Venice international architecture show revolves around intriguing concept of “free space”

Think contemporary architecture, and images of skyscrapers or bridges or futuristic-looking homes might come to mind. But the curators of Venice’s Architecture Biennial, which runs in the lagoon city through November 25, want visitors to imagine another aspect of architecture, which they have made the theme of this exhibit: “free space.”

Venice, a work of art in itself, is a big booster of the arts. Every year, in the waning weeks of summer, it hosts a film festival on the Lido, the city’s beach island. And every other year, it is home to the Venice Biennial of Art, which focuses on contemporary works.

But it also boasts the Architecture Biennial. Visitors flock from around the world to enjoy it.

This edition, since its opening in late May, has set art critics and the public thinking about ”free space.” What does this mean in ” mean in people’s lives? What are its consequences? Does it serve us? Can the places where deliberately there is nothing be considered part of architecture, too?

Dozens of countries and other participants have the equivalent of ”pavilions,” each giving that nation’s unique perspective on the ”free space” concept. Some link the concept to people’s need for space in an ever-more fragile planet. For others, the theme triggers discussions on what free space can be applied to. Among the musings have been some linking the concept to openness, including to foreigners or immigrants.

One exhibit getting intriguing reviews was assembled by the Vatican. It’s a popular one, ingenious, too, since the exhibit is the only one to be held on San Giorgio Maggiore Island, which offers great views of the Grand Canal. The exhibit’s architect created a chapel, made of slats coming together at a point at the top, evocative of hands joined in prayer. The exhibit blends in well with the woods on the island, encouraging reflection. It’s the first time the Vatican has had an entry in the architecture biennial.

Another first-time participant is Saudia Arabia, which has been grappling with sprawling cities in the kingdom, so ”free space” might ve precious there.

Except for the Vatican entry, all the other exhibits are grouped in either the Arsenal (Arsenale) or Gardens (Giardini) areas of Venice, away from the tourist-clogged calle or claustrophia-inducing narrow warren of streets near St. Mark’s Square. Shuttle buses take Biennal visitors from four ”vaporetti” (boat) stops near the exhibits. The neighborhoods themselves are worthy wandering about. Many tourists never visit these parts of Venice, a kind of ”free space” to expand one’s concept of Venice beyond St. Mark’s Basilica and swank palazzi along the Grand Canal.