Venice Biennale shows the human face of architecture

In an era when many countries are putting up border walls and barbed wire fences, the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice aims to showcase a "sense of humanity" through its displays, organizers said ahead of its opening on Saturday.

Venice Biennale shows the human face of architecture
A chapel designed by Javier Corvelan at the Venice Biennale's architecture showcase. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The world's most prestigious architecture festival – which is part of the Venice Biennale – has chosen the title “Freespace” for its 16th edition in the picturesque Italian city.

“The architect's creativity must be at the service of the community,” Irish architect Shelley McNamara, who curated the vast exhibition with colleague Yvonne Farrell, told AFP.

McNamara said “Freespace” aims to highlight collective spaces, “generosity of spirit” and the “sense of humanity” that architecture must place at the heart of its agenda.

Sixty-five different countries and one hundred architecture studios have been invited to display their interpretation of the theme in the vast 3,000-square-metre Venetian Arsenal and gardens.

A chapel designed by Terunobu Fujimori for the Vatican's pavilion. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Vatican newcomer

Several installations are minimalist but intricate, such as “The Dream,” created by studio RCR, winners of the 2017 Pritzker prize – considered to be the Nobel of architecture.

“The Dream” displays a kind of cave with moving lights achieved through the use of 6,000 magnifying glasses.

A chapel designed by Sean Godwell, part of the Vatican's display. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The exhibition, which runs until November 25th, sees seven countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Vatican – participate for the first time.

The Vatican pavilion displays ten chapels, each one designed by a renowned architect, including the Brit Norman Foster and the Portuguese Eduardo Souto de Moura, both Pritzker prize winners.

“Each Biennale focuses on a specific aspect, in this case common space that is free and for everyone”, said Paolo Baratta, president of the exhibition.

Inside Norman Foster's chapel. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Breaking down barriers

Many participants have used the term “Freespace” to reflect on hot political topics such as migration and isolationist policies.

The British pavilion named “Island” hosts a huge rooftop platform which looks out over the lagoon.

The idea is to reflect on “tomorrow, yesterday, isolation and even our political situation,” architecture firm Caruso St John explained in a description, alluding to the UK's planned departure from the European Union.

Meanwhile the German pavilion chose to focus on the theme of “Unbuilding Walls”.

The Israeli pavilion. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Walls are also the inspiration for the Israeli installation. Under the title “In Statu Quo” their exhibition looks to explore the negotiation of sacred spaces – an issue which has been thrust into the spotlight after the US controversially moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem earlier this month.

The United States exhibition looks at the concept of contemporary citizenship and how architecture relates to societies through five videos discussing migration, travel, and challenging societal norms.

READ ALSO: Meet the Italian architect living in a nine-square-metre home

Photo: Leonardo Di Chiara

By Kelly Velasquez


Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.