The Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023 has launched with the global UAE festival opening its doors to the public over the weekend. Its theme, ‘The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability', has been set by its curator, Lagos-based architect Tosin Oshinowo of Oshinowo Studio (formerly cmDesign Atelier), who has pulled out all the stops to create a true global showcase for the festival's second edition. Exhibits are set to 'explore how we can create meaningful spaces that speak to their local environments and will highlight the contextual architects that are currently doing so', she told us during an interview earlier this year.
Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023: what to expect
Launching with a three-day celebration programme comprising talks, tours, screenings, workshops, and performances, the Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023 puts the spotlight on the Global South, and architects' solutions for the territory's conditions of scarcity. Hoor Al Qasimi, president and director of Sharjah Art Foundation, highlighted at the opening the importance of this platform, which is 'rare in this part of the world, and is free and accessible to all'.
Oshinowo's curation is sharp but also broad, with carefully selected displays, as she investigates her theme from different angles. Her focus? Sustainability in the broader sense, which encompasses notions of community and who architecture and this event is addressed to ('everyone, in different ways', is her answer), as well as ideas around modernity and prosperity. 'The cornucopian model is unsustainable,' she said at the event's official opening ceremony. 'It is beyond an apology or acknowledgment of wrong. It's about planning together a constructive plan for the future. And it's not about going back. It's about looking back to go forward.'
A wide range of acclaimed participants (spanning exhibitors and participants in a rich events programme) include Lesley Lokko (curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, architect and founder of the African Futures Institute in Accra), Rahul Mehrotra (Founder of RMA Architects and Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design), Cave_bureau, DAAR – Sandi Hilal & Alessandro Petti (who won the Golden Lion at the recent Venice Architecture Biennale 2023), Hive Earth, and Olorunfemi Adewuyi, architectural associate at Studio Contra – among many more.
Highlights from the Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023 exhibitions
A total of 29 contributions feature within the Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023's main show, which is spread across five main sites – Al Qasimiyah School, the old Al Jubail vegetable market, the old slaughterhouse, Industrial Area 5, the Sharjah Mall, and Al Madam (a ghost village in the desert, about an hour's drive from the city centre).
The venues themselves offer a fitting backdrop to their displays, as Oshinowo carefully planned what goes where and worked with exhibitors to find the best home for their design. Limbo Accra's SUPER LIMBO, for instance, which examines the future and potential of abandoned construction sites, could not be in a better venue than the paused-half-way-through-construction Sharjah Mall.
Meanwhile, exhibition designers Space Caviar oversaw the way everything comes together from their own perspective, working with found objects and raw construction materials to craft an appropriate setting for each exhibit to sing on its own.
At the Al Qasimiyah School, where the largest proportion of participations can be found, highlights include a powerful (conceptually but also olfactorily, due to its production method in cardboard papier-mâché) piece by Sandra Poulson on dust in Luanda, and how it defined urban borders and became an 'accidental gift'; an open-air 'corridor' by Vinu Daniel and Wallmakers created in desert sand and some of the (terrifying amount of) used tyres discarded across the globe every three minutes; a peaceful and cool pavilion made of earth by architect Sumaya Dabbagh; Nifemi Marcus-Bello's exploration in design as an open-source good, using the example of Lagos' 'Meruwa' carts for supplying water; and Natura Futura's floating housing structures in Ecuador.
The old vegetable market's linear sequence of displays works very well, offering a good pace through pieces such as Olalekan Jayifous' signature speculative retrofuturist extravaganza, which on this occasion touches upon Sharjah's and the UAE's oil boom and evolution in the 20th century; Ruína Architecture's explorations in the reuse of demolition waste; and Thomas Egoumenides’ comment on authenticity, through his installation 'The Ship of Theseus'.
It culminates at the nearby abandoned slaughterhouse, which has been added to the triennial venues this year for the first time and is occupied by two of the event’s strongest installations. One is Cave_bureau's newest edition of its 'Anthropocene Museum' project, which places animals as protagonists and examines our attitudes to thoughtless consumption and growth through bold visuals, physical interventions to the building fabric, and sounds. The second piece is Adrian Pepe's intensely site-specific and rather uncanny installation made from the gathered pelts of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, which are a by-product of the slaughtering process.
Alongside Limbo Accra's presence at Sharjah Mall, two more installations are located off the main sites, but they are truly worth the visit. Papa Omotayo (behind Yinka Shonibare's Ecology Green Farm in Nigeria) and Eve Nnaji of MOE+AA/ADD-apt have created a celebration of the fragile nature and birds found in the heart of one of Sharjah's several industrial areas.
Made of recycled materials, it is a publically accessible pavilion, where one can wander in and contemplate notions of 'tending, caring and observing'.
The third off-site piece, and the furthest away, but one that must not be missed, is DAAR's 'Concrete Tent', set in Al Madam Village, near the borders with Oman and about an hour's drive from Sharjah centre.
The urban context, built in the 1970s but since abandoned, feels a fitting, emotive setting for DAAR's comment around the permanence of temporary conditions, and becomes a powerful place for mourning. Visitors are invited into the tent, made from a repurposed solid wood frame and concrete-like appliqué, to reflect on migrant populations, their living conditions across the world, and the tragic death of children in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
This is a triennial that examines its themes through carefully selected installations that read as a well-rounded whole. Materials, human habits, challenging ideas, communities, the past, the present and imagined futures are all here, bringing together a thought-provoking result.
'This Triennial is a labour of love and opportunity for discovery,' said Oshinowo. 'It will provide people with an opportunity to think differently about spaces, practices, and designs across the Global South. As an architect coming from practice, it is very important to me that the triennial is inclusive. Visitors will not need to have prior knowledge to engage with the ideas on display. Whether you have a strong understanding of design or not, you should be able to take something away from the triennial.'
Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023, 'The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability' runs 11 November 2023 – 10 March 2024 in the UAE
Receive our daily digest of inspiration, escapism and design stories from around the world direct to your inbox
Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
Aesop gift kits signal it’s time for harmony and hand balm
Aesop’s Resonant Gestures gift kits come with specially composed musical tracks to tend to mind, body and home
By Simon Mills Published
Jesse Darling wins the Turner Prize 2023
Tinie Tempah announced Jesse Darling as the Turner Prize 2023 winner
By Hannah Silver Published
Fernando Laposse creates a flower garden for Maison Perrier-Jouët at Design Miami 2023
Perrier-Jouët enlisted Mexican designer Fernando Laposse to interpret its Art Nouveau values with a Design Miami 2023 installation titled ‘The Pollination Dance’ (on view until 10 December 2023)
By Rosa Bertoli Published
Installation SUPER LIMBO activates the empty building site of Sharjah Mall
SUPER LIMBO installation by Limbo Accra and Ivorian textile brand Super Yaya uses weaving methods to activate the paused building site of Sharjah Mall during Sharjah Architecture Triennial 2023
By Nana Ama Owusu-Ansah Published
East Architecture Studio, Lebanon and UAE: Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2023
East Architecture Studio, with a base in Lebanon and the UAE, joins the ranks of the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2023, our annual round-up of exciting emerging architecture studios
By Ellie Stathaki Published
Oberoi Beach Resort, Al-Zorah by Piero Lissoni is an understated UAE gem
The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al-Zorah by Piero Lissoni offers beach breaks and contemporary design in the UAE
By Daven Wu Published
Roar, UAE: Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2022
Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory is our annual round-up of exciting emerging architecture studios. Our 2022 list includes UAE-based studio Roar, with this minimalist home in Dubai
By Martha Elliott Last updated
Louvre Abu Dhabi Residences to elevate art of living in UAE
A new development of 400 exclusive residences will offer the chance to live alongside the iconic Louvre Abu Dhabi in the heart of the UAE’s Saadiyat Island Cultural District
By Simon Mills Last updated
Dubai welcomes the Museum of the Future
Killa Design and the Dubai Future Foundation launch the Museum of the Future in Dubai, which opens its doors to the public today (22 February 2022)
By Ellie Stathaki Last updated
Expo 2020 Dubai: the ultimate tour, from districts to pavilions
Expo 2020 Dubai has opened and with it three structures highlighting Sustainability, Mobility, and Opportunity, a Thematic District, and 192 national pavilions; take the tour
By Ellie Stathaki Last updated
David Adjaye unveils plans for Africa Institute in Sharjah
Adjaye Associates designs the Africa Institute, a new centre for the study, research and documentation of Africa and the African diaspora in the Arab world, in Sharjah, UAE
By Ellie Stathaki Last updated