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Venice Biennale is a chance to learn, reflect and look outwards

Emily Booth
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The Venice Biennale and the BCO conference – both taking place this week – offer an opportunity for architects to take stock, writes Emily Booth



This week architects can take part in two significant international forums: the Venice Biennale and the BCO annual conference in Berlin. Both offer time out from the day-to-day, providing a chance to learn, reflect, recharge – and look outwards.

Venice is an important marker in the calendar – two years is long enough for architecture to shift, trends to be established, events to have shocked and their effects to be felt – and a lot has happened since the last biennale. Curated by the inspirational Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (pictured), this year’s theme of Freespace focuses on questions surrounding the quality of space, open and free space.

The word ‘space’ is a hopeful one – space to work, live, learn and be

‘We see architecture as the translation of need in its widest sense into meaningful space,’ say Farrell and McNamara. ‘…It is our hope that the word Freespace allows us to burrow into the aspirations, ambitions and generosity of architecture.’

That word ‘space’ is a hopeful one – space to work, live, learn and be. Space to grow. 

The theme for BCO in Berlin, for which the AJ is delighted to be media partner, is diversity and inclusion. ‘With no generic occupier there can be no generic office space,’ says conference chair Katrina Kostic Samen. At the event, she explains, the profession will be able to ‘listen to cutting-edge, practical advice on what we … need to get to grips with in order to make space for quality of life at work.’

Both the biennale and the BCO conference take place against a broader background of sadness and determination. As the Grenfell Inquiry begins, we acknowledge the very human cost when residential spaces become lethal ones – and the work required to make our spaces safer now and for the future. At the news of Will Alsop’s death, we remember a talented visionary who was excited by the possibility of space and encouraged the profession to think differently about it.

If you’re not able to attend Venice or Berlin, you won’t miss out. The AJ’s excellent new senior reporter Ella Jessel will be at the BCO annual conference, reporting on the key discussions and findings, while at Venice the AJ’s architecture editor Rob Wilson and assistant architecture editor Jon Astbury are among our editorial team on the ground. Our Venice blog kicks off today, with industry bloggers including Peter Cook, Sam Jacob of Sam Jacob Studio, and architectural designer, academic, researcher and writer Yael Reisner, so you’ll be able to catch up with impressions and feedback as the biennale begins. 

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