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Awarded on 30 August 2021: Golden Lion for Best National Participation to United Arab Emirates for a bold experiment which encourages us to think about the relationship between waste and production at both the local and global scales, and opens to new construction possibilities between craft and high technology.
Architect Wael Al Awar and Biennale curator Hashim Sarkis.
© Photo: Courtesy National Pavilion UAE
The 10th participation of the United Arab Emirates in the International Exhibitions of Art and Architecture of La Biennale di Venezia is curated by architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto. The exhibition Wetland will present a large-scale prototype structure created from an innovative, environmentally friendly cement made of recycled industrial waste brine, accompanied by commissioned photography by Farah Al Qasimi.
The salt-based prototype is 2.7m tall and 7m x 5m wide on its exterior, creating a walkable interior space the size of an average room, 2.5m x 5m. The structure is formed from up to 3000 modules made of an MgO-based cement designed by the curators, Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, in a collaborative research process.
The curators worked with specialist teams at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Amber Lab, the American University of Sharjah’s Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and the University of Tokyo’s Obuchi Lab and Sato Lab to develop the chemical formula for the cement and use advanced digital engineering technology to formulate a viable structure inspired by the concept of “future vernacular” architecture.
Immersive 3D virtual tour ►
on the official website National Pavilion UAE
Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, architects and curators of the pavilion, said: “Throughout our collaborative research process to develop a building material without the critical environmental impact of Portland cement, we’ve maintained a focus on a localized architectural practice deeply intertwined with the resources and environment of the Gulf. Our MgO cement is made from brine leftover during industrial desalination, a resource that the UAE has in abundance. It has the strength and durability to be used in modern architecture in standard brick shapes, but for this exhibition, we have been inspired by the UAE’s traditional vernacular architecture of coral houses, to hand-cast modules in organic, coral-inspired shapes. In this way we are reimagining modern architectural processes and retaining a strong, poetic sense of the region’s identity and culture within the structure.”
Artwork by Farah al Qasimi. Image courtesy of National Pavilion UAE - La Biennale di Venezia
The prototype will be set against photographs of the Al Ruwais sabkha (salt flats), taken by New York-based Emirati artist, Farah Al Qasimi. Taken in her trademark style, the scenic photographs capture the tension between urbanization and nature in the UAE’s sabkha, which have been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their scale, cultural significance and ecological complexity.
Farah Al Qasimi said: “The scenery of the sabkha sites presents a moment of conflict and resolution. On and below the earth, the sabkha is a serene living environment with many layers of water, sand, salt and micro-organisms which have evolved in harmony to create a delicate ecological system that absorbs more carbon per square meter than the rainforest. But directly above this natural phenomenon are high-tension voltage cables running to massive industrial facilities nearby, emitting an ear-splitting electrical buzz. My photographs of the site capture this tension between industrialization and the environment. I’m very proud to be contributing to the UAE’s pavilion, working with a cosmopolitan research team that really reflects the nation’s diversity.”
Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia said: “Wetland’s opening will mark the UAE’s tenth participation in the Venice Biennale, set against the inspirational context of the UAE’s 50th national anniversary. The exhibition presents a truly groundbreaking potential solution to the global issue of climate change, through a project that is rooted in our local stories, environment and society – reflecting the National Pavilion UAE’s commitment to tell the UAE’s untold stories while facilitating global dialogue. The ancient ecology of the sabkha will be brought to life in Venice through images by Farah Al Qasimi, one of the UAE’s most acclaimed contemporary artists.”
The exhibition also includes a 3-minute soundtrack capturing the ecological story of the sabkhas with water moving underground, the desalination process that creates brine and the exhibition’s research journey.
An accompanying publication titled The Anatomy of Sabkhas, written by urban researchers Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib and co-edited by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, will explore the ecological and socio-economic significance of these natural phenomena in detail based on case studies, personal essays, and photography. A supplementary volume edited and written by Aga Khan Award-winning architect Marina Tabassum will detail the journey of Wael and Teramoto’s research for the Wetland exhibition.
Wael Al Awar is also participating in the Curators’ Collective, a collaboration between curators of many of the national pavilions at the 2021 Biennale. Throughout the extended preparation period of the upcoming edition, the curators have met regularly to develop a manifesto for the future of architecture, generate ideas through dialogue and investigate new avenues to fulfil the Biennale’s platform for accessible collaboration.
(From a press release, 28 April 2021)
The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, with a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale – Sale d’Armi. 2021 marks the UAE’s 10th exhibition at the Venice Biennale since 2009 and its 4th participation in the International Architecture Exhibition.
From press information.
© Photos: Courtesy of the National Pavilion UAE - La Biennale di Venezia
© Image top: Photo by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia