The awards for this year’s Venice Biennale Architettura have been announced, and what is arguably the most important of them – the Golden Lion Award for best National Participation – has gone to the National Pavilion UAE.
Entitled Wetland, and curated by architects Wael Al Awar (pictured above with the trophy) and Kenichi Teramoto of waiwai, the exhibition presents an innovative and sustainable building material largely developed in the Emirates and made primarily from recycled industrial waste brine.
The curators worked with specialist teams at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Amber Lab, the American University of Sharjah’s Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and the University of Tokyo’s Obuchi Lab and Sato Lab to develop the chemistry for the cement. To demonstrate the possibilities of the new material as a replacement for conventional Portland cement, which is notoriously bad for the environment, the Wetland exhibit centres on a prototype structure installed in the pavilion that uses casts of organic shapes recalling the traditional coral-built dwellings.
The prototype structure is accompanied by Farah Al Qasimi’s images of sabkhas (salt flats), which provided inspiration for the research process.
Wetland is the first award for the National Pavilion UAE in its tenth participation at La Biennale Architettura (and to be selected from a total of 60 national pavilions, all of them thoughtful and many extremely impressive, is no mean feat). The Biennale jury’s commendation noted “an experiment that encourages us to think about the delicate relationship between waste and production, at both the local and global scales, proposing a construction model capable of linking craftsmanship and technology”.
Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE, said the Golden Lion was “a testament to the work we have been doing to contribute to the UAE’s evolving art ecosystem, and a recognition of our continued efforts to tell the UAE’s untold stories in a globally relevant way”.
The exhibition remains on display till 21 November at the Arsenale.