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Unscene Architecture reveals British Pavilion plans for Venice Biennale

Manijeh verghese & madeleine kessler, curators of british pavilion 2020 sm image credit web crop
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Unscene Architecture – led by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese – has revealed its proposals for the British Pavilion at the 2020 Venice Biennale

The pavilion, to be called The Garden of Privatised Delights, is being curated by Unscene Architecture and responds to the theme ‘How will we live together?’ set by the biennale director, Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis.

The exhibition will feature a series of six immersive spaces and will explore the emerging debate around privately owned public spaces at a time of their rapid and often contentious spread across UK cities.

Unscene has invited a number of UK studios to collaborate on the installations, including The Decorators, Built Works, Studio Polpo, Public Works and vPPR, which was one of the eight teams shortlisted for the curation role.

Key themes will include the opening up of garden squares, the impact of facial recognition technology, the collapse of high streets, the adaptability of public houses, alternative play spaces, and the ongoing disposal of common land.

Outlining its plans, the practice said: ‘Taking inspiration from Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, the exhibition explores the rapid rise of privately owned public space, offering an inspiring alternative vision that urges both sectors to work together to create better-designed spaces for all.’

The statement continued: ‘The pavilion will suggest new models for privatised public space and how spaces under threat can be reinvented, including the pub, the high street, the youth centre, and the garden square. Two new [fictional] government ministries will additionally call for a bottom-up approach to ownership.

‘By expanding the definition of what privatised public space can be, as well as widening the debate around who can access, own, design and use public space, we hope to inspire more welcoming and beneficial public spaces for everyone to enjoy.’

In a press conference held last week (27 February), Sarkis and biennale president Paolo Baratta outlined their vision for the 17th international Venice Biennale which will ‘call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together’.

UK participants in the main exhibition – curated by Sarkis – will include AL_A, Alison Brooks Architects, ecoLogicStudio, Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Open Systems Lab, Superflux, Forensic Oceanography, Heatherwick Studio, Monsoon Assemblages, Office of Experiments, Smout Allen, Bethany Rigby, and AWILDC-AWP London.

The organisers also confirmed the event would open to the public on 23 May, running to 29 November, despite the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak in Italy’s regions of Lombardy and Veneto where the festival takes place.

Kessler and Verghese were selected by the British Council to curate its pavilion in April last year, prior to the announcement of the festival’s central theme for 2020. Unscene Architecture will lead a special Public Space Crawl tour with The Architecture Foundation previewing some of the themes and concepts behind The Garden of Privatised Delights later this month.

The 16th Venice architecture Biennale British 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.

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.

British Pavilion at Venice 2020

The Garden of Privatised Delights

  • Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler; Unscene Architecture, Co-Curators of the British Pavilion 2020

Manijeh and Madeleine ask how we can open up the garden square; green spaces found in cities which are usually enclosed by railings and only accessible to local residents with a key. The curators want to give the public the tools and agency to find and reclaim these spaces.

The Decorators: Publicani

Over a quarter of Britain’s pubs have closed in the last twenty years. The Decorators considers how pubs can adapt to survive and how we can save them.

Built Works: Ministry of Collective Data

Built Works highlights how facial recognition technology is being used through a vast network of CCTV cameras in our cities. They propose that we can come together to take control of our data; understanding how it is captured, stored and how we could delete it, or use it.

Studio Polpo: High Street of Exchanges

Studio Polpo invites us to consider the threat to our high streets. It proposes we rethink role of the high street, not just as a place to shop but where people can come together and create value through the community.

Public Works: Ministry of Common Land

Public Works wants to raise our awareness of how public land being sold off by the government into the private sector. It shares its expertise on how we can protect our common land for now and the future.

vPPR: Play With(out) Grounds

Since 2010, roughly 100 youth clubs have been shut down in London alone. vPPR has been listening to teenagers, giving them a voice and working to understand their specific needs, so they can reclaim their cities and have access to a space of their own.


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