The Garden of Privatised Delights:

British Pavilion, 17th International Architecture Exhibition Venice Biennale 2021


British Pavilion venice biennale

Image Francesco Galli Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia


Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler have tapped into the emotional trauma we have collectively felt as we craved access to outside space during more than a year of lockdowns and enforced confinement.  The Garden of Privatised Delights, referencing  Hieronymus Bosch’s  admonitory The Garden of Earthly Delights, invites us to consider how we can all work better together and, well, be fairer about ensuring ‘access to and ownership of public spaces.’ Given that we all got to roadtest what it’s like to be constrained by our inability to access public spaces could there be a more apt topic to explore?

Separated into seven ‘privatised public spaces, reimagined as inclusive, immersive experiences, Manijeh and Madeleine with their collaborators have explored the tricky topic of how, if they could be reclaimed for public use, privatised public spaces ‘have the potential to become genuine Gardens of Delight at the heart of all our towns and cities ‘.

Madeleine Kessler | Manijeh Verghese | Unscene Architecture


And, once spaces can be clawed back why stop with private gardens? Publicani The Decorators pose the question,  could the pub be more than a place for drinking and become a centre for civic action? Play With(out) Grounds (cPPR) take the theme of occupy activism and turn it on its head and ask, can we design new spaces in the city for teenagers to occupy on their own terms?





The Curators

‘Manijeh Verghese is a co-founder of Unscene Architecture and the Head of Public Engagement at the Architectural Association (AA), where she is also a Unit Master of Diploma 12, a seminar leader for the AA Professional Practice for Fifth Year course, and a member of the Senior Management Team. Over the past nine years, she has led postgraduate and undergraduate design studios at both the AA and Oxford Brookes University and has taught workshops and courses across universities in the UK and abroad. Previously, she has worked for architecture practices including John Pawson and Foster + Partners, and has contributed to design publications, think-tanks, books and peer-reviewed journals. She is currently an External Examiner at Cambridge University and a member of the Future City Curatorial Committee as well as on the curatorial panel for the 2021 London Festival of Architecture.’


‘Madeleine Kessler is a co-founder of Unscene Architecture and director of Madeleine Kessler Architecture. Trained as an architect and structural engineer, she sits on the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group, and teaches at the London School of Architecture and Architectural Association. Previously, she worked on cultural, civic and master planning projects at Haworth Tompkins, HHF Architekten, Studio Weave, and as an Associate at Haptic Architects. She has worked on projects including Battersea Arts Centre, Kings Cross W3, St James’s Market Pavilion, and Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Oslo Architecture Triennale. In 2020 she was named in the Architects’ Journal 40 under 40, and she was awarded the 2019 RIBA Rising Star Award. ‘




venice biennale

The Garden of Privatised Dreams Image Christiano Corte ©



Room designers

Unscene Architecture was founded by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese in 2019. It operates across disciplines and scales to reveal the unseen forces that shape our cities, working with local communities to give them greater agency over how they use and occupy their spaces. Providing a platform for design, research, curation, and realisation, it aims to provoke a wider conversation about the city through action rather than just words.


The Decorators is a collective of designers with backgrounds in landscape architecture, spatial design, curation and psychology. They curate interventions and actions to make communities and social networks visible. Putting conversation at the heart of their process, they examine the means by which they can maintain a critical and meaningful exchange between communities and the urban regeneration forces they are subjected to.


Built Works is a creative practice exploring the intersection between art and architecture. With a focus on emerging technologies and the impact of their use on citizens and the built environment, it constructs one-to-one working prototypes of concepts and systems in order to test ideas through physical experiment.


Studio Polpo is a social enterprise architecture collective based in Sheffield. Its work is undertaken through exchanges with others, including people from different and diverse disciplines and backgrounds, an approach that can lead to more critical, situated and responsive architecture. Collaborative practices allow the studio to address wider issues relating to spatial, social and ecological justice. It is connected to activist, community and cultural projects, and works with them to co-construct questions, themes, and sites for action.


Public Works is a not-for-profit critical design practice set up in 2004 to occupy the terrain in between architecture, art and performance. Together with an interdisciplinary network, the studio reworks the city’s opportunities towards citizen-driven development. It aims to create long-sustained relationships that build commonality and trust and enable co-authorship.


vPPR Architects was set up in 2009 by Tatiana von Preussen, Catherine Pease and Jessica Reynolds. The studio believes in the continual crossover between art and architecture, seeking creative solutions that strengthen communities, no matter how large or small. The practice is working on public housing, cultural and mixed-use projects and has recently completed a multi-generational playscape in Higham Park in London.


This year’s British Council commission for the British Pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights is at the Biennale Architettura Venice 22 May – 21 Nov 2021  Venice 

Giardini di Castello 30122

Images courtesy of British Council

Banner: Ministry for Common Lands. The Garden of Privatised Dreams Image Christiano Corte ©

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