curated by Manijeh Verghese e Madeleine Kessler
Exhibitors: The Decorators, Built Works, Studio Polpo, Public Works, vPPR, Unscene Architecture


Pavilion Management
Installation Local Coordination




Taking inspiration from Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2021, curated by Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, calls for new thinking around privately owned public space in cities across the UK. It challenges the polarisation of private and public organisations and instead poses solutions on how they might work together to improve use of, access to and ownership of public spaces.

In the spirit of Bosch’s triptych, the exhibition explores the UK’s privatised public space as a non-binary issue. As Bosch explored the middle ground of Earth between the extremes of Heaven and Hell, the curators suggest privatised public space also sits between two extremes: the utopia of common land before the Enclosures Act of the 18th century and the dystopia of total privatisation.

The rooms of the British Pavilion are transformed into seven privatised public spaces reimagined as inclusive, immersive experiences. Familiar UK public spaces which are increasingly under threat, such as the youth centre, the high street and the local pub, sit alongside the traditionally inaccessible private garden square. All are overlaid with proposals for how they can be reprogrammed and revitalised. Two proposed new ministries suggest a bottom-up approach to conversations around ownership, of land and facial recognition data, while a private toilet in the pavilion’s basement highlights issues surrounding the most basic of public services.

Within The Garden of Privatised Delights, Verghese and Kessler seek to ensure a range of voices – from young people to politicians – are heard. At once playful and provocative, familiar yet strange, each experience suggests new models for privatised public spaces, prompting visitors to question, debate, and proactively engage with each.

Unlike traditional exhibitions, with architecture represented by models and drawings, the installations within the British Pavilion are designed as simulated spaces. This aims to actively encourage everyone – architects and non-architects alike – to engage and consider how public space design can be improved to benefit the wider community. The experience, woven together by a continuous path as if through a typical British town or city, invites everyone to consider why all public spaces aren’t designed as gardens of delight?

The question is now more relevant than ever. In 2020 the Biennale Architettura – one of the most prestigious architecture exhibitions in the world – was postponed due to the impact of Covid-19. Since then, topics explored within The Garden of Privatised Delights have taken on fresh urgency, further highlighting the importance of accessible public space for all. Themes such as the demise of the high street, a decline in social spaces for teenagers, and debates around facial recognition technology, have become more pertinent, given the business closures, suspension of schools and increase in video conferencing during the pandemic.

The Garden of Privatised Delights aims to generate a much wider conversation around privatised public space, and how increased inclusivity and consultation around its design can positively reframe the vital role public spaces play in towns and cities across the nation.

Themes and challenges explored within The Garden of Privatised Delights include:

  • Publicani (The Decorators) – could the pub be more than a place for drinking and become a versatile centre for civic action?
  • Ministry of Collective Data (Built Works) – could we rethink facial recognition technology and free our collective data for public benefit?
  • High Street of Exchanges (Studio Polpo) – could the high street go beyond commercial interests to become a place of diverse social exchange?
  • Ministry of Common Land (Public Works) – could we use citizen’s assemblies to develop new strategies for land ownership and use?
  • Play With(out) Grounds (vPPR) – can we design new spaces in the city for teenagers to occupy on their own terms?
  • Garden of Delights (Unscene Architecture) – could we open up and reprogramme exclusive garden squares to create more public outdoor space?


Photo Credits:
Installation view, ‘Garden of Delights’, the Garden of Privatised Delights, British Pavilion, curated by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese of Unscene Architecture for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 2021 © Cristiano Corte © British Council