Laurence Lord, the Co-Commissioner/Curator for Free Market, the Irish entry at this year's Venice architecture biennale, writes for Culture ahead of this week's launch. 

It is the final week before the preview of the 16th Venice architecture biennale, La Biennale Architettura di Venezia, and all of the last touches are being applied to the pavilions, the installations and the exhibitions that will form the world’s most prestigious architecture festival.

Drone image of Main Street, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo (Photograph: MAGNAPARTE)

It’s a very exciting time, getting little glimpses of what our colleagues from the other participating countries have been working on. We have been setting up here in Venice for a little over a week now and every day since we arrived the little borough of the Arsenale has been getting busier and busier. Barges laden down with architectural paraphernalia are docking every day, unloading structural frameworks, enormous models, drawings and prints, which for the next six months will transform this disused ship factory at the eastern edge of the island into a showcase for the best of architectural design and thinking from around the world.

This year Free Market will represent Ireland in the Irish Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition has been co-commissioned and curated by six architects, lecturers and designers who decided to collaborate together on a project that explores the future of the rural Irish town. We are Jeffrey Bolhuis, Jo Anne Butler, Miriam Delaney, Tara Kennedy, Orla Murphy and myself, Laurence Lord.

From left to right: Miriam Delaney, Jo Anne Butler, Laurence Lord, Tara Kennedy,
Orla Murphy, Jeffrey Bolhuis (Photograph: Ste Murray)

Our professional lives have been turned upside down since our proposal proved successful at the open call last September, but now with the end in sight, we are very excited about visitors coming to and enjoying the space we have designed and the content of the exhibition. We have been aided immensely by a substantial list of contributors, both at home and abroad, and we are now within touching distance of releasing ‘Free Market’ to the public when the preview opens on the 23rd of May.

This is a hugely significant year for Ireland at La Biennale di Venezia. For the first time ever, the overall curators are architects that live and work in Ireland: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects. They have set the theme of Freespace for all participants of La Biennale. This theme describes the moments of generosity in architecture, at a human scale, which allow life to happen - when architecture moves away from form making or playing with shapes, and becomes about the people that inhabit the spaces it creates.

Railway Bar, Banagher Co. Offaly (Photograph: Trevor Finnegan/@OurType)

This is why we as a team who live across Ireland and abroad were interested in discussing the plight of the rural Irish town. We’re interested in how the once buoyant and lively market spaces in the centre of these towns have become car-dominated, over-engineered and are no longer where the day-to-day of rural life happens. We want to reclaim this 'Freespace' for those that live there.

Our pavilion makes proposals and observations for a number of towns that we have researched: Athenry in Co. Galway, Ballinrobe in Co. Mayo, Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal, Bunclody in Co. Wexford, Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan, Kilmallock in Co. Limerick, Kilrush in Co. Clare, Macroom in Co. Cork, Mountmellick in Co. Laois and Templemore in Co. Tipperary. How we have designed and now made the pavilion also speaks about the inherent architectural value of the market spaces - the materials, the signage, the spatial quality, the sound. We have published a newspaper, Free Market News, where we asked architects, urbanists, policy makers and photographers to contribute to the discussion about the future and past of Irish towns which we will be distributing at the pavilion.

There has been a rising global interest in Irish architecture for a number of years now, based on quite a few exemplary design studios practicing in Ireland and this is reflected in the higher number of Irish architects selected as participants: this year Irish involvement in the Biennale will be enormous. We are anticipating a very busy few days next week at the opening catching up with old friends and making new ones.

We hope to see you there or if not, then hopefully when we return to Ireland for the tour next year.

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Laurence Lord is a Co-Commissioner/Curator for Free Market, together with Jeffrey Bolhuis, Jo Anne Butler, Miriam Delaney, Tara Kennedy and Orla Murphy. La Biennale di Venezia is open from the 26th of May until 25th of November 2018. Free Market will return to Ireland in 2019 to tour some of the towns featured in the exhibition. Follow the progress of Free Market on Twitter and Instagram: @freemarket_irl