The UAE At The 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

BY Katrina Kufer / May 17 2018 / 20:12 PM

The 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, led by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, follows a theme of 'Freespace', which the UAE is responding to by exploring the interplay of architecture and social life across four urban landscapes

The UAE At The 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Courtesy of National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia
A bird’s-eye view of Al Satwa, one of Dubai’s human scale neighbourhoods, contrasted by a corridor of “bigness” in the background

The overarching theme Freespace encourages participants of the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale to tackle a diverse set of interpretations – from humanity’s relationship to the environment through to religion. Commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, the UAE National Pavilion will be curated by Dr Khaled Alawadi, Emirati architect and urban planner, and Assistant Professor of Sustainable Urbanism at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute. Entitled Lifescapes: Beyond Bigness, it will explore architecture and social life in four different Emirati urban landscapes. “Lifescapes Beyond Bigness is in many ways a continuation of some themes from Transformations: The Emirati National House, the UAE National Pavilion’s 2016 exhibition,” says Alawadi. “The exhibitions share a focus on exploring how people really live with the built environment in the UAE and adapt their surroundings to the needs of everyday life. They highlight human-scale landscapes that are often overlooked and under celebrated, but which are an important element of the UAE’s architectural heritage – the National Pavilion offers us the opportunity to share these untold stories with the world.”

Lifescapes Beyond Bigness will consider the relationship between built environments and everyday life. “Looking beyond the monumental scale of much of the country’s most iconic architecture, Lifescapes Beyond Bigness focuses on the simplicity of life in the UAE’s hidden urban pockets,” explains Alawadi. “My team and I have carried out in-depth research into four urban typologies that we see as ‘human-scale’ landscapes; the exhibition explores how the built environment interplays with the daily life of diverse UAE communities living in these vibrant areas.” It will examine residential neighbourhoods of Satwa and Al Shorta in Dubai, and Baniyas in Abu Dhabi; street and alleyway networks in Deira and Bur Dubai, and Downtown Abu Dhabi; urban blocks such as Al Zahya, Al Danah, Al Dhafrah, and Abu Dhabi’s Al Zaab; and natural spaces including Al Mutaredh Oasis and Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. Through spatial mapping and observational techniques to document and collate the physical charateritstics, morphology and social rhythm of the four distinct zones, the exhibition will present photographs, typological maps, behavioural data graphs, architectural drawings, case studies and 3D models.

There will also be a special publication featuring the research and essays from eight scholars and professionals, where each chapter begins with a theoretical introduction to the subjects followed by case studies. “The accompanying publication has allowed me to reflect on the importance of human scale in urban design on a broader level,” says Alawadi. “In conjunction with the exhibition, it tells an eloquent and inspiring narrative of the Emirates’ unique form of urbanism. With the architectural history of the UAE still being formed, I hope that Lifescapes Beyond Bigness will form an important contribution to the theory and practice of architectural planning in the region, renewing the focus on putting community, livability and happiness at the centre of urban design.”

The biennale will run 24 May-25 November 2018 in Venice, where visitors will be able to visit the two C-shaped enclosures that constitute the UAE’s main exhibition. Constructed out of steel bars, it will feature the research material as well as a mosaic of 3D models of the four typologies.