks to its donations, Architecture can take an active role towards the civil society making the latter benefit from it. This is the reason why it is of paramount importance to promote the role of design and “the desire for architecture" as explained by the President of the Biennale, Paolo Baratta.
However, if architecture can be considered as the answer to the needs of every human being, the poor conditions that we are witnessing today in many peripheral urban areas make us realize that the question has been misplaced. It means that the "desire for architecture" that we want to promote must find its rightful place within the dialogue among professionals, institutions and individuals.
When economic interests drive large sums of money to promote spectacular structures that are short-lived and leave nothing to the local realities, or when entire neighbourhood are abandoned to their fate, it is evident that both institutions and investors are far from considering architecture as the generator of space. This is partly due to the presence of strong interests that push decisions in a given direction, but there is also a lack of knowledge in the value of architecture. The value of things is now heavily monetized and this leads to neglecting the value of what might increase our well-being. Once we train our palate, we are then able to discern good and healthy food from the so-called junk food. The same happens with each one of our five senses, among them the sight. Training people to be more conscious about the surrounding environment can make them better speaker when it is time to ask appropriate questions to architecture.
Events such as the Venice Biennale of Architecture are important occasions to examine relevant issues such as those mentioned above. At the same time, besides public statements through press releases and conferences, it is still difficult to verify the effectiveness of such events. Are architects able to communicate through their installations the inner intentions of their gesture? As it happens in contemporary art, the extension of some exhibitions does not allow users to linger long enough in front of each work, thus limiting their effectiveness without a written track that guides the most meticulous observer. In an ideal world, one might think of having unlimited access to the exhibition spaces to return several times and quietly absorb the flow of images and information displayed.