by Secondome

The public agora Europe doesn’t have and should get. Falling walls and bridges connecting spaces and cultures. Narrow corridors symbolizing the scarceness of public space left for the citizens to use. Also complex groups of run-down, semi demolished council housing, willing to be saved. You write it Freespace, you read it politics: politics in the highest and noble sense of the word.

It was not a given that after the Biennale directed by Alejandro Aravena, the archistar who has the favelas close to his heart, another “socially active” exposition would unravel between the Arsenal and the Laguna Gardens. However that’s what happened: in its best set ups, the Grafton Biennale, the Irish studio of the curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, ends up sending the world a message in a bottle which speaks about democracy, barriers to tear down, civil society. All aims that architecture can and must contribute to achieve.

Unbuilding walls © Jan Bitter – German pavilion

To be clear: the sixty-three guest Countries and architecture firms interpreted the theme chosen by Grafton, Freespace, in many ways, deeply different. Often, also in more classical manners – scale models, designs – than installations, which have more of the emotional language we got used to through time. If there is a line that raises above the many others, is the one appealing for a come back of architecture to be an instrument to grant the world quality spaces and areas of freedom. Grafton’s Freespace, the theme assigned by the two architects launched one year ago with their Manifesto and was given to the participants, really represents “the soul generosity and the sense of humanity that has a central place in architecture’s own agenda”, “the invitation to re-examine our ways of thinking, stimulating new ways of seeing the world and inventing solutions for architecture to supply welfare and dignity of every inhabitant of this fragile planet”.

But how exactly this Freespace is interpreted in this “political” set ups?

Eurotopie © Philippe Braquenier – Belgian pavilion

Belgium, for one, transformed his pavilion in a square, blue as the European flag, structuring it in a series of steps to be crossed from one side to the other, evoking that public agora, consecrated to confrontation among Nations and people that probably this troubled Union never had. It’s not a coincidence that the name of the installation is Eurotopie.

Germany space, Unbuilding Walls, is dedicated to crumbling walls and the spaces in need of mending that they leave behind, a whole new world to explore for architecture. This space recovers the thread of last edition, when Berlin focused on immigrant’s integration.

With a similar spirit, Hungary, with Liberty Bridges, narrates the dream of inclusion in the EU, recreating a bridge which leads visitors on the top of the pavilion.

The French pavilion is no less socially active, where the curators of Infinite Places recreate a physical and metaphorical space which refers to the cultural exchange, free from conditioning, first of all from the economical one. Basically, the installation tells about ten abandoned architectures recovered by citizens who turned them in a second home.

Infinite Places © Irene Fanizza – French pavilion

Almost moving, not included among the national pavilions, is the special project curated by Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum which recreates, on the front of the Arsenal’s Armory a portion of the Robin Hood Gardens, the brutalist council housing complex built in London in the 70’s, currently being demolished. And what’s more politics of a Biennale which celebrates Robin Hood and his houses?