The British Council today relaunches this year’s British Pavilion exhibition, taking place at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 22 May - 21 November 2021.
Curated by Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, The Garden of Privatised Delights takes inspiration from Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights. The exhibition reimagines how to make public space more inclusive, countering the rapid rise of privately-owned public space with an inspiring, alternative vision that urges both sectors to work together to create better-designed spaces for all.
In 2020 the Biennale Architettura – one of the most prestigious architecture exhibitions in the world – was postponed due to the impact of Covid-19 on participating national pavilions. Topics explored within The Garden of Privatised Delights take on an almost prophetic urgency as a result of the global pandemic, including the demise of the high street; how facial recognition technology is used; and the decline in dedicated social places for teenagers. The subject of ‘public spaces’ – who owns them, who uses them and how – has also become more pertinent.
'The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of accessible public spaces and made the need to address issues of inequality even more critical' says Madeleine Kessler. 'The Garden of Privatised Delights proposes proactive ways in which we can work together towards a more equitable society, including widening consultation on and inclusivity in design, to ensure public spaces are truly accessible to all'.
Manijeh Verghese continues, 'The high street, the pub, even the public toilet are more under threat than ever before. Challenges around accessing these spaces are especially pertinent as isolation in communities is being felt even more acutely. How public space has traditionally been designed and used needs urgent rethinking, and The Garden of Privatised Delights intends to inspire and encourage action to support those challenges.'
The British Pavilion will be transformed into a series of six immersive spaces; Verghese and Kessler are keen to offer visitors an interactive experience of architecture, rather than traditional exhibitions that represent architecture through models and drawings.
In an effort to encourage greater inclusivity and consultation around architecture, the exhibition will pose questions and offer ways forward to challenges such as: how to make better use of green spaces in urban environments; can we rethink how public land is allocated and used; and how can the local pub be repurposed to serve the wider community?
Kessler and Verghese are co-founders of multi-scalar design practice Unscene Architecture. Kessler is a director of Madeleine Kessler Architecture, and sits on the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group. She was named in the Architects’ Journal 40 under 40 and a 2019 RIBA Rising Star. Verghese is Head of Public Engagement at the Architectural Association. She is an architecture designer, curator and educator.
They have invited five additional teams of designers to collaborate with them on the British Council commission: The Decorators; Built Works; Studio Polpo; Public Works; and vPPR. Each room in the pavilion will critique how specific public spaces are currently designed and used. Themes explored include:
- Publicani (The Decorators) - could the pub be more than a place for drinking and become a versatile centre for civic action?
- Ministry of Collective Data (Built Works) - could we rethink facial recognition technology and free our collective data for public benefit?
- High Street of Exchanges (Studio Polpo) - could the high street go beyond commercial interests to become a place of diverse social exchange?
- Ministry of Common Land (Public Works) - could we use citizen’s assemblies to develop new strategies for land ownership and use?
- Play With(out) Grounds (vPPR) - can we design new spaces in the city for teenagers to occupy on their own terms?
- Garden of Delights (Unscene Architecture) - could we open up and reprogramme exclusive garden squares to create more public outdoor space?
Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler:
'We continue to work with an amazing team of design collaborators to explore different types of privatised public space in The Garden of Privatised Delights. By initiating conversations around how the private and public sectors can work together, we hope to prompt the public spaces that are missing in cities, and make them accessible to all. 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 these areas, our ambition remains to inspire more welcoming and beneficial public spaces for everyone to enjoy.'
The British Council has commissioned the British Pavilion exhibition at the Biennale Architettura since 1980 and at the Biennale Arte for more than 80 years. A panel of architecture and design specialists from across the UK commissioned Kessler and Verghese from a shortlist of nine proposals submitted to the British Council via an open-call process in 2019.
The British Pavilion exhibitions continue the wider work of the British Council to showcase the best of the UK's artists, architects, designers and curators overseas. The British Council has been commissioning the British Pavilion in Venice since 1937 and these exhibitions support the British Pavilion as a leading international platform to exchange innovation and ideas around contemporary art and architecture.