This exhibition’s title, The Lives of Spaces, deliberately invited multiple interpretations, suggesting that, while spaces contained many lives, they can equally live many lives themselves. The story of a space can be traced through its emergent life in design, its life in construction, its life in use and reuse, its life in individual and collective memory and its life within a culture. For each of the nine spaces that were explored in this exhibition, life is at a different stage. Some are still in various stages of design and construction, some are only beginning to be inhabited, while others have already accumulated long histories of occupation and, in one case, are about to fall finally out of use.
This exhibition proceeded from the modest proposition that the designed spaces which architects produce play a crucial role in supporting, shaping and framing our lives. The spaces chosen for inclusion were not precious, pristine places, removed from the ordinary business of life – they were right in the thick of it, providing accommodation for living, for working, for creative production, for institutional support, for education, for leisure, for collective action.
The exhibition sought to communicate the specifics of spatial experience, focusing on how it feels to be in a space and on what effect that experience might have. In an attempt to get beyond the common abstract, distancing effect of traditional architectural displays of drawings and models, film was used as the primary medium. Film offered a vivid immediacy, a readily accessible language, and the capacity to incorporate time into the depiction of space. The exhibition consisted of a series of filmic representations displayed in specially-designed armatures. Most displayed film on single or multiple LCD screens; some broke film down into its constituent elements of sound, light and time.
Taken individually, each display had something of the condensed power of a short story. As with the best short stories, it was through the intense focus on the particular qualities of a particular space at a particular time, that much larger social and cultural themes were illuminated. Thus, taken cumulatively, what emerged was nothing less than a spatial portrait of Irish society. At the same time, the ideas and issues emerging from the exhibition had a more universal relevance and potency. The Lives of Spaces made evident architecture’s great central responsibility – the shaping of the spaces that in turn shape society – and its continued potency and vitality in fulfilling this role. In response to the current architectural culture, this exhibition offered what Anthony Vidler, in his introduction to the work, called the ‘recuperation without nostalgia of a modernity of experience.’ And in relation to the Biennale theme – Architecture Beyond Building – it asserted that architecture will always extend beyond building in its matchless capacity to embody, to embrace and to engender life.
In accompaniment to the Irish exhibition at the Venice Biennale, a book entitled The Lives of Spaces was published.