In search of Freespace at the Venice Biennale | by Luca Gibello, editor of Il Giornale dell'Architettura

The 16th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (26 May – 25 November 2018), devoted to the theme of Freespace, will be curated by Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, longstanding partners at the practice Grafton Architects. As defined, the theme leaves plenty of room for interpretation. While architecture can be considered the most political of the arts (a fundamental concept that emerged at the 2016 exhibition entitled “Reporting from the Front”), architectural practice once again plays a key role as an “instrument of organisation of civil society” through public goods or “private gifts”. With the aim of promoting the collective demand for architecture, Freespace centres around the concept of space that is “free” in both economic and material terms and can be experienced as a common good. This is a theme that would probably have found favour with the great historian and critic Bruno Zevi, to whom we wish to pay tribute on the centenary of his birth. In the absence of further details, to interpret the theme proposed by the curators we must begin with the Manifesto they published last June, which offers several keywords as guidelines: generosity of spirit (the gift of space that is free for uses not yet conceived); an emphasis on nature’s free gifts (such as light); and the freedom to imagine, binding past, present and future. All of this is united by a shared element: the Earth as Client. If it is true that space shapes and conditions our behaviour, then the equation “degraded space = social degradation” becomes almost obvious.

However, in a broader sense we believe that Freespace can be interpreted as a “space of what is possible” and is therefore linked to experimentation, which by its nature is both configurative (the form of space) and technological (the material of space). So through its focus on experimentation and innovation, the Italian ceramic industry can serve as both a stimulus and concrete support for professionals. It can provide materials, skills and knowledge capable of generating unexpected outcomes, while questioning established practices and pushing back a little further the boundaries of what is possible. And – why not? – reawakening our capacity for surprise, which today all too often lies dormant underneath the dust of our daily lives or dazed by the vacuity of the digital universe.

April 2018