This year’s British Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia will highlight urgent issues including the demise of the high street, how we use facial recognition technology, and the decline in dedicated social places for teenagers, the British Council reveals today.
The Garden of Privatised Delights, curated by Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, will transform the British Pavilion into a series of six immersive spaces. Each space will offer visitors an interactive experience of architecture, rather than traditional exhibitions that represent architecture through models and drawings.
Taking inspiration from Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, the exhibition explores the rapid rise of privately-owned public space, offering an inspiring alternative vision that urges both sectors to work together to create better-designed spaces for all.
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, through their practice Unscene Architecture, 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 are delighted to be working with an amazing team of design collaborators to explore different types of privatised public space in The Garden of Privatised Delights. We hope to initiate conversations around how the private and public sectors can work together to provide the public spaces that are missing in cities, and to 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, we hope to inspire more welcoming and beneficial public spaces for everyone to enjoy.”
The British Council has commissioned the British Pavilion exhibition at Biennale Arte for more than 80 years, and at the Biennale Architettura since 1980. 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.
Verghese and Kessler are co-founders of multi-scalar design practice Unscene Architecture. Verghese is Head of Public Programmes and Exhibitions at the Architectural Association. She is an architecture curator, educator and writer. Kessler is an Associate Architect at Haptic Architects and sits on the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group. She was named a RIBAJ 2019 Rising Star.
The British Council has been commissioning the British Pavilion in Venice since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK's artists, architects, designers and curators. These exhibitions, and the Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture.
The British Pavilion is commissioned by the British Council; please ensure you credit the British Council in all editorial features
Full press pack, including images here: bit.ly/3cmnbio
For further information on the British Council commission for the British Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, please contact:
Hayley Willis, Senior Media Officer, Arts | E: firstname.lastname@example.org | T: +44 (0) 207 389 3021/ M: +44 (0)7542 268 184
The British Pavilion exhibition is managed by the British Council’s Architecture Design Fashion Department.
Commissioner: Sevra Davis, Director Architecture Design Fashion at British Council
For latest news on the commission: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/
The 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia opens to the public on 23 May – 29 November 2020 (Vernissage, 21 and 22 May 2020)
Address: British Pavilion, Giardini di Castello 30122
Exhibition dates: 23 May – 29 Nov 2020
Opening times: 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays.
Catalogue: A catalogue will accompany the exhibition
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For British Council press office updates follow @PressBritish.
Press Accreditation Information
Press accreditation from Biennale Architettura 2020 is needed to access the official Pavilions of 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia ahead of the public opening. The accreditation for pre-opening closes on 30 April 2020. For more information on how to apply, please visit: https://www.labiennale.org/en/architecture/2020/accreditation.
Manijeh Verghese is a co-founder of Unscene Architecture and the Head of Public Programmes and Exhibitions at the Architectural Association. She is also a Unit Master of AA Diploma 12, seminar leader for the Professional Practice for Fifth Year course and editor of the website AA Conversations. From 2015 to 2018, she led a postgraduate design studio at Oxford Brookes University. She has worked for architecture practices including John Pawson and Foster + Partners and has contributed to design publications such as Disegno and Icon, as well as think-tanks, books and peer reviewed journals.
Madeleine Kessler is a co-founder of Unscene Architecture. Trained as an architect and structural engineer, she is an Associate Architect at Haptic Architects, and was named one of RIBAJ’s 2019 Rising Stars. She sits on the UK National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group and Young Professionals Panel. Previously she worked on cultural and public realm projects at Haworth Tompkins, HHF Architekten and Studio Weave. She has taught and lectured at universities including the Architectural Association, Oxford Brookes University, the University of Sheffield and the University of London.
Unscene Architecture was founded by Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler 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 Venice Biennale is selected by an advisory panel of leading architecture professionals, from across the UK. The panel membership changes for every edition of the biennale. The panel selecting the 2020 Pavilion exhibition was chaired by Sarah Mann, former 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 the Venice Fellowships
The Venice Fellowships enable students and volunteers to spend a month in Venice during one of the world’s most significant art and architecture biennales. venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/fellowship/how-apply
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: venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/history and the work of the Architecture Design Fashion team at the British Council: design.britishcouncil.org/
The British Pavilion is made possible through the generosity of individuals, companies and foundations whose financial and in-kind contributions support the Curators’ vision.
Fellowship Programme Supporters:
Foster + Partners
With kind assistance from: