Continued from Part 1: What is This Again?

Compared to the 2016 Biennale, the Freespace mandate allows much greater freedom for most of the architects involved to express themselves, to express their aesthetic, the emotions of their work. Aravena’s thesis from two years ago was so completely utilitarian that any contributor that dared mention the Beauty of their work was committing an act of rebellion. Two years ago, beauty was a bad word.

Today, Beauty is again welcomed. This was obvious from the very entrance of the Central Pavilion. Assemble, the English consortium whose understated work was admired by this journalist two years ago, can be found under the magnificent cupola, but pay attention or you’ll walk right over it. This year they’ve outdone their own humility by repaving the floor. They’ve created by hand a tremendous number of blue and yellow tiles, each unique, each created with the same slow process, and overlaid the floor. That’s all. The colors reflect in a tall mirror those of the illuminated dome above our heads. This is a beauty that doesn’t strike you, but it exists all the same: the simple beauty of pride in a work of craftsmanship well done.

Freespace – Biennale Architettura 2018. Assemble. Photo by Italo Rondinella

Then, entering the hall, the viewer meets a collection of memories. Here a dozen or so modern architects have each re-imagined an older structure. There’s a cabinet containing an auditorium, a material, a shadow. These are the impressions of place.

Overlooking this is the jewel of the Giardini, Peter Zumthor’s space. The architect has placed, without explanation or organization, a collection of his – the term ‘model’ does not do justice to this work. These are art. Some represent developed spaces, some seem solely imaginary, but in them he transports the viewer into his dream. “Come stand with me in this orange forest and watch the building as it reveals itself through the leaves.”

These and other participants have delighted in the freedom of their mandate to express their own visions. Others still, BIG for example, would be equally at home in the 2016 Biennale, answering the question, ‘How do we use architecture to solve a problem?’ This is not a bad thing. The ambiguity of Freespace does not exclude either.

However, the lack of better explanation from the curators does create unnecessary confusion. What do you mean by generosity? This word is so frequently used it loses all meaning. The Freespace Manifesto and all other explanations would be far more useful, in fact, far more generous, if they were written in plain speech, without jargon or conceit.

My personal recommendation: Go into this exhibition with joy in your heart – there are many beautiful and interesting things here – but skip the manifesto. Imagine instead that Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara had simply written: “We invented a word and then we asked a lot of really intelligent people what they thought it should mean. These are their responses.”