National Pavilion UAE - Working in the UAE Pavilion/ By Azza Abou Alam
  • Working in the UAE Pavilion/ By Azza Abou Alam

    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.

    Visitors interacting with the hanging screensVisitors interacting with the hanging screens

    Visitors opening and closing the drawers Reading the books at the reception counterReading 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.


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