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Competition: British Pavilion for the 2020 Venice Biennale

01. island, british pavilion, drone photography © british council, photos by cultureshock media
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The British Council has launched an open call to design the British Pavilion for the 2020 Venice Biennale

Open to cross-disciplinary teams of architects, researchers, writers, artists, critics, the open call seeks ‘bold ideas that inspire, challenge and address today’s most relevant issues’ while also exploring contemporary practice.

Proposals for the landmark pavilion at the centre of the Venice Giardini will be expected to ‘offer a new way to express and communicate fresh perspectives to a wide and diverse international audience.’

For the first time, the hunt for the British Pavilion team has been launched prior to the announcement of the lead curator and central theme for the next biennale.

The winning team will have the opportunity to respond to the theme for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2020 after it is announced, although this will not be mandatory.

Sarah Mann, the British Council’s director of architecture design fashion and the commissioner of the British Pavilion, said: ‘The curatorship of the British Pavilion 2020 exhibition is a unique opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the rich diversity of British culture, and to present those ideas at the world’s most prestigious architecture exhibition.

‘At a time of great change for the UK’s role in the world, the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale aims to create debate that both challenges and influences the future of British architecture. The open call is an opportunity for us to hear from the UK architecture sector about contemporary British practice and the issues that matter most.’

This year’s 16th International Architecture Exhibition was overseen by Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara of Dublin-based Grafton Architects. It from 26 May to 25 November and focused on ‘Freespace’ and ‘generosity, thoughtfulness and a desire to engage’.

The UK’s pavilion was designed by Adam Caruso and Peter St John, of Caruso St John Architects, and artist Marcus Taylor. It featured a temporary rooftop platform sitting above the Enrico Trevisana-designed villa which has hosted the British Pavilion since 1938.

Caruso St John and Taylor’s Island concept was based on a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: ‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises; Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.’ The interior of the pavilion was kept empty and instead hosted a programme of events.

In 2016, the British Council selected writers Shumi Bose and Jack Self and architect Finn Williams to curate the pavilion. Their winning proposal, Home Economics, was a response to the over-arching theme Reporting From The Front, devised by festival curator Alejandro Aravena.

Up to 12 teams will be shortlisted and invited to attend interviews for the prestigious commission. The Architecture Selection Committee includes:

Pooja Agrawal, Co-founder, Public Practice;
Eva Franch I Gilabert, Director, Architectural Association School of Architecture;
Gabrielle Jenks, Digital Director of Manchester International Festival;
Indy Johar, Co-founder, Architecture 00;
Alan Jones, RIBA President Elect 2019;
Jim MacDonald, CEO, Architecture & Design Scotland;
Sarah Mann, Commissioner, British Pavilion; Director, Architecture Design Fashion, British Council;
Farshid Moussavi, Founder, Farshid Moussavi Architecture;
And Oliver Wainwright, Architecture and Design Critic, The Guardian

The deadline for applications is 18 February.

How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information



Sarah Mann, the British Council’s director of architecture design fashion and the commissioner of the British Pavilion

Sarah Mann

Sarah Mann

Sarah Mann

Why are your holding the open call for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2020 now?

The open call is really important to the British Council. Its gives us the opportunity to cast a wide net for new ideas and people, and we believe it is a fair and transparent process. This year we have decided to go out to competition earlier than previous years in order to allow new project teams more time to form and apply and, most importantly, to give everyone a longer lead-in time for the project to be realised. Going out before the central theme is announced also gives us the chance to be more open with our brief and to allow teams to set the agenda for 2020.

What is your vision for the next British Pavilion?

The British Pavilion has always had a reputation for generating debate and discussion – that remains vital. I think the pavilion is an opportunity to challenge and influence the future of architecture in the UK while reflecting on our identity and direction as a nation and how we relate to the wider world. We are always prepared to be challenged by the proposals team submit and work alongside them to realise something ambitious which demonstrates new ways of communicating architecture to the public. We are open to how those ideas might manifest themselves but we are really focussed on an exhibition which reflects the diversity of the UK and is able to communicate to the broad and growing audiences the Biennale attracts, this year half of the visitors to the biennale were under 26.

What sort of teams are you hoping will apply?

The call is for an interdisciplinary team which should include a curator to lead the development of the proposal. We really want to see teams that draw on a broad range of perspectives and experiences, in my job as director Architecture Design Fashion I see many new initiatives which are taking advantage of working across a variety of creative disciplines so I am excited to see this reflected in the applications. For me, crucially we have to examine architecture’s relationship to people and place and its role in shaping society. Though we are living through really challenging times, we feel the pavilion provides space for pioneering ideas, new collaborations and optimism about the future.

Where there any other national pavilions at the Venice Biennale 2018 you were impressed by?

Switzerland, House Tour, Swiss Pavilion, Giardini
Scotland, Happenstance, Palazzo Zenobio
Finland, Mind Building, Finnish Pavilion, Giardini
Indonesia, Elevation, Arsenale


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