Sharjah Architecture Triennial gets formalised

The Sharjah Architecture Triennial has been reconstituted as an official Foundation, under the commendably predictable name Sharjah Architecture Triennial Foundation (aka SATF). The Emiri Decree signed a couple of weeks ago by the Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, says the Foundation will have “the necessary capacity to undertake all legal actions to ensure the achievement of its objectives and the exercise of its competencies … It will have financial, administrative and technical independence, and an independent budget shall be allocated to it”.

The Triennial was previously a non-profit initiative funded by the Government of Sharjah, a pet project of the ruler’s son, Khaled Al Qasimi, who established it in 2017. He was also the chairman of the Sharjah Urban Planning Council as well as a successful fashion designer in London; he died in 2019, just before the first (and so far only) Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

Previously the Triennial had been designated a ‘special project’ of the Sharjah Urban Planning Council. We asked what the change to Foundation status means in practice, and we were told that it simply formalises the Triennial’s status as full-fledged institution – “while the shift in status allows us to go forward with greater assurance and independence, we’ve actually been essentially functioning as an institution from the start with governance structures, by-laws, and the ability to issue contracts/visas in our own name for a few years now. So we don’t see this change affecting what we do too much.”

So Foundation status gives the Triennial a bit more solidity, particularly in terms of governance and a degree of independence. It’s not going to loosen any ties to Sharjah, but now it doesn’t have to operate effectively at the whim of the UPC in terms of finance and strategic direction.

The decree spells out SATF’s goals: contributing to the development of architecture and urban planning in the Emirate, helping to spread the culture of architecture and urban planning generally, undertaking “urban planning challenges”, and furthering integration between the research and practical application within the field of architecture.

Of course that’s basically the same set of aims as the pre-Foundation Triennial, which spoke of “offering new spaces for critical reflection that situates the built environment within its complex social, economic, and cultural contexts… Triennial programming invites dialogue that accommodates Sharjah’s rapid urban development amidst historical shifts, ongoing cultural encounters, environmental challenges, and aspirations for the future”.

SATF will be run by a president “appointed by a decision of the ruler or his representative” who will be responsible for general policy and strategic plans, budgets and accounts, and “other tasks and powers consistent with the objectives and competencies of the Foundation” – which will include appointing a director for SATF. You might have thought that the director’s role in practice would centre on strategy and budgeting, so maybe the president will effectively be the Ruler’s representative and the conduit between the Foundation and the Emirate.

We don’t yet know who the president will be; back in July 2018 the Triennial’s director was named as Amin Alsaden, though he only served to the end of the year and no replacement seems to have been appointed.

There doesn’t seem to be any change to the curatorial policy, where each edition of the Triennial is to be led by an external curator who develops a programme of exhibitions, conferences, public talks and “urban interventions”; the Nigerian architect and designer Tosin Oshinowo has been named as the curator for the second Sharjah Architecture Triennial, opening in 2023.

The Triennial’s website is here.

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