Ibda design selected for UAE’s Venice Architecture Biennale exhibit

Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, Principal Architects of Dubai’s Ibda design, have been appointed as the curators for the National Pavilion UAE at the 2020 Mostra di Architettura di Venezia, the architecture section of the Venice Biennale.

They were selected following an open call that garnered nearly 100 proposals. This was the first time the National Pavilion UAE organisation has put out an open call for submissions, though it’s the fourth year the UAE has participated in the Venice Biennale for Architecture.

The project from Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto will explore the potential of salt as an environmentally-friendly building material; “salt is a geologically fascinating substance as well as one of the UAE’s most abundant natural resources”, as they say.

This is indeed fascinating stuff. Slices of natural rock salt have long been used as decorative tiles and for non-loadbearing components. But sea salt (especially from desalination projects) is a newer candidate as a building material. Impressively strong bricks and poured or 3D-printed mixes have been produced by combining sea salt with something else – like starch derived from algae in seawater, the approach that Dutch architect and salt superfan Eric Geboers has taken.

City of salt, as envisioned by Eric Geboers

Salt used like this can also have a distinctive translucency (very attractive) and/or a brilliant white colour (reflects light, useful in a desert environment). It will be interesting to see how far the Ibda exhibition can take this.

And if anyone can put on a persuasive show in favour of salt, it’s probably going to be Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto. “Our approach to design interweaves natural light, time, structure, and landscape with architecture. We are continually inspired by natural phenomena and the ways in which architects can adapt organic materials to create sustainable designs …”

Al Awar (Lebanese, moved back to the Middle East after several successful years in Japan) founded Ibda design in 2009. A few years later he was joined as Principal Architect of the studio by Taramoto; the two had worked together in Japan on several projects, and Ibda has a second base in Tokyo.

Jameel Arts Centre: conceptual design by Serie, heavy lifting and implementation by Ibda

Ibda design is one of the new breed of multidisciplinary and outward-looking studios that have grown up in Dubai over recent years. Ibda’s recent contracts completed or under way include site supervision and a consultant architects role for Serie Architects’ Jameel Arts Centre on Dubai Creek (above); design of Art Jameel’s other major project, the Hayy Creative Hub in Jeddah; and design of Hai d3 (below), the low-rise mixed-use area of d3 that provides an HQ for Dubai Design District and also hosts performances and other events.

Some of the studio’s concepts and proposals are equally interesting – a near transparent building for Beirut’s BeMA museum of modern art, an apparently toppling office tower for Dubai (angled glass minimised heat exposure, the extra shade helps cooling), a mosque for Dubai that cleverly removes the physical boundaries of conventional walls.

Maximised shading, minimised direct sunlight; no need for expensive high-tech glass, and the core can be conventionally vertical

The Biennale will run from 23 May to 29 November 2020. The main exhibition has the title How Will We Live Together? and is curated by the Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis, who will use it to explore the potential for cross-community engagement in a time when social and economic divisions are becoming the norm.


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