London’s Venetian garden of privatised earthly delights
Having been demounted after 2021’s Venice Architecture Biennale, the contents of the British Pavilion have been in storage. A year on, they have been reinstalled in London’s Building Centre, where Will Jennings took a look.

Every other year to the Venice Art Biennale, the landscapes and buildings are taken over by architects for the Biennale Architettura. It may make fewer global headlines, but it is an opportunity for practitioners to come together from across the world and explore new ideas, display projects to each other and the public, and drink Aperol spritz.

The 2021 edition had the curatorial title How will we live together?, a theme created before the pandemic but after two years of social distancing and enforced separation timely and present. It also speaks to much more of interest to urban, social, cultural, and architectural, with the British Pavilion - organised by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese of Unscene Architecture - exploring themes of privatisation of public space in our urban realms, asking questions around who can access them, and what they offer.

Their exhibition title The Garden of Privatised Delights riffs of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, their early proposal drawings inserting British typologies, landscapes, and concerns into a reworking of the tryptich. The aesthetic of his painting also finds its way into the exhibition design, not least with a garish pink climbing frame designed by vPPR Architects, Titled Play with(out) Grounds, which discusses the lack of spaces for the in-between ages of teenagers, an age-group sometimes violently forced out of public life in Britain. The framework also acts as support for a range of soundscape interviews with teenagers from various backgrounds, exploring what it is to be, be seen, and be heard.

When exhibited in Venice, the climbing frame could not be touched, let alone used, such was the health and safety concern. Now located outside, it can be clambered over by children and adults alike, offering a rare moment of play within the centre of the capital. It’s an indication, perhaps, that the whole installation works slightly better here than in Venice, so centred within the landscapes and issues it depicts, and not extracted into such a specific space of display. Here, the projects can not only critique but actively address their surroundings.

The British Pavilion in the Giardini of Venice, one of the two main hubs of the Art and Architecture Bienniales, is a neoclassical, Palladian building. The elements of the installation were designed for this specific space, but now in London they have space to expand, unfold and fit within a new home. It has travelled from Venice in good condition - in fabric and idea - adapting to its new space admirably, even taking over the Building Centre’s accessible toilet with Studio Polpo’s installation To-i-let, provoking the idea that private disabled facilities should be opened up to all public with needs, making visible both a useful infrastructure but also making aware invisible disabilities, giving presence of different bodily and personal needs across society, asking for a high street of care as well as capitalism.

Built Works have looked into facial recognition, slowly saturating public and private realms, offering itself up as gift and security, but perhaps ushering a darker, Orwellian future. Their Ministry of Common Land offers a space for public debate, a citizens’ assembly forum to create ideas for an emerging society, and here presents the results and responses from its first incarnation.

Bosch’s triptych shows humanity in its centre panel, finely balanced between utopia and dystopia on the left and right of it. Kessler and Verghese here explore that space between the two -topias: the utopia of the shared commons and dystopia of neoliberal total privatisation. Their view of “public space” is not as strict as some critics, choosing to consider publicly accessible spaces as “public” for the framing of this conversation. As such, the British pub makes a presence with installation Publicani, by The Decorators. Controlled, regulated, and under pressure from changing cultural and economic forces, here they represent a communal shared space which not only sits central to many built communities, but also act as ever-present within culture - a TV on the wall shows a montage of pubs in British soaps, films, and drama.

Pavilion shows and exhibitions from the Venice Art Biennale regularly go on to have second lives in museums and galleries around the world after the opening displays, and perhaps the migration of The Garden of Earthly Delights from the British Pavilion in the Giardini to the Building Centre in London could be the start of a recurring re-hang of the architecture show also. Relatively few visitors make it to the Architecture Biennale, especially those without an existing involvement in the industry, and so this relocation into a more mainstream culture, accessible by a greater number of visItors of greater diversity, and situated within a city it’s critiquing, can only be a good thing.

The re-installation of the 2021 project is possible through collaboration between the Building Centre, the Museum of Architecture, and the Archietctural Association School.

Manijeh Verghese is the Head of Public Engagement at the Architectural Association, where she is also a Unit Master of Diploma 12, a seminar leader for the AA Professional Practice for Fifth Year course, and a member of the Senior Management Team. She was on the curatorial panel for the 2021 London Festival of Architecture, and is currently an External Examiner at Cambridge University. She also works on independent curatorial projects such as the new South Asia Gallery for the Manchester Museum in partnership with the British Museum. 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 Director of Madeleine Kessler Architecture and Unscene Architecture. Her work explores architecture as a conversation about the city at every scale, placing community, craft and placemaking at the heart of design. Projects include Hidden Half World at the Oslo Architecture Triennale; Gingerbread City; and Forestation, a strategic proposal to rewild existing railway stations across the UK. She sits on the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group, is a Visiting Professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and lecturer at the London School of Architecture. Previously, she worked on cultural, civic and masterplanning projects at Haworth Tompkins, HHF Architekten, Studio Weave, and as an Associate at Haptic Architects. She was named in the Architects' Journal's 40 under 40 and awarded the RIBA Rising Star Award.

The Building Centre
The Building Centre was founded in 1931 to represent and bring together the different disciplines that form the built environment. Today the Centre is operated by The Built Environment Trust. The Built Environment Trust supports people to build a better world. Our mission is to inspire, connect and empower people to improve the quality of our built environment. We recognise that the built environment shapes lives and communities and we are committed to involving all members of society as knowledgeable and active voices in determining how we construct our future.

Architectural Association School of Architecture
The Architectural Association (AA) is the oldest independent school of architecture in the UK. The school was founded in 1847 as a student-centred collective that aspired to radically transform architectural education. Quite unlike any other institution operating today, the school offers a broad range of flexible, self-directed programmes, courses and curricula that empower students and staff to challenge the accepted methods within contemporary architectural education and professional practice. The school offers a Foundation Award in Architecture, a BA(Hons) and MArch (and AA Diploma) throughout its five-year course within the Experimental and Diploma Programmes, and nine Taught Postgraduate Programmes leading to MA, MSc, PG MArch, MFA and MPhil awards as well as the PhD Programme and RIBA Part 3 courses. In addition, a range of part-time Visiting Schools located around the globe and online offer new and unexpected learning opportunities. Collectively, these contribute to a vibrant culture of intellectual enquiry and engagement with urgent challenges such as the climate crisis, politics and economics, equality, health, culture, developing technologies and the future of urban life. This work is enhanced by a Public Programme of lectures, symposia, book launches, exhibitions, installations and performances, allowing the AA to connect with diverse audiences around the world and to further extend its curriculum.
Museum of Architecture
Museum of Architecture (MoA) is a charity dedicated to finding new ways for the public to engage with architecture and to encourage entrepreneurship within architectural practice.  MoA provides opportunities for architects to collaborate with other industries and communities to be better informed about the places and people for which they are designing. MoA has been a pop-up museum for twelve years and positions itself as a place where people come to learn about what is currently happening in architecture through exhibitions, events, talks, and public installations. MoA’s programming provides insightful information for both the public and architects alike, linking architecture to contemporary culture to make it accessible to all. MoA organises the annual Gingerbread City exhibition and is partnering with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on Treehouses at Kew - a major exhibition opening April 2023.


The Garden of Privatised Delights is popen to the public until 15 October 2022 at:
The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT

18 April 2022
All photos courtesy of The Building Centre & photographer Thomas Adank.© Thomas Adank

publication date
18 April 2022

Architectural Association, The Building Centre, Built Works, Commons, The Decorators, Disability, The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Garden of Privatised Delights, Will Jennings, Madeleine Kessler, London, Museum of Architecture, Private space, Privatisation, Pub, Public space, Public Works, Studio Polpo, Unscene Architecture, Venice Biennale, Manijeh VerghesevPPR Architects


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