A House for Britain
British Pavilion, Venice, Italy
A call for British architecture to be more inclusive towards a diversifying world.
Concept (Images and Text): JA Projects, Priya Khanchandani, Joseph Henry
Film: Tim & Barry featuring Foluke Anglin
Materials: Lotty Sanna
By reimagining the British Pavilion as a house, our proposal grapples with British identity and the cult of the house within it which we find manifested in Britain’s obsession with property ownership, country houses and house renovation TV shows, and politicised by Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme. Specifically, A House for Britain plays on the idea of the neoclassical British Country House, a typology that shares a common language with the Palladian structure of the British Pavilion.
Country Houses have long been an iconic signifier of British national identity, power and refinement, however those constructed in the neo-classical style of 19C hold a darker history, one inseparable from colonialism and enslaved African labour. This was reflected in images of subjugation in the very fabric of their interior decoration and the objects that filled their grand rooms.
The commonwealth and empire has left its mark on the nation and now Britain is a multi-cultural place full of the descendents of colonialism. While the private interiors of homes and houses reflect this plurality, architecture as a profession still does not. A House for Britain celebrates this cultural richness and, by occupying the British Pavillion, places it at the centre of architectural discourse. Since architecture is slower than other disciplines to demonstrate a responsiveness to cultural change, our house is filled with carefully curated objects drawn from other forms of culture – like music and fashion - that offer architecture inspiration for a more pluralistic approach. In this way, A House for Britain is a live archive of curiosities that point towards an alternative future of architecture in Britain.
Befitting of a grand house, A House for Britain is divided into the The Hall, The Chapel, The Conservatory and finally The Long Gallery. Traditionally domestic spaces whose contemporary equivalent play an active role in civic society – our house being a metaphor for the city. It is a fun house to visit - a place where contemporary installation is juxtaposed by tropes that play off the neo-Palladian style of building itself. Throughout the exhibition, the country house elements are reimagined and subverted.
For example, The Hall is transformed through an immersive and interactive installation designed alongside digital artists Tim & Barry, where screens of Palladian proportions convey a contemporary portrait of Britain’s high streets (public space for all), and classical columns of light allow the visitor to be projected onto the screens and superimposed within the streetscape. The installation allows for a parallel domestic public programme to be live streamed back into the pavillion, ensuring those not able to visit Venice are represented.
Rooms such as The Chapel and Conservatory are brought to life by sourcing colours and materials from markets such as Ridley Road and Shepherd’s Bush, playfully offering a commentary on supply chains and procurement.
In a contemporary climate of national isolationism, now is the time to search for and celebrate broader cultural narratives - to reflect on their value and ask where we can go next, and ultimately grow - both as an architecture sector; and as a society. Ultimately, A house for Britain promotes a vision of British architecture that is as culturally diverse as the people it serves.