The 2018 Biennale of Architecture has been titled ‘Freespace’ by its curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who have helpfully provided us with the Freespace Manifesto to fully explain their ideas. Except that it doesn’t.

The opening sentence of said Manifesto reads, “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.” So with this generosity in mind, it could be said that Farrell and McNamara have an excellent idea and very little understanding of how to express it. The document titled manifesto continues with several sentences in the same form: first “FREESPACE describes…,” then “FREESPACE focuses… FREESPACE celebrates… FREESPACE provides… FREESPACE encourages… FREESPACE can be…” and ultimately “FREESPACE encompasses…” The sentence nowhere to be found? FREESPACE IS.

We are given many things that Freespace does, but we are not ever told exactly what the hell it is. But this omission must be intentional. Farrell and McNamara’s work is filled with light and balance and thought. The Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering that they designed for Trinity College, Dublin, is a particularly fine example. The contrast of soft light wood and cold concrete in the interior of that building is unexpected in, but somehow perfect for, the academic space. So what are they doing refusing to define the topic of their own manifesto? They’re intentionally creating ambiguity. Within uncertain limits, Freespace is whatever you want it to be.

This ambiguity has positive and negative effects on the Biennale.

Continued in Part 2, Highlights from the Central Pavilion