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The 16th edition of International Architecture Biennale is attracting to Venice more than 300.000 visitors, of which more than half are estimated to be young people. This year’s exhibition is run for the first time by two women architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara who chose the theme FREESPACE, which “encompasses freedom to imagine the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together”, to guide architects from 71 countries in the accomplishment of their works of art.

Venice itself is the most marvelous architectonic experience ever, with its streets, its canals which both separate and unite colored palaces whose façades are so irregular that we gather that their structure obeys only to one rule: Freedom. This year’s exhibition appeals to young millennials from all over the world, who cherish freedom as a value. Freedom has always inspired the deeds of the Venetian Republic, which excelled in commerce, arts and intellectual thought since the Renaissance. Today, freedom encourages new ways of thinking, seeing the world, and new architectonic solutions capable of providing well being and dignity to each citizen of our fragile planet.

Why is this exhibition, which is not yet concluded, already labeled as a success beyond expectations? Why has it attracted so many young people? Because Venice captures and galvanizes you as you proceed towards the Arsenale under a blue sky, with the scent of the lagoon which is universally exciting. This is how you feel when you get lost in the Corderie, long halls bounded by countless ancient columns, which immediately evoke the old days when they were filled with sailors who lay the ropes for the Venetian Republic’s ships.Inside heroic ancient warehouses, modern architects suggest their own idea of free space, offering the visitor installations, bright atmospheres. Dazzling white rooms are followed by the immense canvas of the Indonesian Pavilion, which cannot be encompassed with a single glance, but it is well described by its title: The Poetic Emptiness. The concept of Freespace has colonized all the surrounding spaces, which are not to be missed!

Moving from the Arsenale to the Giardini, another historical seat of the Biennale, you walk past an unusual and superlative fruit shop.. in a boat! A few dozen meters separate you from the next destination: the historical seat of Biennale. Walking the minor routes you can observe young tourists and locals who enthusiastically stroll from one part to the other of the exhibition. Some Pavilions will persuade you, others will not and you won’t even attempt to understand them, surely you will find it amusing to dive into the Swiss Pavilion, which plays with Lilliputian and gigantic measures, thus plunging the visitor in an altered vision of space. It is indeed by no chance that the latter turned out to be the winning work of art for this year’s Biennale.

Moving in and out of the historical pavilions which still bear the names of the first exhibiting countries of the past, you feel a certain degree of rapture and a slight confusion between inside and outside, as if you almost can’t understand where the exhibition starts and where it ends. This is indeed a sign of success of this tribute to architecture as free space. Even entering the café- where you are served one of the best caffé espresso you can taste at an art exhibition-you have a hard time understanding that you are not standing in another pavilion, that it is just a café, the most fanciful and artistic one you could ever imagine! The nearby Venetian Pavilion puts forward, beside the many musings and studies on the theme elaborated by the Università Ca’ Foscari of Venice, a memorable sequence of literary quotations on the theme of public architecture. Before the real gem of this journey through the Biennale of Venice is revealed, I would warmly suggest a break at the restaurant, whose garden is in front of the lagoon, to taste the special Gnocchi alla Granceola accompanied by a glass of white wine, of course.

As for students, the Biennale College project has involved young people in events and workshops in partnership with the best universities worldwide. A few steps from the exit, you will find the pier where you can take the ferry to the island of San Giorgio, the glamourous and prestigious jewel of the lagoon, right in front of San Marco’s basin, seat of the Fondazione Cini. It is this year’s spectacular stage for the pavilion of the Holy See, where the Vatican Chapels find a place as if it were Eden on earth, as a place of orientation, encounter, meditation and salutation. The architects who have designed the ten chapels come from every part of the world, and like a spiritual pilgrimage you will walk around their creations and no matter your faith or belief, you will find faith in beauty, mankind and art! When you end your fantastic tour of the Vatican Pavilion, just to confirm how Italian culture is permeated by religion and art, do not miss the great finale: enter the Basilica di San Giorgio, built in 1566, masterpiece of one of the greatest architects in the world, Andrea Palladio, observe the incredible wooden choir, a hidden and perfectly preserved treasure, and then climb to the top of the bell tower. There is no venetian who has not sworn eternal love here! The view is the most enchanting in the whole city and you will enjoy all the wonderful feelings of free space in a timeless setting.

Bravo Yvonne and Shelley! And congratulations to Katerina Gregos, who first moved the Biennale of Architecture of Venice to Riga, narrowing the distance between the Baltic region and Venice, as if in free space.

Conceiving architecture as Freespace is a brilliant way to reach Millennials, a necessary act of courage to enable a millennial past to last another thousand years in the right hands and the free minds of young people.

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