As always, this year’s edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale is brimming with exhibitions and installations—the result of thousands upon thousands of hours of research and work. When arriving at the Arsenale or Giardini, the overwhelming amount of “things to see” are neatly tucked into the national pavilions, or, in the case of the Arsenale, hidden on the sides of the sweeping corridor. In the likely event that you have limited time to enjoy all that FREESPACE has to offer, ArchDaily‘s editors have selected our favorite works displayed at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition.
Here, presented in no particular order, are some of our top suggestions from across the Biennale sites.
Showing the Unknowns of The Familiar Space
Switzerland / Svizzera 240 – House Tour
Exhibitors: Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg, Ani Vihervaara
Manipulating the spatial scale, this pavilion forces visitors to re-examine their perception of architectural elements, intelligently overwhelming the designer’s consciousness and their responsibility when configuring a domestic space. This unfurnished interior—or Freespace—puts aside the functional performance of the space and leaves in evidence only architectural design. By raising relevant issues in a playful environment, the pavilion received the Golden Lion for the Best National Participation.
From Deathstrip to Freespace
Germany / Unbuilding Walls
Curator: Marianne Birthler, Lars Krückeberg, Wolfram Putz, Thomas Willemeit
Decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the footprint of what divided East and West remains as one of the spaces with the biggest potential. Curated by GRAFT, “Unbuilding Walls, From Deathstrip to Freespace” features projects such as the unrealized ideas of Rem Koolhaas for Checkpoint Charlie, to the distribution of techno cathedrals along the wall, to the new Axel Springer HQ, together with several formal and grassroots projects that have seized the Freespace potential of the strip that represented freedom, prison, death, and rebirth.
Transmuting a Barrier into a Territory
Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura (México) – Stand Ground
Part of the International Exhibition of the event, Rozana Montiel’s installation stands out for virtually tearing down one of the walls of the Arsenale to “open” the closed space of the building to the streets of Venice. Visitors can not only walk and inhabit the wall—faithfully reconstructed in a horizontal position—but also can sense its weight and its construction method, as a section. As a result, this installation is a simple but powerful operation with a high symbolic content.
The Scale of The Individual
Michael Maltzan Architecture (USA) – Star Apartments
Giardini – Central Pavilion
This exhibition is a direct proposal—in form and content—that questions the visitor and makes them think about their own relationship to Freespace through their everyday environment; to what extent does the architecture we inhabit give us the freedom to shape our personal spaces? Michael Maltzan analyzes the “Star Apartments” social housing project in Los Angeles and presents the rich diversity of its interior spaces, containing designs by its own residents.
Freespace As a Blank Canvas for Architecture
Holy See / Vatican Chapels
Curators: Francesco Dal Co, Micol Forti
Venezia Centro Storico
Ten architects were invited to design ten chapels in the middle of the forest on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The challenge posed, in itself, refers to Freespace in a largely disciplinary sense: How does one design a building with a very specific function in an abstract territory, without destinations or strong points of reference? The island is transformed into a blank sheet for the deployment of the architecture; one of the most difficult challenges we can receive. How did these architects solve it?
Projects as Open Processes
France / Infinite Places – Building or Making Places?
Curators: Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin, Sébastien Eymard- Encore Heureux
Curated by French Architects Encore Heureux, “Infinite Places” displays 10 projects that generate unexpected outcomes. Rather than just talking about buildings, each case is presented as a unique and engaging timeline with fascinating stories about the complex lives of the projects—including transformations from abandonment and neglect into active community spaces. The selected projects are not presented as examples to follow strictly, but rather as processes that can be applied to the potential of unused places. Highly connected to the curatorial theme of Freespace, the French pavilion shines a light on the power of the vision of communities, architects, and governments. The exhibit makes great use of architectural models which, paired with embedded screens, effectively display how the buildings are being used today.
Bonus: Visitors can share their own “Infinite Places,” highlighting the global potential of unused spaces, waiting to be reclaimed to take advantage of for their infinite condition.
Confining The Entire Horizon Into a Glass Box
Argentina / Horizontal Vertigo
Curators/Exhibitors: Javier Mendiondo, Pablo Anzilutti, Franciso Garrido, Federico Cairoli
This installation transports us to the vastness of the Argentinian Pampas through a container that reflects in its walls a series of projects relevant to local architecture, presented through their initial sketches. The proposal is formally attractive and suggestive, opening the concept of Freespace to the visitor to think about their own interpretations: Are we correctly occupying the Freespace we receive in each assignment? Is it necessary to continue building? How do we improve the preexisting through each new project we build?
Exploring a Nation’s Psyche Through Metaphor
Great Britain / Island
Curators: Caruso St John Architects, Marcus Taylor
In principle, an empty pavilion surrounded by scaffolding might not sound like a must-see. But the British Pavilion is an excellent example of a “show, don’t tell” response to the Biennale theme of generosity, offering out its spaces to other countries for events and providing impressive views of the Venetian lagoon from its rooftop plaza. Much has been made of the metaphorical implications of the pavilion and its connection to the “identity crisis” of Brexit. However the pavilion’s related publication, containing among other things a copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and a series of works by the aptly named poet Kate Tempest, shows how the “Island” mentality explored by Caruso St John and Marcus Taylor has underpinned the British psyche for much longer; like the pavilion itself, the book is worth your time.
Questioning the Biennial Manifesto From Illegitimate Spaces
Curators: Pierre-Alexandre Mateos, Rasmus Myrup, Octave Perrault, Charles Teyssou
Spazio Punch, Giudecca
On another shore, on the island of Giudecca, a group of architects, artists, critics, and curators, have formed a space that seeks to review the concept on Freespace of the Venice Biennale 2018: How can we talk about Freespace without considering all those illegitimate, invisible spaces in our cities? The Cruising Pavilion declares this manifesto as failed if it “doesn’t question the heteronormative production of space itself,” submerging us in the atmosphere of the alleys, bathhouses, and sex clubs which differ greatly from those spaces officially presented by the event.
A Futuristic Approach to the Countryside
Cloud Village / Archi-Union Architects
Principal Architect: Philip F. Yuan (China)
Responding to the Chinese Pavilion’s theme “Building a Future Countryside,” Philip Yuan’s Cloud Village installation pulls together a number of conceptual threads to create a compelling structure. Using recycled plastic, a (surprisingly sturdy) lattice structure has been 3D printed in Shanghai and shipped in pieces to Venice for assembly. The installation is compelling on its own—the 3D printed plastic is worth seeing up close for those who haven’t seen this system of construction before—but the implications for rural Chinese life are also intriguing, showing how the countryside can use the absolute cutting edge of technology just as effectively as the city.
Life Obviously Exceeds Architecture
Japan / Architectural Ethnography
Curators: Momoyo Kaijima with Laurent Stalder and Yu Iseki
“Life obviously exceeds architecture.” With this strong phrase, curator Momoyo Kaijima sets the tone of the exhibit which, through 42 projects from all over the world represented by fantastic highly detailed drawings, aims to bring a dimension of life to architecture. A reminder of Atelier Bow-Wow’s Pet Architecture book, that set a precedent on how architectural drawings could incorporate the dimension of daily life, the exhibit displays sections, sketches, hand drawings, and axonometrics that can be explored by using a series of devices available throughout the exhibit.