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Architecture Biennale: from Freespace to Free haven | Column by Syb Groeneveld

31 may 2018

The role of architecture is to give shelter to our bodies and to lift our spirits’: so say the Irish curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of the 16th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale, which opened last week. Twelve presentations supported by the Creative Industrie Fund NL give shape and substance to the curators’ FREESPACE manifesto, each in their own way.

In the Dutch pavilion in the Giardini, five of the twelve presentations are part of the titillating WORK, BODY, LEISURE presentation by curator Marina Otero Verzier, which is the formal Dutch contribution by Het Nieuwe Instituut regarding the future of physical labour. In partnership with the Creative Industries Fund NL, a number of open calls were issued for the Dutch entry to the Architecture Biennale, resulting in the selection of these five projects for the ‘extended programme’ with which the curator aims to transcend the walls of the Dutch pavilion.

Northscape Collective
This is most visible in the surprising installation ‘The Port and the Fall of Icarus’, encountered as a massive, semi-submerged and rusty wall at the Riva dei Sette Martiri, between the Arsenale and the Giardini. A steel bunker positioned between the city and the sea, between the sun and the moon – upon closer inspection it turns out to offer a multi-dimensional perspective that is perfectly in keeping with the theme of this Biennale.

The Northscapes Collective (Hamed Khosravi, Taneha Kuzniecow Bacchin, Filippo LaFleur) here displays the outcome of a long-term design research project (with partners including the Delft University of Technology) into the architectonic, social and political implications of logistics and of possible future scenarios for the ports of Rotterdam and Venice. The eight ‘rooms’ of the installation gradually reveal how it depicts the increasing insularity of the port with respect to the port city. Cold figures demonstrate how the port, as a ‘freespace’, is ever less interested in physical dock workers and appears to be drifting away from the age-old choreographic and architectonic interplay between people, city and port.

  • Installation 'The Port and the Fall of Icarus' by Northscapes Collective (Hamed Khosravi, Taneha K. Bacchin en Filippo laFleur) along the Riva dei Sette Martiri. Photo: Igreg Studio

  • enrichment
    With FREESPACE, the curators highlight the enriching role of architecture, of course physically but also spiritually. This requires a sense of wonder, which is exactly what makes the installation by Northscape Collective so successful and so relevant. As a result of robotisation, automation and digitisation, new sociological structures and life environments are emerging at a dizzying pace. This compels architecture to question the new relationships and to engage in new experimentation.

    At a time where the size of available public space in the Netherlands is dwindling rapidly, it is worrying to note how this edition of the Architecture Biennale contains few to no interventions in the city’s public space (outside the pavilions and the Arsenale). In this respect, the city of Venice itself does not present or represent much FREESPACE, which is a pity.

    other supported presentations
    The Creative Industries Fund NL has compiled a publication presenting all twelve of the supported projects on display in Venice. For instance, ‘A City of Comings and Goings’ by Crimson Architectural Historians has been selected by the curators for the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, and ‘A School in the Making’ by Case Design (Anne Geenen & Samuel Barclay) has been included in the main exhibition in the Arsenale.
  • MAKE MOVE THINK (left) with director-general of Culture and Media, Barbera Wolfensberger and executive director, Syb Groeneveld. Photo: Michal Hancovsky

  • Photo above: On 24 May, a large delegation headed by the director-general of Culture and Media, Barbera Wolfensberger, visited the installation ‘The Port and the Fall of Icarus’, where Northscape Collective offered an extensive explanation and MAKE MOVE THINK added an extra layer of significance with their shrewdly designed dance performance 'Cosmogonia Mundi'.
  • Publication Venice Architecture Biennale