At the opening of the 16th Architecture Biennale, curators and founders of Grafton Architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara call for architects to create ‘spatial gifts’ as part of the theme Freespace. ‘Architecture should elevate and emancipate not only the client, but everyone encountering it,’ announce Farrell and McNamara. With a theme that speaks to architecture’s positive role in defining democratic spaces, Freespace inspired diverse responses from the 63 participating countries.

Yoko in Orange
Photos Daria Scagliola

The Dutch pavilion Work, Body, Leisure proudly employs the eye-catching national orange in its locker-room entrance. Beyond the lockers are secret passages to five differently themed rooms.

One contains a replica of the Amsterdam Hilton’s John & Yoko hotel room, while another investigates the architecture of a 17th-century Dutch slave fort on the African coast. Rotterdam-based architect and researcher Marina Otero Verzier, the curator of the pavilion, presents an exploration of how robots and AI might affect the relationship between labour and leisure – or, from another point of view, between efficiency and intimacy.

Honouring Beauty
Photos Martin Mischkulnig

LAAC, Henke Schreieck and Sagmeister & Walsh design and curate the Austrian pavilion Thoughts Form Matter in three parts.

‘Not subject to any functional or economic constraints’, the pavilion comprises a six-metre-high solid oak structure flanked by paper curtains and a mirrored floor, as well as a multisensorial movie by Sagmeister & Walsh. Described by its curators as nothing less than ‘an ode to spatial beauty’, Thoughts Form Matter challenges the limits of interior and exterior, function and aesthetics.


Post-Brexit Emptiness
Photos Hélène Binet

The British pavilion incited great controversy, as Caruso St John Architects and artist Marcus Taylor leave the pavilion entirely empty of function – other than as a place of reflection. More interested in creating a literal and figurative ‘platform’ than a design, the designers present an immense roof terrace accessible by the scaffolding that supports the structure and encases the building.

Self-referentially named Island, the provocative pavilion provides a view of the Biennale grounds and is the intended venue for discussions on the theme of free space.

Alice in Architecture
Photos Wilson Wootton

Last but certainly not least is the Swiss pavilion House Tour, awarded the Golden Lion for Best Pavilion by the organization behind the Architecture Biennale. A distorted reinterpretation of a standard rental apartment, the team of curators Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg, Ani Vihervaara and Alessandro Bosshard transports visitors to Alice’s Wonderland.

By playing with the size of architectural elements such as doors, windows and even details such as electrical plugs, the dreamy interior shrinks and grows around visitors as they explore the pavilion. The manipulation of spatial proportions in the pavilion highlights the inhospitable environments most urban-dwellers inhabit, with their repetitive and interchangeable interiors.