14 July 2015
The brief of Recycle Group’s CONVERSION project begins with Marshall McLuhan’s phrase, “The medium, or process, of our time-electric technology- is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life”. This quote embodies everything I saw, understood and related with after viewing the installation at Church Sant’Antonin in Venice. CONVERSION could be understood literally as a change of one material to something else through technique or physical process, or it could also mean a spiritual shift. Given the context the objects reside in and the context our daily interactions and thoughts are stored and shared in, the group have created a dialogue by using what they call ‘Future Archaeology’- they have set a site-specific installation that consists of statues and reliefs represented in modern materials and juxtaposed with ancient artifacts. When one takes their first glimpse at the work, they would be lead to think that patina has led them to age through time due to the aging processes they’ve gone under to create this fabricated patina. What makes a viewer in the 21st century question the honesty of this patina are the recognizable reliefs found on the statues that symbolize our everyday smartphone applications and the virtual world that has become our reality. Viewers in the far future will only see this as history representing some outdated technology which is exemplified in the concept of ‘Future Archaeology’. The artists and curator also reference Walter Benjamin’s observation “Every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably” which is an instrumental aspect when creating the conversation between past, present and future. A large standing “f” lives in the Church’s centre nave where a cross traditionally resides as a religious ornament. This symbolizes the heart of the project, in my opinion, which is the proposition that Facebook, or communication through means of social media, has become our religion. Just as there are commandments in religion that should not be broken, the virtual world of Facebook has commandments for its users that should not be broken.
As an observer of this project and a great admirer of the Florentine Renaissance Quattro-cento art era, I see a strong resemblance between the depictions of biblical stories at the time, and Recycle Group’s depiction of the figures. The difference is that once they were carrying a cross but now they are grouped to look at a smart gadget, or lift a mast for activating 3rd and 4th generation mobile connections. When looking conceptually at the boldness of the idea of representing these symbols and figures in a holy church that denote a growing distance between people and religion to follow a “virtual religion”, I am reminded by the Baroque’s paradox of the Sacred and Profane specifically Caravaggio’s depiction of religious scenes without decorum to convey a more honest and real scene. I see a similar situation here, a reality check; art needs to represent a current event and acknowledge an issue yet remain grounded and reminded by what it was born from. I was able to relate with this work on a personal and a creative level; It helps me take a step back and question if I am a victim of the virtual world and teaches me that art is a reminder of time and a child of history.
10 June 2015
I did not know Angelus Novus by Paul Klee before the Biennale, neither the description and critic made by philosopher Walter Benjamin, but when I discovered it, I found it really significant for the theme of this 56th edition of the International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia.
The angel of Klee’s paintings is looking at the past, made up of a series of disasters, wars, ruins and human victims but he sees them as one enormous ‘single catastrophe’. When I visited the exhibition areas in the Arsenale I noticed that the installations, artworks and performances had one thing in common: they made me feel uncomfortable, because they reminded me of death and wars.
The first room I entered was full of long knifes and swords put on the ground to form flowers’(the artwork’ s title is Nympheas, I found it really evocative) and the visitors have to walk between them. During the walk, the only light is given by neon on the walls that intermittently show words such as ‘love’ and ‘peace’ ( the artwork is from another artist, Bruca Nauman). The words are lighted only for few seconds, they are not permanent, instead the swords and knives are well fixed on the ground. Maybe this could be an example of Angelus Novus’s struggling: an eternal battle between peace and war, but where the catastrophe seems to win.
After this first part, the atmosphere becomes even more distressing. Almost all the artworks I remember are linked with wars or personal tragedies, such as the one made of several drawings that show the artist’s nightmare.
However, the most suggestive, in my opinion, was the Untitled Trumpet by Katharina Grosse. When visitors enter, they are completely absorbed by the colors covering the entire floor and the walls of the building, they can rest for a while after the previous artworks, that are actually dark. However little by little, the visitors will notice that they are heaps of rubble and sheets. So the happiness given by the colors lasts only for few seconds, that is, history is history of catastrophes and the rubble are there to remember us what humanity did. The colors are the momentary ‘epiphanies’ where the artist and the philosopher focus on, trying to give sense to the past events.
My first impression about Enwezor’s exhibition was that he wanted to convey the most terrible thoughts about our past (and present), so the visitors could reflect on the world’s big catastrophes. Only after reading more about Angelus Novus’s description by Walter Benjamin, I could find a kind of dualism in some artworks and in their juxtaposition, as I explained before. My overall opinion on this exhibition is very positive, because its curator deals with an important (and delicate) topic in a way that shows great comprehension of the events, consideration of all world’s areas and also empathy with the social classes more unfortunate.
Okwui Enwezor shows us the past, the present and a possible future, but, maybe the last one might change.
24 May 2015
Unlike others pavilions, where artworks are the only and absolute protagonists, here we face a conjunction between the curatorial idea of Sheika Hoor Al Qasimi, the architectural design of the exhibition designers, Milk Train and more than 100 artworks realized by fifteen artists from the UAE, in an intense and harmonious interrelation.
The exhibition “1980-Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates” is based on intensive research and is dedicated to the historical record underexposed practices of some of the UAE’s most important and evolving modernist and contemporary artists. As the curator Sheika Hoor Al Qasimi said, the main aim was “to show diversity of art practices and the history of the art scene in the UAE at this period in time.”
Rather than following a didactic chronology, the two coordinates of time and space decomposing the existing space, like in a Cartesian diagram, creating different sections and levels with vertical and horizontal lines transforming the 250 square meters of the pavilion into different islands, in conversation with one another. Visitors are invited wandering through the pavilion where sculptures and paintings establish dialogues between them creating artistic correspondences.
Time is not conceived as a line but just like the space, is fragmented and decomposed making visible the coexistence of past and present. Visitors are invited to wander through these compact collections creating their personal connections. As the Canadian poet Margaret Atwood says: “Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.”
Besides showing the density and variety of the art scene in the UAE, the exhibition also show the continuous evolution of the artists themselves, as in the case of Dr. Mohamed Yousif. In fact, it would be almost impossible to establish that the static and monolithic wooden sculptures at the bottom of the pavilion, defined by the artist himself as selfish, have been realized by the same hands that have assembled recycled materials creating the animated bicycles that remind that much the first ready-made realized by Marcel Duchamp in 1913, the Bicycle Wheel.
Visitors are impressed and often surprised by Abdulrahman Zainal’s sculpture Fighting for a Chair, they admire and are curious about all Hassan Sharif’s artworks and by the colorful ceramics realized by Salem Jawhar. Some of them ask about how many women artists are shown, others wonder about the richness of the pavilion where black, white, grey and sand are predominating colors remind the environment that inspired artists and recalling the use of poor and natural material that we can admire in the artworks.
The theme of the 56th Venice Biennale is All the World’s Futures but as a colleague from the Tuvalu Pavilion has pointed out “there’s not a lot of future”. Many pavilions, just like the UAE’s one, are looking at the past in order to see their future and understand their present.
It is not a coincidence that the Golden Lion for Best National Participation has gone to the Republic of Armenia for its reflection on Armenian diaspora and memory. It is not a coincidence that the entire Italian pavilion has been dedicated to Archives of Memory. We are what we was and what we will be, at the same time.
This is particularly true in the case of the UAE pavilion, whose utmost praise is to show how the UAE is taking care of its heritage and its cultural past with the same caution with which Tosetto’s craftmen handled artworks just arrived after having constructed the entire pavilion.
26 November 2014
This year is the first year for the United Arab Emirates to have a permanent pavilion at the International Architecture Biennale. We are very happy and proud to be given the opportunity to be able to represent our country and shed some light on issues and questions people have had revolving our culture and lifestyle. We have learned a lot through this experience and hope that we, in return, have contributed in building a strong relationship between people and our pavilion.
We have encountered people from all over the world who aren’t only architects but have very diverse backgrounds such as theater, journalism and photography and so on. Being in such a multicultural environment has proved to be such an enriching experience in terms of cultural exchange. What started out as a few simple questions about architecture had changed into vivid descriptions of the lives of our grandparents back in the day and how that has changed through modernity.
The interesting thing is that, although the people we met and us come from completely different backgrounds, we found ourselves finding many similarities when it came to values and our basic instinct as human beings to want to be a part of something bigger.
We realized quite quickly that the prominent questions that were asked revolved around our opinions as individuals; people were very curious to ask about our lives and how we, as local Emiratis, have adapted our culture to such a fast-paced and ever-growing society. They have also asked regarding the orientation of the changing architecture and how it affected the social standards of our lifestyles.
Most of the visitors complimented the concept of the drawer being pulled; saying that they felt it created a bond between them and our history. The disadvantageous element of the design was how the drawers became rigid over time where visitors lacked the strength to pull them fully and absorb. Regardless they were intrigued by the atmosphere inspired by the palm trees’ screening of the Arish. They also told us it was very helpful to see the designed timeline to put into perspective how the UAE developed (in terms of a global scheme) throughout the years whilst listing the architectural events in the Western world as well. The comparison between the development of our country and the rest of the world allowed the visitors to understand how much meticulous planning was put into creating UAE today and the vision of our beloved Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may his soul rest in peace.
However, with that being said, it is very important to understand that we were ambassadors of our country and it is our responsibility to embody our values through both our words and actions. This sense of responsibility has pushed us to be the best version of ourselves both as professionals, that are able to communicate and convey our ideas clearly, as well as individuals that are able to openly speak their minds and voice out their opinions. Even though we are away from home, we feel that this experience had a very large impact when it came to our goals and what we wanted to do once we went back. It has allowed us to network, meet new people, and subsequently opened doors to possible future projects that we can be a part of.
26 November 2014
Last summer I spent six weeks in Bahrain for an internship and during that period I had the opportunity to discover the architectural beauties of this small island in the Arabian Gulf, which include historical buildings as well as very modern ones. For this reason, while I was walking through the Arsenale, I was particularly eager to visit the Bahraini pavilion wondering if I would have found there reproductions of those buildings that I had seen with my own eyes. This is an account of what I found there, through a description of the pavilion, its structure and its ultimate goal.
The name of the Bahraini pavilion is “Fundamentalists and Other Arab Modernisms”, a name which immediately recalls the general title of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition chosen by its director, Rem Koolhaas, that is “Fundamentals- Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014”. As all the other pavilions, Bahrain accepted the invitation of the director and followed the evolution of its national architecture along the last century. However, in spite of collecting and supplying information only about its own architectural identity, this country realized a very ambitious project, describing the last 100 years of architecture across the whole Arab world. As a student of Arabic, I found this choice very interesting and therefore I spent plenty of time contemplating the pavilion.
Its curators are two architects, George Arbid and Bernard Khoury, who worked in collaboration with The Arab Center for Architecture, based in Beirut, with the aim of creating the right pavilion for this work conceived as a survey of architecture built across the Arab world over the past century. The installation consists in a vast circular table, onto which a map of the Arab region has been printed. In this map, the curators located 100 buildings, one for each year, which are accompanied by a flag representing the nationality of the architect who realized them. The map is surrounded by a narration of the key socio-political events that the region witnessed during the last century: a story that is further described by a first-person account which is read loudly in Arabic and translated into English in headphones. Therefore, visitors who do not speak Arabic are in a certain way forced to take a seat and spend time in the pavilion in order to fully understand the meaning of the speaker’s words. Moreover, above the installation, there is a dome with projections of a commissioned screenplay by Studio Safar which consists of a reading of the 22 national anthems of the Arab countries.
On the shelves of this huge bookcase, the curators put 40000 copies of a book called “Architecture from the Arab World 1914-2014 (a Selection)” that visitors can take away for free. This is the catalogue of the exhibition and it is a very integral part of the pavilion itself. In this book, in fact, there are the pictures of the 100 buildings selected by the curators among the 22 Arab countries to tell the story of Arab architecture during the last century, the same buildings that have been located on the map. Moreover, a collection of seven different essays form the scientific content of the exhibition and follow the historical evolution of architecture within the different geographical areas of the Arab World, divided in this book into Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, the Levant, North Africa and East Africa.
Leafing through this book, I particularly focused my attention on the buildings selected from Bahrain and from the United Arab Emirates. There are four Bahraini buildings in this book and they are used to represent three different stages in the country’s architectural development. The first, Seyadi Majlis (1914-1920), stands for the vernacular architecture, the buildings of which were built with the resources which were immediately available, such as coral stones, bamboo mats and shells. The National Museum of Bahrain (1982-1988) and the Ministry of Justice and Social Affairs (1986-1989) are expression of the modernist project which began in the country after the discovery of oil and finally Dar Al Riffa Al Odah (2014) represents the new and progressive architecture, born from the negotiation between modernity and local traditions, question that has never been fully resolved in Bahrain. The curators chose 4 Emirati buildings as well. These buildings are Bayt Burj al-Riyah (1920), the First National City Bank (1964-1967), Kindergarten Prototypes (1973-1975) and Masdar Institute (2010). I was really surprised to find out that this pavilion and our pavilion (the UAE pavilion) agree in a certain way in the choice of the stages which paved the way to the architectural development in the UAE. In the UAE pavilion, the narration of the architectural development in the country passes through 4 distinctive phases, which are expression of a very specific kind of architecture:
1914 – 1949 – Vernacular Architecture
1950-1970 – Infrastructure and Urban Development
1971-1994 – Structures of Modernity
1995-2014 – Retrospective and Innovative Architecture aimed at preserving modern heritage buildings and planning for a sustainable future.
By sheer coincidence, if you check the dates of the four Emirati buildings selected by the Bahraini pavilion, there is actually one example for each of the four periods of UAE pavilion’s narration.
Apart from these personal considerations,the Bahraini pavilion’s ultimate goal was the creation of an index of architecture for the entire Arab world, to reflect on pan-Arabic heritage as well as on what remains of the pan-Arabic project at a time when the whole region is going through major changes. The survey had at the same time as aim the description of the common conditions that shaped the architecture of many of the Arab countries: the influence of colonial rule, the impact of the discovery of oil and gas, architectures once specific and local which have become interchangeable and global, national identity which seems to have been sacrificed to modernity and the environmental challenges that Arab countries have recently begun to address with varying degrees of commitment.The political uprisings that the region is now experiencing also form an important point of commonality. In this particular moment in which everything in the region seems in flux, according to this pavilion’s curators, establishing a conversation about shared experience and identity could not be more timely and could at the same time possibly represent a way out from this critic period.
15 November 2014
Get to know our November interns:
Amal Mohammed Murad
Half Emirati/half Bahraini Multimedia Designer who graduated from the American University of Sharjah. When she is not working as a freelance graphic designer and film-maker, she find herself leaning towards sports and more outdoor activities. Follow her on Instagram: @smallpackages_
Mariangel Salerno, an Italian who was born in a small city near Taranto, in the south of Italy. Two years ago, she moved to Venice, where she obtained a masters degree in “Languages and Economic and Legal Institutions of Asia and North Africa”. She loves travelling and meeting new friends from all over the world. Follow her on Instagam: @mari_reem
4 November 2014
Venice, usually described as the city of lagoons, is a very unique city in terms of its architecture and urban development. Some might say that in order to “keep the city alive”, more modernity is required to preserve and maintain the state it is in. We, however, feel that what makes Venice so special is its authenticity and its peculiarity as a whole. The most prominent elements that make Venice so distinct, in our opinion, is the texture of the aged walls and the juxtaposition of water and land that pushes you to maneuver your way around the city. Throughout this essay, we’re hoping to highlight our fascination with Venetian architecture and the right balance between the graceful nature and geometric complexity that it possesses.
It becomes very clear that Venice has its own identity. Regardless of modernity creeping its way into architecture around the world, Venice retains its individuality. St. Mark’s Plaza, for example, is considered the city’s main symbol, embodying a mixture of spaces, volumes and styles: the Procurator’s residence, the bell tower, the Doge’s Palace and the Sansoviniana Bookshop. Although it might look modern and contemporary, people have gathered there since the 9th century. It was constructed as a small square dotted with trees. Today, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions that still holds true to the culture and history of Venice. Historically speaking, Venice’s architecture is a combination of the Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Moorish architecture influences. The Byzantine influence is apparent when observing the churches around Venice and the complexity of their domes.
What is intriguing about the Venetian Gothic architecture is the desire for lightness and grace in structure. Although Venice can feel quite claustrophobic as you walk through the narrow alleyways, there’s something very special about the feeling of proximity and interconnectedness amongst its neighborhoods. In contrast to the urban conditions in the United Arab Emirates, you quickly get a sense of a cohesive scale of buildings in Venice, somewhat unified in shape and size.
It is important to point out that we, as interns, have both studied different majors in university. This diversity in backgrounds allows us to share our different outlooks on Venice; and subsequently appreciate things the other might not notice. For example, as an Interior Designer, you’ll notice elements such as the spacing and lighting. On the other hand, as a Multimedia Designer, you recognize the importance of interactivity and navigation.
Collectively, after having lived here for a week, we have somewhat scratched the surface of this beautiful city. There are endless features to be discussed but what is most important in our opinion is Venice’s authenticity in both architecturally and historically. From the framing of the doors, to the parallel houses all the way to the bridges that help you cross the canals; these nooks and crannies all play a role in making Venice the endearing city that it is today.
Modernism and its application differ greatly from one region to another. Many countries struggle to find a balance or identity of its own while falling within the lines of being “modern”. In some areas such conception can be viewed as repetition and identical to all places of which many try to avoid as well, including Venice.
The definition of contemporary has been redefined in an authentic and historical city such as Venice, it still carries a certain amount of identification regardless of the modern notions of architecture nowadays. Some claim (Kusch & Gelhaar, 2014) that the idea of urban planning such as using the canals on the lagoon instead of present and common rail road is innovative and “modernistic” in itself despite the methodology of transportation. In my opinion, the functionality of Venice in itself is quite modern and ageless since its inception, the planning is so amiably profound until now that the city knows it cannot be drastically changed or fully renovated just yet. Many architects who tried to influence the state with a call for modernism in design were not able to realize projects such as the Palazzo Film Festival and Ex-Umberto Ground I.
Nevertheless, Scarpa notably has contributed to the perception of Venice’s spirit; an apparent example would be the Fondazione Querini Stampalia where the interior reflects clear understanding of the Venetian taste. He kept it simple but redefined a few elements such as the shutters and also used local materials such as Istria stone and the brick masonry. Another structure is the IUAV (University of Architecture Venezia) where the color of wood and brick embrace the warmth of the institution. While IUAV’s laboratory contradicts the façade and language of the original building- it does not fit as a unit since the laboratory has approached a seemingly cubical design with minimalist touch of neutrality instead of shutters and masonry (ironically- the fort and the tower structure is similarly close to Al Bastakiya’s barajeel).
Apparently, modernism crept its way into the city after World War I when Miozzi introduced the Ponte Della Libertò Bridge and connected the areas around the Grand Canal. Later came Gallerie Dell’ Academia, Scarpa’s design, as well as terminals and trains which enhanced Venice’s new identity. One can also find a clear division of what is viewed to be modern and traditional Venice in some of the residential areas such as Junghan’s or Giorgio Maggiore’s (in Giudecca mostly) suburbs profoundly preserved the historic elements or rules of architecture but at the same time gave a different aspect of design to the distinguished city. The differences seen are the usage of materiality on the walls (clean paint rather than bricks) and the placement of “shutters” as the new buildings tend to have a unique sense of position on a single wall. A stronger distinct change would be the Palazzo Grassi by Tadao Ando in which he used his usual trademark: concrete. Clean cuts and slides are stretched all over the place, an unusual addition to the Venetian textures. In our opinion, Venice should be kept as it is without having any drastic alterations made to the city. Renovation might be called for but elimination is out of the question.
The most convincing part of all this is that despite the irregularity of new design meshed with the maintained and preserved ancient gothic façade, there is still a sense that the entire state functions as an entity in sync.
4 November 2014
I have been living in Venice for two years and if there is something that I have learned during this period it’s that you can never say to fully know this city. If you only leave a known calle (Venetian term for “street”) for an unknown one, you will probably get lost and discover something new! That’s true for its architecture as well: If you abandon the traditional touristic routes, you can come across examples of modern architectonic elements, which are in a way unexpected in an historic city like Venice.
Venice is famous all over the world for a very specific architectural identity, which differentiates it from the other cities and makes it absolutely unique. This identity, which constitutes the city’s heritage, is mainly made up of its sinking buildings as well as the grand structures built in a Gothic or Renaissance style. When you walk in the narrow alleys of Venice, you are immediately surrounded by an endless row of brick or stone buildings, which are very similar in terms of structure and in the shape of their doors and their street level windows.
From this point of view, the architecture of Venice seems very uniform but there is no risk to get bored with the homogeneity of these structures because Venetian alleys are literally constellated of architectural wonders of deep historical importance. This city is an open-air museum with some of the most famous Italian architectural masterpieces, such as St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. Venice is generally known as the main expression of the Gothic style, which coexists with important examples of Renaissance and Baroque buildings. The expression “Venetian Gothic style” refers to the Venetian building style realized through the combination of the Gothic lancet arch with Ottoman and Byzantine elements. This style dates back to the 14th century and its main examples are the Doge’s Palace in St Mark’s Square and Ca’ D’Oro Palace. The phase of Gothic art in Venice was then followed by a period known as Renaissance, an era in which architects rediscovered Greek and Roman elements.
These countless architectural wonders and the unique buildings of this “floating city” are the elements that attract millions of visitors every year. In this context, few people would imagine that Venice also hosts very important examples of modern architecture, which lay mainly undiscovered by tourists, hidden in the labyrinth of its alleys and canals. Many modern architects, including Carlo Scarpa, Santiago Calatrava, Cino Zucchi, have tried to leave their mark on this city. With this article, I want to start an imaginary trip, which will lead readers to discover the most important works of modern architecture in Venice.
Our trip starts from Piazzale Roma, the transport hub at the entrance of the city, where there is the first and perhaps most controversial element of modernity, the “Constitution Bridge”. Also known as “Calatrava Bridge” from the name of its architect, it connects Piazzale Roma to “Santa Lucia” railway station. This bridge is completely different from the bridges Venice is famous for, since is mainly made up of steel and glass, with the “pietra d’Istria”, a stone typically used in Venice, as the only element of continuity with the other bridges. In my opinion, with its minimalist and modernist approach, this bridge does not fit exactly with its surroundings and with Venice decorative architecture. At the entrance of a fabulous city like Venice, this bridge does not embody the very nature and spirit of the city. At the same time, it is not very functional since the glass steps become slippery when the weather is foggy, and this is very frequent in Venice.
A picture of the Calatrava Bridge
From Piazzale Roma, we get on a vaporetto and after a short ferry ride we are in Giudecca, where the main examples of modern architecture are concentrated. Giudecca was originally an area of large palaces surrounded by gardens, but at the beginning of the 20th century, the island turned into an industrial area. Much of the industry went into decline after World War II, and most of the industrial buildings were reconverted in residential ones. In fact, nowadays, Giudecca is a quiet residential area of mostly working-class housing with some chic apartments and exclusive houses. An example of this conversion is the Molino Stucky, a neo-gothic building originally born as a mill and now turned into a five star Hilton hotel.
At a first sight, the buildings in this area are so not different from the others in Venice but taking a walk into its southern part, a visitor will be struck by a completely different area, with unusual modern buildings. The area I am talking about is known as Junghans, from the name of the Dutch watch firm that opened there in 1877. After the failure and the closure of this firm in 1971, the area was abandoned until the early 2000’s when the industrial buildings were replaced by a theatre and residential buildings.
The picture above is in my opinion very explicative of the architectural nature of Giudecca, with modern residential buildings facing the historical ones, without clashing. The project of urban renewal was realized by the Italian architect, Cino Zucchi, who is famous for his ability to requalify industrial and historical areas. Using Venetian traditional construction buildings, this architect was able to introduce in Giudecca modern architectural elements, such as the irregular disposition of the windows and balconies, realizing buildings that due to their simplicity fit perfectly, in my opinion, with the traditional urban environment of the city.
From this point of view, Giudecca is the proof that history and modernity can perfectly co-exist even in a traditional urban fabric like the one existing in Venice. This demonstrates that in this city there is space for modern elements, as long as architects show sensitivity to existing structures and uses elements of continuity with the tradition. Besides preserving the inestimable cultural heritage, Venice, in my opinion, should look forward, giving a chance to contemporary architects as well, whose work will possibly represent an additional heritage for future generations.
3 November 2014
Our November interns are loving Venice and we can see why!
27 October 2014
Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I have always dreamed of visiting the Venice Biennale, but working, as an intern, in this prestigious event was something beyond my dreams. Living in Venice and seeing it through an Italian lens, thanks to the Italian coordinator and interns, opened my eyes on so many opportunities and new things to learn every single day. Over the course of 30 days, I have come in close contact with people from all around the world, elite design aesthetics and enriching architectural conversations that made me grow professionally and as a person.
Seeing daily visitors flowing in and out of the UAE national pavilion was an experience that pleased me and filled me with pride. Greeting them and attending to their questions was one of the main enriching elements of this program. On my first shift, an architectural student, writing a report about the UAE pavilion, asked me about the concept behind the space planning of the exhibition and its functionality as well as important architectural elements that existed in the UAE. His eyes widened with awe while I explained the concept of “Arish” houses and how our ancestors in the UAE were precursors for sustainable design, using building materials from their environment and decreasing waste as much as possible as well as adapting to their surrounding climate. The use of wind towers was another adaptation to the climate without using energy and being almost 100% sustainable. Other inquiries from visitors involved questions about “Al-Ibrahimi building” in Abu Dhabi, its interesting façade and overall form. Some visitors could not believe it was a building that existed in the UAE and asked about whether its plans and drawings are available. I handed out the pavilion’s catalog pointing out the page where the building is featured and their fascination grows in an instant. I believe that visitors of the National pavilion of the UAE now come to know that there is so much more to architecture in the UAE than the modern boom of building production.
What made the national pavilion of the UAE more interesting this year is the installation of the pavilion itself. The fact that it is like a hidden gem tucked away behind black MDF panels and intriguing hung screens forced visitors to come in and unravel what lies behind these partitions. There were 2 elements that struck the most with the daily visitors and these are the drawers and the hung screens. From time to time, visitors would comment on how the UAE pavilion had the most tactility and connection with the visitors. The accessible albums and physical items from the past also created a relationship with the visitors that was unique to our pavilion. Having the freedom to open and close drawers made the pavilion relatable and spoke a language that everyone knows, unraveling privacy and special items to the drawers’ owner. It was as if visitors could see a side to the UAE they never knew existed and experienced that on their own by opening the drawers. The other main attraction was the hung screens made out of a diagonal grid of rope and held together by a metal frame. Visitor would stare at these screens and the pattern they created by overlapping, trying to figure out the material used as well as the reason behind their installation. I tried to explain to curious visitors that it is related to the old “Arish” houses, also known as the old architecture of the UAE. Arish houses in the winter were closely knit in contrast to the summer where they had more openings to let more air ventilation penetrate the house. These concepts were illustrated in the transparency of the screens and the particular overlap of the patterns in some instances, which helped a lot in getting the idea through.
Reading the books at the reception counterReading the books at the reception counter
Spending a month, constantly surrounded by art, design and world-class architecture was indescribable in the best way. Learning about other cultures and listening to different points of view was entirely enriching and eye-opening. Despite rigorously studying Italian architecture and well renowned buildings that are internationally famous, visiting these masterpieces was stimulating and gratifying to a designer like me. Yes, there were challenges, such as increasing the degree of self-independence, but they are incomparable to everything I’ve learnt here in the Venice Biennale. In spite of learning so much about other countries and their indigenous architecture displayed in the spread around pavilions, working in the UAE pavilion has also taught me so much about my own country, which filled me with delight and gratification. In addition, working in the Venice Biennale this year has given me vital information about exhibition design and the important tools on how to make it successful and most importantly getting your idea through to your audience. The experience was overall eye opening to new opportunities and the best-of-the-best architecture in the world that took me out of my little bubble in Sharjah and introduced me to a world of incredible projects.