Freespace: Grafton’s 2018 Venice Biennale to Celebrate Generosity, Thoughtfulness, and a Desire to Engage

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

At a press meeting convened today at the Biennale’s headquarters at Ca’ Giustinian in Venice, Italy, Grafton ArchitectsYvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara—revealed their theme and outline for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Freespace. According to the curators, it will celebrate first and foremost “generosity and thoughtfulness,” and “a desire to engage.”

We believe that everyone has the right to benefit from architecture. The role of architecture is to give shelter to our bodies, but also to lift our spirits. A beautiful wall forming a street edge gives pleasure to the passer-by, even if they never go inside.

Freespace will “reveal diversity, specificity, and continuity in architecture. Together,” they proposed, “we can reveal the capacity of architecture to connect with history, time, place, and people. These qualities sustain the fundamental capacity of architecture to nurture and support a meaningful impact between people and place.” In their closing statement, Farrell and McNamara chose to quote an Ancient Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

We are interested in going beyond the visual. We are interested in the choreography of daily life. We see the earth as client [and] architecture as the manipulation of the resources of the earth.

Speaking in January of this year the President of La Biennale, Paolo Baratta, argued that 2016’s exhibition “curated by Alejandro Aravena [Reporting From the Front] offered visitors a critical overview of the worldwide evolution of architecture, and underlined how important it is that a qualified demand on the part of individuals and communities be met by an equally effective response.” He suggested that “along these lines,” Farrell and McNamara’s Biennale “will continue to address the same theme but from the point of view of the quality of the public and private space, of urban space, of the territory and of the landscape as the main ends of architecture.”

Understanding Grafton Architects, Directors of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

“When you read Love in the Time of Cholera you come to realize the magic realism of South America.” Yvonne Farrell, Shelley McNamara and I were in a corner of the Barbican Centre’s sprawling, shallow atrium talking about the subject of their most recent accolade, the Royal Institute of British Architects inaugural International Prize, awarded that previous evening.

Grafton Architects in Brief

Farrell and McNamara are both powerful thinkers, considered conversationalists and unobtrusively groundbreaking designers. Their portfolio of built works comprises large-scale higher education projects and single dwellings, housing and exhibition installations. Their most well-known projects include the Engineering and Technology University in Lima, Peru (realised in collaboration with Shell Arquitectos and opened in 2016) and the Universita Luigi Bocconi School of Economics in Milan, Italy. The architects have been involved in the Venice Architecture Biennale three times previously, exhibiting their work in 2002 and 2016, and being awarded the Silver Lion in 2012 for their Lima project. The practice is currently working on the London School of Economics’ Paul Marshall Building in London, the Institut Mines Telecom in Paris, the University of Economics in Toulouse, and a new city library for their home base of Dublin.

Get to Know the Projects of Grafton Architects, Directors of the 2018 Venice Biennale

Yesterday, the Board of La Biennale di Venezia appointed Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects as curators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Farrell and McNamara established Grafton Architects in 1978. They have held the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard GSD and the Louis Kahn Chair at Yale University.

The 16th International Architecture Exhibition (La Biennale di Venezia) will be inaugurated on May 26, 2018, and will conclude on November 25 – running for the same six month-long period that began with Rem Koolhaas’ Biennale—Elements and Absorbing Modernity—in 2014.