The freespace of heritage - ISPLORA
freespace heritage panel

The freespace of heritage


Biennale Architettura meets cultural heritage at the Arsenale in Venice.

One of the final events of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice focused on the role of ‘Heritage’ within the concept of FREESPACE, the topic chosen for the Biennale by its curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (Grafton Architects).

During the meeting “The Freespace of Heritage in a Modern Age”, which took place on Saturday,  November 10th, at the Teatro alle Tese at the Arsenale, Paolo Baratta (President of La Biennale), Ricky Burdett and Shelley McNamara, shared the stage and talked with Fasil Giorghis, Elizabeth Hatz, Abha Narain Lambah, Andra Matin, Salvatore Settis and Cino Zucchi.

The President of La Biennale Paolo Baratta explained that «the Meeting aims to address heritage as an essential, noteworthy element of urban space and the various ways in which it contributes or can contribute to creating Freespace, an open space and space for free. Various countries and urban realities have followed different guidelines and, in their own ways, have taken advantage of the opportunities heritage offers when planning and setting the development of inhabited spaces».

At the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, the focus was on the different interpretation of ‘Heritage’ within the concept of FREESPACE

The different speeches of this event therefore contributed to drawing, or rather stringing together, a heterogeneous picture showing the possible interpretations and definitions of heritage. Similarly, also the topic of “freespace” chosen for this Biennale has been translated in many ways and many have tried to channel it into a logic of development or sharing. Fragments, faint proposal attempts which have never actually tried to clarify the complexity of this topic, which includes different effects and values which are not exhausted by the opening of a new building or by giving a territory a prestigious label, such as the inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List (we discussed the processes and effects of promoting local heritage when we spoke about the UNESCO nomination of Ivrea).

The short speeches then illustrated a selection of interventions and buildings in different parts of the world: India, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Italy, which outline – as highlighted by Ricky Burdett,  professor of Urban Spaces at the LSE – different ways of «creating architecture, creating space and creating cities», as well as different types of analysis. The relationship between architecture design and heritage is complex, often conflicting, with emerging rules and boundaries and where political will and pressures for change overlap. Innovative and participatory processes are accompanied by failures, where the concept of open and common space is lacking and sometimes identity is a cohesive element while other times it’s a cause for division. 

What emerges from the talk is the variety of approaches to heritage, different methods and analyses, just like the cultures – and feelings – which underlie every project are different. Following this bulimic perspective of presenting projects and interpretations, we must mention the words by the art historian Salvatore Settis, who in his talk “Cultural Heritage, Citizenship, Democracy” retraces history moving through cities and art to state that «we need rules to create spaces which are truly free and public», where the population’s bonum commune [common good] prevails over the individual’s cupiditas [desire], highlighting the political nature of urban space as a connection between citizens and their city.

In Settis’s words we see both the elements which go against the common and free use of urban space, verticality, sprawl and social division, and the importance of the promotion and safeguard of cultural heritage.

2018 has been declared the European Year of Cultural Heritage, identifying the priority scope of the European Union. The goal is to encourage the largest number of people to discover and get involved in Europe’s cultural heritage, strengthening the sense of belonging to a common European space. Many activities and events are taking place, and significant funding was destined for cultural projects to highlight and promote the different forms of cultural heritage: tangible, intangible, natural and digital. A process aimed at “raising awareness” of an issue which represents an important part of economy, one need only think that in Italy – data provided by Fondazione Symbola – the cultural chain is worth a total of 260 billions, 30 billions if you consider only cultural tourism. This reveals the need to safeguard our heritage, taking care of the common good and using this to build new strategies and visions for the future.


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