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Britain in Venice: ‘It feels right to try something new’

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Vicky Richardson, director of architecture, design and fashion at the British Council, defends Britain’s effort at this year’s Venice Biennale

How do you see the British pavilion?
Venice Takeaway will show the results of a collective research project. We want to gather ideas from around the world and draw conclusions about what could work in the UK. Architecture isn’t just about good design, there are a wider set of conditions that make it possible. We’re keen to explore these issues, hopefully in dialogue with the other national pavilions.

Who do you hope might enter?
Ideally, we’ll receive proposals from a wide range of people with a passion for architecture, as well as practising architects (emerging and well-known), students, curators or photographers. We haven’t specified that you have to be a UK national, but we are asking for knowledge of the UK. Our brief recognises that an important part of what architects do is research and observation. Venice Takeaway is also an opportunity for those who have training in architecture but are not qualified professionals (like me!), writers, curators and researchers who play a vital role in shaping ideas about architecture.

One era in architecture has come to an end and there is nothing very inspiring in its place

What can be achieved for the money you are offering?
A travel budget of £2,000 (per trip) should make it possible to plan a research visit of 1-2 weeks. We’re obviously limited by time and budgets, but we think with concentrated effort and help from British Council offices overseas, a lot of information and material can be gathered in this timeframe.

What do you hope to get from the submissions?
We’re looking to the profession to propose projects and we’re open to what and where these might be. It’s also important to think of imaginative ways of documenting the research, perhaps using film, drawing, models or sound.

Where did the idea come from?
Partly from my own experience at the British Council. I’ve had the chance to visit a few places where rapid development is throwing up interesting new opportunities for architecture, and I thought it would be good to bring some of those aspirations back to the UK. We have excellent architects, but a shortage of opportunities for them to test out ideas.

The reason for going is to open our eyes to the rest of the world

The organisations that surround architecture are in a state of flux: one era has come to an end and there is nothing very inspiring in its place. It’s a good time to open up the debate on how we commission architecture and the role of architects.

By restricting the projects to work that has taken place overseas, what are you saying about British architecture?
That’s a bit like asking why anyone would bother going to the Venice Biennale at all. The reason for going is to open our eyes to the rest of the world, to be able to understand the connections and the differences. Increasingly, the national pavilions at Venice are not just about selling our wares, but are opportunities for shared discussion between participating countries and architects. It feels right to try something different, especially as this year there will be a great deal of attention focused on the UK with the 2012 Olympic Games, the Diamond Jubilee and the government’s GREAT tourism campaign.

What is your response to views that the brief shows a negative view of British architecture?
The point is not to be critical of British architecture, but to recognise that many of the strengths of our profession come from being open to ideas from overseas. The UK’s points-based visa system is making it harder for overseas students and architects to work here. I hope that Venice Takeaway reinforces the importance of sharing ideas and dialogue internationally.

Read the full brief here.



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Readers' comments (1)

  • Industry Professional

    That research in the global field is an essential context for procuring and designing architectural projects in the UK, I still can't help but feel that to showcase our awe at foregin architectural and cultural achievements (my own first thought being some of the housing at Orestad in Copenhagen) when we - ourselves - are on show to that international field is somewhat defeatist. I mean, the modesty is becoming and rather British and all but... we're boldly attempting to think about trying when everyone else is achieving??
    - Gordon Hulley

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