31 August 2014
The 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia opened its doors to the public on the 7th of June. Each pavilion had to respond to the theme which was set by the curator Rem Koolhas, titled “Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014’. The exhibition allowed the visitors from all over the world to experience the history of each national pavilion through architecture, design and photographs. The pavilions were spread out in two different areas, the arsenale and the giardinni. The history of the arsenale dates back to the 15th century. It was a military base that was known for its use of distinguished materials for building ships and boats. Due to the waters being low, they had to design boats that could stay afloat, and go on battleships. In the recent millennium, Piero Vispienani, an architect from Iuav renovated the arsenal to what it is today. He has kept the beauty of the architecture and made it modern from the inside, when it comes to the functionality and structure. The space was big enough for the different countries that participated to include big scale installations.
Thus, the pavilions resembled a sense of unity with the place itself. The notion of reliving the past in the present and showcasing a timeline of architecture was showcased in every pavilion. One of the Pavilions that I had the privilege to work with was the national pavilion of the UAE. Working part of the internship program of the national pavilion of the UAE was an extraordinary opportunity, which not only made me grow as an individual, but also as a professional. In a short amount of time, I had the chance to meet visitors from all over the world, expand my understanding of architecture and design and lastly exchange cultural knowledge.
Throughout the internship program, many visitors came up to the information desk and asked us questions often about the videos that were projected or about the design of the exhibition or how they can go to the next floor. Other might ask where the toilets are or if the catalogs were for free. The majority would complement the UAE pavilion on how informative it was. For instance, Visitors from the Netherlands came up and explained how they loved the exhibition. When asked of what part they liked the most, they said they loved the topic, ‘structures of memory’ and how all the content was structured clearly in the exhibition. On the other hand, a group of architecture students from Prague said that they loved the content of the exhibition but thought it included so much information that they weren’t sure where to start and end.
Some visitors from France were very much interested in the culture of the UAE and about how the development of the architecture affected the identity of the UAE and its culture. I began answering his questions highlighting that change is inevitable. With architecture and construction materials developing in the UAE, so do its people. I explained to him how my mother and father used to live and how different it is to what it is today, how vernacular architecture was in the past and how new methods of development are rising and becoming the norm. I was mostly proud to see visitors from the Middle East enjoying the exhibition. One family, who were residents living in Abu Dhabi, noted that they came specifically to the biennale to see what the UAE pavilion had to offer. They also asked about how I had the opportunity to be part of the National Pavilion of the UAE. So I explained the approval process, and what one has to do to get accepted to be part of the Venice Internship Program. Another group of individuals from Bahrain, which I later find out, one of them, was the curator of the Bahraini Pavilion. She complimented the pavilion of the UAE and said she specifically came to show her family the UAE pavilion and other pavilions in the region as well.
Many students came up to us asking if it was possible to download or watch the videos online. Others wanted to be part of the National Pavilion of the UAE. A student from New York University in Abu Dhabi asked if it is possible for both the university and the national pavilion to collaborate. All visitors who had questions that as interns, we didn’t know the answer to were requested to leave their contact information or email the national pavilion.
Being part of the Venice internship program was not only about observing and meeting the new visitors, it allowed me to write, research and experience Venice through its detailed program. We were assigned to write 4 papers, 3 that consisted of assignments designed to help us see the city in a different way. Through these assignments, I was able to explore the island and really explore changes in modern architecture in a city filled with art and design. I visited prominent museums like the Peggy Guggenheim and relived the life she once had. I researched about her life, her passion for Venice and how she loved art. Living in the city made me want to explore its unique museums such as Tre Oci, Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Duganna. They all had interesting exhibition to offer and can inspire young artists and designers.
Interning at the national pavilion provided me with a multicultural environment that was very different to anything I have ever experienced. I was able to live and learn from the Italian interns and see Venice through them. We laughed, and talked about how both our cultures were so alike, but so different. It made me appreciate the good things in life. For instance, in the first week, I noticed how the Italians love food and how food was a passion to them, not just in terms of eating but also in terms of how it is important to finish what is on your plate. That is also linked to Islamic culture; where it is known that it is never a good sign to leave food go to waste. Another factor was how walking was part of their daily life and how energetic they were in terms of flexibility and mobility. But with any new experience comes a new challenge. The biggest challenge for me was the language. Yes, many of the Italian interns knew English and a little bit of Arabic, but when conversing with some of the visitors and the people in Venice, a lot of them didn’t know English. As individuals, we like to find ourselves in comfortable situations, sustaining our routine. But the Venice internship changes that. It puts you in uncomfortable situations where you have to tackle e obstacles, expand your knowledge and be who you seek out to be. It helped me to reflect on my culture, react to the visitors and renovate myself both at a professional level and a personal one.