Press kit: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/a9afpagg5k3rdam/AACjLXUSOYiTAZLdOZWz8zpaa?dl=0
The British Council is delighted to open its commission for this year’s British Pavilion exhibition at the Biennale Architettura, The Garden of Privatised Delights, running 22 May - 21 November 2021.
Taking inspiration from Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, the exhibition, curated by Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, calls for new thinking around privately owned public space in cities across the UK. It challenges the polarisation of private and public organisations and instead poses solutions on how they might work together to improve use of, access to and ownership of public spaces.
In the spirit of Bosch’s triptych, the exhibition explores the UK’s privatised public space as a non-binary issue. As Bosch explored the middle ground of Earth between the extremes of Heaven and Hell, the curators suggest privatised public space also sits between two extremes: the utopia of common land before the Enclosures Act of the 18th century and the dystopia of total privatisation.
The rooms of the British Pavilion are transformed into seven privatised public spaces reimagined as inclusive, immersive experiences. Familiar UK public spaces which are increasingly under threat, such as the youth centre, the high street and the local pub, sit alongside the traditionally inaccessible private garden square. All are overlaid with proposals for how they can be reprogrammed and revitalised. Two proposed new ministries suggest a bottom-up approach to conversations around ownership, of land and facial recognition data, while a private toilet in the pavilion’s basement highlights issues surrounding the most basic of public services.
Within The Garden of Privatised Delights, Verghese and Kessler seek to ensure a range of voices – from young people to politicians – are heard. At once playful and provocative, familiar yet strange, each experience suggests new models for privatised public spaces, prompting visitors to question, debate, and proactively engage with each.
Unlike traditional exhibitions, with architecture represented by models and drawings, the installations within the British Pavilion are designed as simulated spaces. This aims to actively encourage everyone – architects and non-architects alike – to engage and consider how public space design can be improved to benefit the wider community. The experience, woven together by a continuous path as if through a typical British town or city, invites everyone to consider why all public spaces aren’t designed as gardens of delight?
The question is now more relevant than ever. In 2020 the Biennale Architettura – one of the most prestigious architecture exhibitions in the world – was postponed due to the impact of Covid-19. Since then, topics explored within The Garden of Privatised Delights have taken on fresh urgency, further highlighting the importance of accessible public space for all. Themes such as the demise of the high street, a decline in social spaces for teenagers, and debates around facial recognition technology, have become more pertinent, given the business closures, suspension of schools and increase in video conferencing during the pandemic.
The Garden of Privatised Delights aims to generate a much wider conversation around privatised public space, and how increased inclusivity and consultation around its design can positively reframe the vital role public spaces play in towns and cities across the nation.
Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council and commissioner of the British Pavilion 2021, says:
'The past year has shown that the theme of the 2021 Biennale Architettura, "How will we live together?", is one of the most important questions of our time. The British Council’s commission for the British Pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights, explores how we inhabit and share our environment, encouraging new perspectives through debate and dialogue and presenting innovative solutions for how we might interact and support each other. In order to positively navigate our shared future, Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese demonstrate how great design can improve the inclusivity, accessibility and understanding needed to achieve that.'
Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh 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 currently an external examiner at Cambridge University and is a member of the curatorial panel for the 2021 London Festival of Architecture.
Kessler and Verghese were selected to represent the UK following an open call by the British Council in 2019, responding to the challenge: ‘What is the most urgent issue facing British architecture today?’ The selection panel, made up of leading architecture professionals from across the UK, was struck by the curators’ ambition to open up the British Pavilion and the Biennale Architettura to new audiences in order to widen access to both the conversation around privatised public space, and the role of architecture in our cities.
The British Council has been commissioning the British Pavilion in Venice since 1937, confirming the British Pavilion as a leading international platform to exchange innovation and ideas around contemporary art and architecture. These commissions echo the wider work of the British Council, to showcase the best of the UK's artists, architects, designers and curators overseas.
Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler on their British Council commission for the British Pavilion 2021:
'We are thrilled to finally be able to share The Garden of Privatised Delights at the British Pavilion in Venice. The events of the past year have further highlighted the importance of accessible public space. This has inspired us, and our amazing team of collaborators, to test collaborative processes and design strategies, in order to propose ways in which public space can become more inclusive. By encouraging everyone to be part of this complex conversation, privatised public spaces have the potential to become genuine Gardens of Delight at the heart of all our towns and cities.'
Five additional teams of designers were invited by the curators to collaborate on their British Council commission: The Decorators; Built Works; Studio Polpo; Public Works; and vPPR.
Themes and challenges explored within The Garden of Privatised Delights 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?
The British Pavilion exhibitions are commissioned by the British Council; please include the following credit in all editorial features:
This year’s British Council commission for the British Pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights, is at the Biennale Architettura, Venice from 22 May - 21 Nov 2021 venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org
For further information on the British Council commission for the British Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, please contact:
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The British Pavilion exhibition at Biennale Architettura 2021 is managed by the British Council’s Architecture Design Fashion department.
Commissioner: Sevra Davis, Director Architecture Design Fashion at British Council
Latest news on the commission
The 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia opens to the public on Saturday 22 May to Sunday 21 November 2021
Address: British Pavilion, Giardini di Castello 30122
Exhibition dates: 22 May – 21 November 2021
- 22 May - 31 July: 11am - 7pm (last admission 6.45pm)
- 1 August - 21 November: 10am - 6pm (last admission 5.45pm)
- Closed on Mondays (except 24 May, 6 September, 1 November)
Catalogue: A catalogue will accompany the exhibition
Follow updates for the #BritishPavilion via: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Press Accreditation Information
Press accreditation is needed to access the official Pavilions of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia ahead of the public opening. The accreditation for pre-opening closes on 8 May, 2021.
More information on how to apply
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government. www.britishcouncil.org
Manijeh Verghese is a co-founder of Unscene Architecture and the Head of Public Engagement at the Architectural Association (AA), where she is also a Unit Master of Diploma 12, a seminar leader for the AA Professional Practice for Fifth Year course, and a member of the Senior Management Team. Over the past nine years, she has led postgraduate and undergraduate design studios at both the AA and Oxford Brookes University and has taught workshops and courses across universities in the UK and abroad. Previously, she has worked for architecture practices including John Pawson and Foster + Partners, and has contributed to design publications, think-tanks, books and peer reviewed journals. She is currently an External Examiner at Cambridge University and a member of the Future City Curatorial Committee as well as on the curatorial panel for the 2021 London Festival of Architecture.
Madeleine Kessler is a co-founder of Unscene Architecture and director of Madeleine Kessler Architecture. Trained as an architect and structural engineer, she sits on the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group, and teaches at the London School of Architecture and Architectural Association. Previously, she worked on cultural, civic and master planning projects at Haworth Tompkins, HHF Architekten, Studio Weave, and as an Associate at Haptic Architects. She has worked on projects including Battersea Arts Centre, Kings Cross W3, St James's Market Pavilion, and Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Oslo Architecture Triennale. In 2020 she was named in the Architects’ Journal 40 under 40, and she was awarded the 2019 RIBA Rising Star Award.
Unscene Architecture was founded by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese in 2019. It operates across disciplines and scales to reveal the unseen forces that shape our cities, working with local communities to give them greater agency over how they use and occupy their spaces. Providing a platform for design, research, curation, and realisation, it aims to provoke a wider conversation about the city through action rather than just words.
The Decorators is a collective of designers with backgrounds in landscape architecture, spatial design, curation and psychology. They curate interventions and actions to make communities and social networks visible. Putting conversation at the heart of their process, they examine the means by which they can maintain a critical and meaningful exchange between communities and the urban regeneration forces they are subjected to.
Built Works is a creative practice exploring the intersection between art and architecture. With a focus on emerging technologies and the impact of their use on citizens and the built environment, it constructs one-to-one working prototypes of concepts and systems in order to test ideas through physical experiment.
Studio Polpo is a social enterprise architecture collective based in Sheffield. Its work is undertaken through exchanges with others, including people from different and diverse disciplines and backgrounds, an approach that can lead to more critical, situated and responsive architecture. Collaborative practices allow the studio to address wider issues relating to spatial, social and ecological justice. It is connected to activist, community and cultural projects, and works with them to co-construct questions, themes, and sites for action.
Public Works is a not-for-profit critical design practice set up in 2004 to occupy the terrain in between architecture, art and performance. Together with an interdisciplinary network, the studio reworks the city’s opportunities towards citizen-driven development. It aims to create long-sustained relationships that build commonality and trust and enable co-authorship.
vPPR Architects was set up in 2009 by Tatiana von Preussen, Catherine Pease and Jessica Reynolds. The studio believes in the continual crossover between art and architecture, seeking creative solutions that strengthen communities, no matter how large or small. The practice is working on public housing, cultural and mixed-use projects and has recently completed a multi-generational playscape in Higham Park in London.
The UK’s presentation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is selected by an advisory panel of leading architecture professionals, from across the UK. The panel membership changes for every edition of the Biennale Architettura. The panel selecting the 2021 Pavilion exhibition was chaired by the Director of Architecture Design Fashion at the British Council, and included:
- Pooja Agrawal, Co-founder, Public Practice
- Eva Franch I Gilabert, Director, Architectural Association School of Architecture
- Gabrielle Jenks, Digital Director of Manchester International Festival
- Indy Johar, Co-founder, Architecture 00
- Alan Jones, RIBA President Elect 2019
- Jim MacDonald, CEO, Architecture & Design Scotland
- Farshid Moussavi, Founder, Farshid Moussavi Architecture
- Manon Mollard, Editor, Architectural Review
About Pavilion Patrons
The Pavilion Patrons scheme supports the preservation of the British Pavilion as a historic venue and the ambitions of artists and architects, demonstrating excellence in contemporary arts and architecture on a global stage.
Find out more about previous architecture exhibitions at the British Pavilion and the work of the British Council’s Architecture Design Fashion team.
The British Pavilion is made possible through the generosity of the following organisations whose financial and in-kind contributions support the curators’ vision:
With kind assistance from:
Forbo Flooring Systems
K-array and 2B Heard Ltd
LED Linear™ GmbH
Light Forms Architectural Lighting
Precision Lighting Ltd
Richter lighting technologies GmbH.
The White Wall Company