Venice Biennale 2014: UAE Unearths “Structures of Memory”

Venice Biennale 2014: UAE Unearths “Structures of Memory”

Within the rapidly changing landscape of the United Arab Emirates, much of the nation’s vernacular and modern architecture is being quickly replaced by “iconic” contemporary structures. Despite this, many of the UAE’s previous landscape remains a vivid memory within the minds and mementos of its people.

Thus, for the UAE’s 2014 participation at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the United Arab Emirates will bring to light seminal projects of the last century that expose the transmission of architectural traditions in a way that addresses the nation’s current cultural identity.

Preservation of pre-oil vernacular architecture and a special focus on 1970s and 80s modern architecture will both serve as highlights of the exhibition. 

The UAE’s full curatorial statement, after the break...

Zayed Sports Stadium, 2014; Courtesy of Marco Sosa

From the curators: Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the United Arab Emirates, presents the seminal findings of an on-going initiative to archive the history of architecture and urban development in the UAE over the past century. Within a chronological evolution, the exhibition explores the transmission of architectural traditions from 1914-2014: vernacular to modern, modern to contemporary.

Ibrahimi Building, Abu Dhabi, façade, 1980s © Marco Sosa

The exhibition focuses on modern architecture of the 1970s-1980s, a pivotal phase of the nation’s architectural history, overshadowed by attention to either pre-oil/pre-federal vernacular structures or signature contemporary skyscrapers. The exhibition examines how public and residential modern architecture, built within a rapidly expanding urban context, shaped the newly established federation and prepared the foundation for its emergence on a global stage. The retrospective also traces the survival of vernacular and modern architectural heritage today and encourages preservation, documentation and adaptive reuse efforts. It underscores the challenge of architects working in the UAE to retain a meaningful connection with the past, while addressing current cultural identity and sustainability concerns.

Sheikh Rashid Tower, Dubai, 1983; Postcard provided by Adina Hempel

Through the display of primary evidence, tangible and intangible, the exhibition opens a conversation between industry professionals and the people who experienced the modern architecture of the UAE after it was designed and built. Some of these views and experiences are captured in filmed conversations produced for the exhibition. Much of the diverse material has been gathered and shown for the first time -- content that is typically hidden within files of architectural and engineering firms, in municipal and federal archives, in Emirati family photo albums, on travelers’ postcards, and in photographic collections. Concealed within the archival drawers of the exhibit, the compelling narrative of architectural and urban development in the UAE awaits discovery by the inquisitive viewer.

Finish of a camel race, Dubai, 1950 © Ronald Codral; Courtesy of Codrai Gulf Collection - Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority

The UAE’s national pavilion is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, and under the support of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development. Dr. Michele Bambling will serve as curator.

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Cite: Karissa Rosenfield. "Venice Biennale 2014: UAE Unearths “Structures of Memory”" 16 May 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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