British pavilion opens to the world

Other news 23.6.2021 23:00 EEST

Detail from The Garden of Privatised Delights. Photo: Cristiano Corte © British Council

Detail from The Garden of Privatised Delights. Photo: Cristiano Corte © British Council


UPM's WISA plywood is centre stage at the prestigious Biennale Architettura 2021 as part of the British Pavilion's presentation The Garden of Privatised Delights.


The 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, delayed from 2020 by the covid pandemic, opened on May 22. WISA-SpruceFR and WISA-Spruce Special have been used by curators Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler in their presentation exploring the Biennale's main theme 'How will we live together?'.

The British exhibition is inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, exploring how privatised public space sits between two extremes, the utopia of common land and the dystopia of total privatisation.

The original concept of the Biennale Architettura 2021 was cast in a new light by the effects of the pandemic and so have the Garden's themes: privatisation of public spaces in UK cities, use of facial recognition, the changing high street, the local pub and how it is used, common land, spaces for teenagers and use of exclusive garden squares.

WISA's plywood is used in the Ministry of Common Land (pictured), creating a round structure and shelving. Every visitor to the British Pavilion walks through and experiences the effect of the plywood 'pod' in the room, designed by Public Works as a call to architects to change the way land is enclosed for the profit of the few and consider ways to open it up to everyone.

The curators note how the past year has highlighted the importance of access to communal outdoor space for physical and mental health. They have reimagined as inclusive places a garden square, a pub, high street and youth centre in an immersive presentation.

Virtual audience

In many ways the Biennale Architettura 2021 is very different from previous exhibitions, largely because visitor numbers in Venice are still limited, but there is a worldwide audience discovering and touring the British Pavilion, which has been commissioned by the British Council since 1937.

Already nearly 255,000 people have watched the British Council's films presenting The Garden of Privatised Delights and it has surpassed 1000 mentions across social media.

International press coverage includes features in influential architecture and design magazines and websites such as Dezeen, Architect's Journal, Building Design, RIBA Journal (Royal Institute of British Architects), ICON and, as well as the UK's Financial Times, Architecture Daily in the USA and Architectural Digest in Russia.

Verghese and Kessler's proposition is that privatised public spaces can be reprogrammed and revitalised, questioning why all public spaces aren't designed as gardens of delight.

As Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council and commissioner of the British Pavilion 2021, said: "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 exhibition runs until November 21 and there are hopes more people will be able to see The Garden of Privatised Delights first hand between now and then.


Meantime there is another highlight on the Biennale Architettura 2021 calendar – presentation of the Golden and Silver Lion awards on August 30. An international jury will award a Golden Lion to the best national participation and the best participant in the International Exhibition How will we live together? and there will be a Silver Lion for a promising young participant in the International Exhibition.

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