The 15th International Architecture Exhibition – on view at at the Venice Biennale from 28 May until 27 November – has appointed Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena as its director.
Aravena explains that the exhibition will focus on learning through architectures that, via intelligence or intuition (or both), are able to escape the status quo. 'There are several battles to be won and several frontiers that need to be expanded in order to improve the quality of the built environment and consequently people’s quality of life,' he says, also stating that he would like to present cases which, despite difficulties and instead of 'resignation or bitterness', propose to actually do something.
The United Arab Emirates' Biennale pavilion aims to do just that. A far cry from the preconceived vision of buildings from the region, this year, curator Yasser Elsheshtawy – associate professor of architecture at the United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain – proposes ‘Transformations: The Emirati National House', a fascinating delve into potential permanent housing created for Bedouins. He himself lives in a later version, he tells Wallpaper* magazine, although one not as colourful as many of the antecedents.
Known as Sha’abi ('folk house'), the buildings were a basic housing model adapted by residents into individual homes reflecting culture and lifestyles. The 'National Houses', initially designed in the 1970s, are found in residential neighborhoods of most cities in the UAE and throughout the 1970s and 1980s offered homes and modern amenities to a transient local population.
This is only the second time the UAE has presented architecture at the Venice Biennale. The inaugural offering was staged in 2014 (although the UAE has participated at the International Art Exhibition since 2009), entitled 'Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the UAE'. This second pavilion, commissioned by the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, exhibits an array of builds representing unexpected standard housing typologies, composed of a series of rooms that overlook a central courtyard. Elsheshtawy, whose own multimedia work has been exhibited at New York’s Guggenheim Museum and is soon to be shown at an upcoming exhibition at New York University, explains how the design for Sha’abi is adaptable, transforming as Emirati’s families' lifestyles evolved. By addressing universal concerns in providing adaptable social housing in response to Aravena’s remit, the UAE's pavilion will display a necessary sensitivity to these transient communities.