Australian Pavilion, 16th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2018
Freespace + Repair
Responding to the theme Freespace(1) at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Repair at the Australian Pavilion aims to expand the point of view from the object of architecture, to the way it operates in its context. We are advocating a role for architecture that catalyses or actively engages with the repair of the places it is part of: the soil, hydrology, habitat, connections, microorganisms, vegetation and so on. This type of repair is central to enacting other types
of repair: urban health, social, economic and cultural among others.
Freespace seeks the affirmation of the role of architecture, what it has to offer and what it is capable of. Repair addresses Farrell and McNamara’s call “to stimulate discussion on core architectural values”(2) and to validate the “relevance of architecture on this dynamic planet”.(3)
In this way, and the curators state, they are interested in “going beyond the visual”(4) to dwell upon the relationships architecture can make, frame and reveal between ourselves, where we live, how we live, and with nature.
The aim to present architecture from a different point of view was behind the decision to collaborate with artist Linda Tegg, whose practice often presents us with a different way of looking. Together, we have created three ‘works’: Grasslands Repair,(5) a living installation of over sixty species of Victorian Western Plains Grassland plants – the most threatened plant community in Australia – that aims to disrupt the point of view to reveal the (symbolic) landscapes that we destroy; Skylight, a life-sustaining lighting installation consisting of LED lights that hovers over Grasslands Repair as an artificial ‘skylight’; and videos of selected Australian built and unbuilt projects in Ground – directed and made by Tegg with David Fox – that presents architecture that responds to ideas of repair.
The ambition of Freespace is above all about generosity, thoughtfulness and a desire to engage. The curators describe examples where architects go a step further than they might have to create a moment, to engage with a place, to register light. To us the act of repair is the extra act embodied by Freespace.
Repair: “restore (something damaged, faulty, or worn) to a good condition”.(6)
What can ‘repair’ mean to us, given the extensive state of disrepair of the environment in Australia and inability to reverse history and complex ecological change processes? Where is the role for architecture?(7)
Repair, as described above, is not defined as restoring to an original or pre-existing condition, but rather to a ‘good’ one. What might it look like to ‘make good’ our soil, hydrology, landscape systems across small and large scales within, around and outside the built environment, and to address the health of endemic species in urbanised and semi-urbanised environments?
Our aim and provocation is that through a primary approach of the repair of the natural environment, human physical and mental health, social, economic and cultural health will in turn be repaired through the care required to do so, and the connection to and presence of nature in our everyday lives. While most of our focus has been on achieving repair outcomes through addressing the natural environment, we have also been interested in an expanded idea of cultural, social or economic repair; examples of this include the reuse of old buildings, the remediation of industrial land and the presence of indigenous culture in our cities.
Since we have been making buildings and cities in Australia it has mostly been to separate – to divorce – us from our position (as human beings) in the natural environment. The consequences of the disregard of natural systems are now being felt and there is a shift in thinking among built environment disciplines towards repairing the natural environment as a meaningful and enduring framework for urban form – an expansion of the natural environment in a sort of reverse order of urban sprawl.
At the centre of the theme Repair at the Australian Pavilion is the fact that architecture takes up land and effects the natural environment. A statement so obvious it should go without saying – and yet in order to consider the consequences and potentials of architecture in relation to repair, we need to focus on this very elemental fact.
(1) The title Freespace, assigned by the general curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (Grafton Architects, Dublin) to the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, also refers back to the notion of “free space” as used by Cedric Price (and others) to describe a condition of the project Fun Palace (1959-1961) – it implies an anti-architect approach to space that privileges the user and flexibility. See Mathews, S 2007, From Agit-Prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price, Black Dog Publishing, London, UK.
(2) Farrell, Y & McNamara, S 2017, ‘16th International Architecture Exhibition, Biennale Architettura 2018, Freespace’, La Biennale di Venezia, viewed 15 June 2017,
(5) Grasslands Repair, includes the word “repair” to distinguish it from Grasslands, a work by Tegg in 2014. See Linda Tegg 2014, Grasslands.
(6) English Oxford Living Dictionaries n.d., repair, English Oxford Living Dictionaries, viewed 9 April 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/repair.
(7) The projects are architectural as well as by combined teams of landscape architects and architects. The main aim of the exhibition was to provoke the role of architecture, acknowledging that the landscape architecture profession has been addressing notions of repair for a long time.