Golden Lion for Bahrain's Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture

Golden Lion to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the best national participation at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Sep 2010

The International Jury of the 12th International Architecture Exhibition has awarded the Golden Lion for the best National Participation to the Kingdom of Bahrain:
"Given the range of vast urban developments that Kingdom of Bahrain could have been tempted to include in this Exhibition, the jury was impressed by the choice, instead, of a lucid and forceful self-analysis of the nation’s relationship with its rapidly changing coastline. Here transient forms of architecture are presented as devices for reclaiming the sea as a form of public space: an exceptionally humble yet compelling response to People Meet in Architecture, the theme proposed by Exhibition Director Kazuyo Sejima." [1]
Reclaim, the Kingdom of Bahrain’s first National participation at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, is an investigation on the decline of sea culture in the Island.

The pavilion, located at a central point within the Arsenale, has been initiated by her Excellency Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Minister of Culture and Information of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Curators for the National Pavilion are Noura Al-Sayeh and Dr. Fuad Al-Ansari, architects engaged in both teaching and practice in Bahrain.

Three fishermen’s huts disrupted from their original sites in Bahrain, form the focal point of the exhibition. The awkwardness of their situation, disconnected from their coastal scenery, speaks of the discomfort of our current relation with the sea. In line with the theme of this year’s Biennale, it offers the visitors the chance to experience rather than observe architecture and through a series of interviews allows them to meet with the many anonymous architects as they speak about their relation to the sea.

The Sea Interviews, directed by the Bahraini movie producer and director, Mohammed Rashid Bu Ali, are the result of a series of interviews conducted by the Bahrain Urban Research Team along the coastal areas of the Island during the months of April and May 2010. The interviews dwell on the relation Bahrainis entertain with the sea, their personal account of the changes that have altered their access to it and their thoughts and aspirations as to how matters could be improved.

The exhibition design and concept has been conducted by the lapa studio at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne as part of their ongoing research and collaboration with the University of Bahrain Architecture Faculty. The central piece of the exhibition are the three aforementioned fishermen’s huts which were purchased, documented and dismantled in Bahrain and will be reconstructed, according to their original plans at the Bahrain Pavilion in the Arsenale. The three huts will be part of a larger installation, containing all the remaining exhibition components.

The Bahrain Urban Research Team, comprising of a team of six young researchers, were responsible for an extensive study which investigated the geographical and urban changes affecting the coastal areas of the island from the 1930s till today, as well as identifying the multiple social, political and economic factors which contributed to this evolution.

Camille Zakharia, a Bahraini based photographer was commissioned to conduct a photographic documentation of the varied coastal areas of the Kingdom. His portfolio, a Coastal Promenade, illustrates the variety of the coastal landscape, ranging from the more somber themes of the ecological effects of land reclamation to a lighter look at the way in which these coastal areas are being appropriated by their users.

The results of the research as well as the photographic portfolio will form the basis of an extensive exhibition publication, readily available for consultation at the pavilion.

(From press information)

Reclaim. More land. More sea. More public.
By Noura Al-Sayeh
The much-publicized urban transformations have been radical in their reshaping of the urban form. Nowhere is it more apparent than along the coastline, where 80 years of accumulative land reclamation have significantly transformed the urban form. An island nation once completely dependent on the sea, through its fishing and pearling activities has today nearly turned its back on it. Nearly, albeit for the high-rises competing for a postcard view of the sea and a few disseminated fishermen’s huts searching for a slice of sea along the temporary coastline.

Reclaim is an investigation of the socio-political changes that have lead to the current state of affairs in view of stimulating a debate on future planning policies. The geographical retracing of national boundaries has been accompanied by a more profound social transformation- a decline of sea culture in favor of a more generic urban lifestyle. Beyond the ecological implications of land reclamation, it is an investigation into these resulting social implications through the value given
to the coast as a public space.
Three fishermen’s huts disrupted from their original sites in Bahrain form the focal point of the exhibition. The awkwardness of their situation, disconnected from their coastal scenery, relates to the discomfort vis a vis our coastline. This architecture without architects, through the immediacy of its architectural form, speaks of the quest for a more direct relation to the sea. In line with the theme of this year’s Biennale, it offers the visitors a chance to experience rather than observe architecture and, through a series of interviews allows them to engage with the anonymous architects and fishermen of these huts as they speak about their relation to the sea.

In the 1920s, similar informal coastal structures, el door, were the gathering places of pearl divers hosting the first organized social clubs. Today, scattered here and there, at the edge of the reclaimed and soon to be claimed sea, the huts host five o’clock tea sessions and backgammon games; a small attempt to reclaim a zest of leisurely coastal space.

Noura Al-Sayeh is an architect and Head of Architectural Affairs at the Ministry of Culture - Kingdom of Bahrain.

 

Note:

  1. Explanatory statement of the Jury on the Venice Biennale website


Reclaim

Kingdom of Bahrain National Participation at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia

29 August -
21 November 2010
Arsenale
Venice, Italy


Ministry of Culture, Kingdom of Bahrain

Commissioner:
Sh. Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa

Curators:
Noura Al Sayeh
Dr. Fuad Al Ansari

Exhibition design:
Harry Gugger, Leopold Banchini (lapa studio)

Local coordinator:
Stefano Tropea

Film director:
Mohammed Rashid Bu Ali

Photographer:
Camille Zakharia

Graphic designer:
Valentin Brustaux

Contributors:
Philip Enquist, Suha Mattar, Michael Arora

Research team:
Tamadher Al Fahal, Fay Al Khalifa, Mona Yateem, Fatema Al Hammadi, Deena Ashraf, Mohammad Al Qari

Nafas
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