Friday 09 June 2023 - 9:17:08 am

UAE National Pavilion at Venice Biennale Architettura to unveil Emirates' untold stories

  • (13) lailabinbrek_portrait2022
  • (10) 2018 lifescapes beyond bigness. courtesy national pavilion uae.
  • (9) 2018 exhibition installation view. lifescapes beyond bigness. courtesy national pavilion uae. photo by seeing things
  • (11) 2021 image courtesy of la biennale di venezia. photography by barbara zanon_bez6579 (1)
  • (12) 2021, wetland, credits npuae
  • (5) 2014 exhibition installation view. lest we forget structures of memory in the uae . courtesy national pavilion uae. photo by seeing things.
  • (7) 2016, transformations the emirati national house, credits npuae
  • (8) 2016, transformations the emirati national house, credits npuae

By Guendalina Dainelli

VENICE (Italy), 18th May, 2023 (WAM) -- The National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia (NPUAE) – at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (Biennale Architettura 2023) will tell the global audience untold stories of the UAE’s art and architecture, and engage with artists, curators and researchers interested in the UAE, a top official told the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

Laila Binbrek, Director of the NPUAE, reflected on various themes and accomplishments of the NPUAE, two days ahead of the event's opening to the public. “In the UAE, there is a strong belief that when nations and individuals meet with a spirit of collaboration, we can create ideas that will shape our collective progress," she said.

The year 2023 marks the National Pavilion UAE’s fifth participation at the International Architecture Exhibition, and the twelfth exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia. Curated by Faysal Tabbarah, “Aridly Abundant” investigates what architectural possibilities can become possible when we reimagine arid landscapes as spaces of abundance.

The pavilion is Commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth. The research efforts were supported by a curatorial research team comprised of American University of Sharjah alumni, including newly commissioned photography and videos by photographer and artist Reem Falaknaz. The exhibition will be open until 26th November, 2023.

La Biennale di Venezia was established in 1895 and is today acknowledged as one of the most prestigious cultural institutions. “Participating in Venice for the first time in 2009, the UAE has been forging ahead at an impressive speed,” commented Laila Binbrek.

In 2013, the National Pavilion signed an agreement with the Biennale di Venezia organisation to be involved in both its art and architecture events. In 2021, the National Pavilion UAE had already won its first award: the Golden Lion for best national participation, the exhibition’s highest award.

From the architectural history of the nation, stretching before its foundation, to reflection on the most urgent current climate issues, the National Pavilion UAE strives to enrich the dialogue among architects, urban planners, and industry experts.

In 2014, the exhibition “Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the United Arab Emirates” curated by Dr. Michele Bambling marked the debut participation in the International Architecture Exhibition. This exhibition presented the seminal findings of a larger initiative to archive the history of architectural and urban development in the UAE over the past century.

With concentrated emphasis on the 1970s-1980s, the exhibition examined how public and residential architecture, built within a rapidly expanding urban context, shaped the newly established federation and prepared the foundation for its emergence on a global stage. ‘Lest We Forget’ evolved into a standalone entity that promotes a deep understanding of Emirati culture by collecting the personal memories of those with their own knowledge and experience of the culture and heritage of the UAE, and then inviting younger generations to creatively engage with the memories of their elders through the medium of contemporary art.

In 2016, the National Pavilion UAE presented “Transformations: The Emirati National House” in the aim to explore the transformative aspect of the housing model of Emirati National Houses, known as sha’abi (folk) houses. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Yasser Elsheshtawy.

“Lifescapes Beyond Bigness” in 2018 was curated by Dr. Khaled Alawadi. The exhibition explored the interplay of architecture and social life across four UAE urban landscapes: residential neighbourhoods; networks of streets and sikkak (alleyways); urban blocks; and natural landscapes.

Affected by the COVID-19, the Biennale Architettira 2020 exhibition did not open its doors and was postponed to 2021. Nonetheless, the edition remains historic for the UAE, as it won the Golden Lion for best national participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition. It is the third recognition to an Arab nation, after Egypt that won it in 1995, and Bahrain in 2010.

The exhibition, “Wetland”, curated by architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto presented a large-scale prototype structure, inspired by UAE’s UNESCO World Heritage Site-nominated sabkhas (salt flats), and created from an innovative, environmental-friendly cement made of recycled industrial waste brine, which could reduce the climate impact of the construction industry.

The curators worked with specialist teams at the New York University 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.

The exhibition was selected by La Biennale jury for being “a bold experiment that encourages us to think about the relationship between waste and production on a local and global scale and opens us to new construction possibilities between craft and high-technology”.


Binsal Abdulkader