FREESPACE: constructing buildings or places?

FREESPACE is the manifesto used as instrument and point of reference for the 16th edition of the Biennale Architettura Exhibition in Venice, the measure and guide to find consistency in a complex and huge artistic installation and social experiment to which 71 architects took part to reveal the “freespace” ingredient in their projects.

Well then, what is FREESPACE? Any guess?

The theme of Freespace places architecture under the double sign of generosity and desire for exchange that enhances the fundamental capacity of the architecture to nourish and sustain meaningful contact between humans and space and where the architect serves as a guide, at the outer margin of the role that he is normally assigned, out of the bound of the building construction but seeking to make places that succeed in building community, welcoming the unforeseen, permitting citizen appropriation, that place their bets on collective energies and address the desire for common good.

What you will find here are some example of Freespaces that represent the generosity and the sense of humanity put at the centre of the attention in the agenda and work of their contributors: the ability to find the new and the unexpected starting from the most privative, exclusive, commercially limited, abandoned conditions, providing for the well-being and dignity of every inhabitant.

Finally, these will be Infinite spaces, places for opportunity, democratic places, non-planned places, opened for not already defined uses and for the exchange between people and buildings that arise from the exit of the architect from places that will find themselves new way of sharing and involvement of people over time.

Hotel Pasteur, Rennes

Typical of the monumental architecture of the 19th century, the imposing Pasteur building in Rennes still bears traces of its original function as a science faculty; the fine but unexploited building was the subject of a number of ambitious projects, none of which, for lack of means or vision, came to fruition. It was the installation of hits “fairground university” in 2012 that the architect and builder Patrick Bouchain was able to convince the city to undertake a singular experiment: to initiate a citizen re-appropriation of this historic building. This single gesture was enough to initiate a new dynamic, the opening of the place free of charge to local initiatives, of all kind that have been taking place since 2013, lasting just an hour or three months. Art and science schools, rehabilitation through sport workshops, French courses for refugees, group therapy, fire brigade training and much more have been able to benefit from the quality of this large halls.

There are just two conditions: the proposed activities must be self-financed and they should leave some trace of their time there.

The flow of occupants has demonstrated the richness and diversity of citizens’ aspirations, proving that there is unsuspected potential in any city, with little encouragement and confidence, such as the one shown by the city of Rennes that decided to keep the “project hotel” going as an extraordinary mixed program, result of the collective freedom offered since 2013.

ZOI, Berlin, Kéré Architecture

Kéré is a symbol of hope and trust in the capacity of architecture to confer power to communities, he makes use of local resources, often in places where natural disasters occurred and with the purpose to build something that will better the lives of people.

In Venice, he realized a Freespace that explores the possible human reactions to a space opened to free appropriation and action, a kind of wooden magic box that recalls a kid’s toy, projected for the extemporaneous social interaction. It was originally installed in a centre for asylum seekers at the ex Tempelhof Airport, in Berlin. Refugees camps are often spaces where every need is met by standardized measures and where more than in other places there is the need for creativity and real community. So Kéré built in the public area the space of Tentaja, where free-time activities and sports encourage the interaction between refugees and citizens. A small size place to rebuilt a human scale in the huge area of the airport and to create a meeting, community and quite place for users.

Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, Kalamazoo, USA, Studio Gang

The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership is the first structure in the world built with the precise function of developing and support leaders in their mission for human rights and social justice respect. The building is a welcoming meeting place where any kind of groups from LGBTQ international movement activists, to migrants’ rights defenders, local students and residents, gather to exchange ideas and design solutions for a more equal world. Like the wooden wall installed at the Biennale shown, the choice of materials was also inspired by the belief that certain techniques and surfaces have the capacity to create a connection between people, architecture and space, through culture and time.

Melayu Living, Thailand

In the passing of the torch from architects to users, requests and conditions may change, leaving users the freedom to use and personalize the original project according to their needs.

In the violence and conflicts that characterized the three provinces in the South of Thailand, a small group of local architects gathered to create a space where their rich cultural inheritance could be revealed as an invitation card for the rest of the world. Despite the limited funds, the group transformed an historical mansion in a unique public space for exhibition, a tea house, a garden. Every area has been created for a different function. To this multi-religious and multi-ethnic community, this new space offers an opportunity without precedents for creating bonds, share and celebrate music, arts, artisanal techniques and cultures. Professionals of various disciplines meet to have a dialogue and launch innovative activities. This work has been recognized as symbol of hope, inspiration and commitment of people to achieve peace and unity in their land.

Les Grands Voisins, Paris

One of the largest experiments in temporary urban planning in Europe took place in Paris, in the former Saint-Vincent-de-Paul maternity hospital, coming from a series of courageous acts.

The first was the decision to entrust the immense site located in the heart of the capital to Aurore, and association providing for the homeless. Wishing to create much more than a social accommodation centre, Aurore approached two associations: Plateau Urbaine, to encourage the inclusion of the economic initiative, and Yes We Camp, to create communal spaces and open the place to the public.

A two-faced solution was found: low-cost rental of work spaces to artists in need of support, and the provision of accommodation, refuge and assistance to people in need. A mix of parties, social and artistic activities, simple and popular facilities, such as camping or games, have infused this unlikely collection of people and events with the necessary vitality of cohesion, finding its way into these abandoned hospital buildings, offering social integration, local currency, communal meeting and self-sufficiency in action.

Places that explore communal forms of governance.

Places that cultivate the unexpected.

Places with no requirements for consumption.

Places both fragile and powerful at the same time.

Places that reawaken something neglected.

Places of work, of life, of festivity.

Welcoming places, places for refugees, places for solidarity.

These were some of the most amazing and surprising examples of Freespace our cities, our neighbourhoods, our local areas are endowed of and are free and open to more contribution, interaction, confrontation. To overcome social barriers, to let the common good emerge from conciliation, to promote everyday forms of activism and functions, hope, opportunities and infinitude of possibilities.

“The city needs to have breathing rooms at its disposal, spaces that can nurture new ideas, enable original actions, and set subversive goals in the face of often violent contemporary realities”

The Plateau Urbain Team

Add a Freespace to this list. Contribute to it.

Beatrice Anna Maria Gallo

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