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Venice Biennale Pakistan Pavilion

Keeping the subject of FREESPACE in perspective, the Pavilion of Pakistan takes inspiration from the physical and social dimensions of the sparsely open spaces embedded within the many informal settlements of Karachi, the most populated and fastest growing city of Pakistan.

Karachi has long served as the premier financial and industrial center of Pakistan. Home to a large service sector, it has attracted people from all parts of the country in search of employment opportunities. It has also  drawn migrants from near-by countries facing conflict and economic deprivation. This influx has seen Karachi grow from a city of about a million inhabitants in 1950 into an ethnically and linguistically diverse metropolis of over 20 million today. This irrepressible growth has revealed an urban fabric composed of both regulated and unregulated development patterns. Characterized as informal settlements, the unregulated development has largely resulted from a widening gap between demand and supply of affordable housing.

Today, over 60% of the city’s population resides in these settlements, covering only 8.1% of the city’s land. Highly dense, these settlements predictably face a number of issues, one of which is the severe contraction and disappearance of open spaces for communal sociability. In fact, the only open spaces  City of Karachi Regulated and Unregulated Development Patterns of Karachi
Informal Settlements of Karachi – Sparsely Open Spaces that remain in these settlements are the streets and alleys which too, quite often, reduce to narrow corridors, trapped between endless layers of buildings. Receiving only fractured light, these corridors occasionally open into slightly wider pockets of space.

Despite their confined physical conditions, these open spaces remain full of life and vitality, not only functioning as thoroughfares, but serving as vibrant arenas for interaction, dissemination of information, exchange of ideas, and play. Inconceivable as it may appear, they make enough room for everyone, displaying an overwhelming sense of community that builds and thrives on consensus.

The Pavilion of Pakistan, titled The Fold, explores these ideas of limitation and interdependence, inviting visitors to comprehend FREESPACE as a consequence of unity, mutuality and harmony amidst a restrictive physicality. This makes it simultaneously a global as well as a local phenomenon. Located in the Levante section of the Gardens of Marinaressa, the Pavilion is composed of a layer of unevenly spaced verticals, consuming a small portion of the garden. Upon closer proximity and inspection, the layer reveals itself as a singular folding system, with the intention to confine, while partially reveal what it encloses. Conceptually, it is an abstraction of the verticality, multiplicity, and systematic irregularity characteristic of the physical limitations of informal settlements. The subtle tapering of the profile suggests the tendency of these settlements to rise in synchronization. A gap where the two ends overlap forms a constricted opening leading inside.

Once inside, a set of axes animate the space – relying on consensus for activation. The design and curatorial team for the Pavilion of Pakistan consists of Architects Bilal Kapadia, Mustafa Mehdi and Salman Jawed of the Karachi-based multidisciplinary design practice Coalesce Design Studio, Assistant Professors Durreshahwar Alvi and Sami Chohan (Curator) from the Department of Architecture, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, and Zeba Asad who is a student of architecture at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Asad I. Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners is serving as the Commissioner of the national participation project.

The Pavilion is supported by the Global Art Affairs Foundation and organized by Coalesce Design Studio and Antidote Art & Design.