The British Pavilion exhibition has been unveiled ahead of this weekend’s opening of the delayed Venice Architecture Biennale
This year’s pavilion has been curated by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese of Unscene Architecture. They follow in the footsteps of the likes of Caruso St John, FAT, muf and Shumi Bose, Jack Self and Finn Williams.
The biennale was officially relaunched in March, 10 months after the event was postponed twice due to the covid-19 pandemic. It will now run from Saturday until November 21.
Sevra Davis, director of architecture, design and fashion at the British Council and commissioner of the British Pavilion 2021, said: “The past year has shown that the theme of the 2021 Biennale Architettura, ‘How will we live together?’, is one of the most important questions of our time.
“The British Council’s commission for the British Pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights, explores how we inhabit and share our environment, encouraging new perspectives through debate and dialogue and presenting innovative solutions for how we might interact and support each other. In order to positively navigate our shared future, Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese demonstrate how great design can improve the inclusivity, accessibility and understanding needed to achieve that.”
Verghese and Kessler were announced as the winners of the plum job in April 2019 with their proposal, The Garden of Privatised Delights.
It features a series of six immersive spaces, each offering an interactive experience of architecture, rather than the models and drawings of traditional architecture exhibitions.
Kessler and Verghese, who formed Unscene Architecture to compete for the biennale job, named five other practices who will work with them on the spaces just the day before the decision was taken to postpone the whole thing.
These include vPPR, which they beat to the job of curating the pavilion.
VPPR’s space is called Play With(out) Grounds and questions whether we can design new spaces in the city for teenagers to occupy on their own terms.
Kessler and Verghese said the subject of “public spaces” – who owns them, who uses them and how – had also become more pertinent because of the pandemic.
Kessler said: “The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of accessible public spaces and made the need to address issues of inequality even more critical.
“The Garden of Privatised Delights proposes proactive ways in which we can work together towards a more equitable society, including widening consultation on and inclusivity in design, to ensure public spaces are truly accessible to all.”
The other teams and spaces are:
- The Decorators, a multi-disciplinary design collective founded by Suzanne O’Connell, Xavi Llarch Font, Carolina Caicedo and Mariana Pestana who have backgrounds in landscape architecture, interior architecture and psychology. The practice’s space is called Publicani and asks whether the pub could be more than a place for drinking and become a versatile centre for civic action.
- Studio Polpo, a Sheffield-based social enterprise architecture practice, designed High Street of Exchanges: Could the high street go beyond commercial interests to become a place of diverse social exchange?
- Public Works, a not-for-profit critical design practice occupying the terrain between architecture, art and performance, designed Ministry of Common Land: Could we use citizens’ assemblies to develop new strategies for land ownership and use?
- Built Works designed the Ministry of Collective Data: Could we rethink facial recognition technology and free our collective data for public benefit?
The 17th Venice Biennale is curated by Hashim Sarkis under the title How Will We Live Together? with participants from 60 countries.
The British Council has commissioned the British Pavilion exhibition at the architecture biennale since 1980 and at the art biennale for more than 80 years.
A panel of architecture and design specialists from across the UK commissioned Kessler and Verghese from a shortlist of nine proposals submitted to the British Council via an open-call process in 2019.
This year’s British Council commission for the British Pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights, is at the Biennale Architettura, Venice from 22 May – 21 Nov 2021 venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org