Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, both principals of Dubai-based Waiwai design, have been appointed as the curators for the National Pavilion of the UAE at the 2021 Venice Biennale. Entitled Wetland, the exhibition presents an experimental solution to the critical environmental impact of the construction industry. The intervention will present a large-scale prototype structure created from an innovative, environmentally friendly cement made of recycled industrial waste brine. The exhibition will open to the public at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale from Saturday, May 22nd to Sunday, November 21st, 2021.
The National Pavilion of UAE will present an eco-friendly cement prototype and photographs by Farah Al Qasimi at the 2021 Venice Biennale. Exploring “sea salt as a traditional, locally-sourced building material, and its potential uses for developing sustainable habitation in desert environments like the UAE”, the prototype is 2.7m tall and 7m x 5m wide on its exterior, creating a walkable interior space. Formed from up to 3000 modules, the intervention is made of an MgO-based cement designed by the curators, Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, in collaboration with 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.
Throughout our collaborative research process to develop a building material without the critical environmental impact of Portland cement, we’ve maintained a focus on a localized architectural practice deeply intertwined with the resources and environment of the Gulf. Our MgO cement is made from brine leftover during industrial desalination, a resource that the UAE has in abundance. It has the strength and durability to be used in modern architecture in standard brick shapes, but for this exhibition, we have been inspired by the UAE’s traditional vernacular architecture of coral houses, to hand-cast modules in organic, coral-inspired shapes. In this way we are reimagining modern architectural processes and retaining a strong, poetic sense of the region’s identity and culture within the structure. -- Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, architects and curators of the pavilion
The prototype will be set against 4.5 meters wide, 3 meter high photographs of the Al Ruwais sabkha (salt flats), taken by New York-based Emirati artist Farah AlQasimi. Capturing the tension between urbanization and nature in the UAE’s sabkha, the images will be accompanied by a 3-minute soundtrack capturing the ecological story of the sabkhas with water moving underground, the desalination process that creates brine, and the exhibition’s research journey.
The scenery of the sabkha sites presents a moment of conflict and resolution. On and below the earth, the sabkha is a serene living environment with many layers of water, sand, salt, and micro-organisms which have evolved in harmony to create a delicate ecological system that absorbs more carbon per square meter than the rainforest. But directly above this natural phenomenon are high-tension voltage cables running to massive industrial facilities nearby, emitting an ear-splitting electrical buzz. My photographs of the site capture this tension between industrialization and the environment. I’m very proud to be contributing to the UAE’s pavilion, working with a cosmopolitan research team that really reflects the nation’s diversity. -- Farah Al Qasimi
The 2020 Venice Biennale, curated by Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis under the theme How Will We Live Together? explores the potential of architecture as an enabler “to engage people and communities across increasing social, economic, political and digital divides”. Marking the UAE’s tenth exhibition at the Venice Biennale, the curators were selected after an open call that attracted both a national and an international audience with 97 proposals, showcasing “diverse ideas and vibrant perspectives on local and global architecture from a variety of voices”. The National Pavilion of the UAE for the Biennale di Venezia is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development.
Wetland’s opening will mark the UAE’s tenth participation in the Venice Biennale, set against the inspirational context of the UAE’s 50th national anniversary. The exhibition presents a truly groundbreaking potential solution to the global issue of climate change, through a project that is rooted in our local stories, environment and society – reflecting the National Pavilion UAE’s commitment to tell the UAE’s untold stories while facilitating global dialogue. The ancient ecology of the sabkha will be brought to life in Venice through images by Farah Al Qasimi, one of the UAE’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. -- Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia
Wael Al Awar founded waiwai design (formerly ibda design) in 2009 after moving back to the Middle East from Tokyo. He has extensive experience in designing projects of various scales and programs, including art centers and parks, school and university campuses, mixed-use developments, private villas, and mosques. With interests in natural phenomena, landscape, and formless diagrams of relations, Wael has a multi-disciplinary approach to design and is always looking to challenge conventional processes to push the boundaries of design. Wael has worked in the Middle East, the West and for several years in Tokyo, working with renowned Japanese architects. He has developed a strong cultural understanding and geographical sensitivity to different project contexts and offers the perspective of a permanent outsider working with no geographical boundaries. Wael holds a B.Arch from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.
Kenichi Teramoto joined ibda design as a principal architect and partner in 2012 and became a founding partner in waiwai following its 2019 rebranding. Previously, Teramoto worked with renowned architects in Tokyo and Rotterdam, on local and international projects, building an extensive design experience in both Asia and Europe. His architectural design proficiency includes a diverse range of projects including art centers and parks, school and university campuses, mixed-use developments, private villas, and mosques. Teramoto's working experiences have trained him to develop an understanding of culture, geography and materiality. His approach to design is multi-disciplinary, and he has a deep interest in natural phenomena and structure. He is always re-questioning the design approach with the aim of delivering a distinctive design. Teramoto holds an M.Arch from Tokyo University of Science, Japan.
Commissioner: The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation
Supporter: Ministry of Culture and Youth
- Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, Research Directors
- Ryuji Kamon, Head of Research and Lab Prototyping
- Lujaine Rizk, Lab and Research Coordinator
- Aisha Al Sahlawi, Lab and Research Assistant
- Dina Al Khatib, Lab Documentation
- Ibrahim Khamis, Lab Assistant
- Ahmad Beydoun, Lab Assistant
- Adomas Zeineldin, Lab Assistant
- Ibrahim Ibrahim, Lab Assistant
- Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, Lab Space
- New York University, Abu Dhabi, Amber Lab
- Dr Kemal Celik, Assistant Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering
- Dr Rotana Hay, Research Scientist
- Dr Abdullah Khalil, Postdoctoral Associate
- Dr Ghanim Kashwani, Postdoctoral Associate
- Cornelius Otchere, Student Assistant
- Sara Alanis, Student Assistant
- Roshan Poudel, Student Assistant
- University of Tokyo, Sato Lab and Obuchi Lab
- Jun Sato, Structural Designer
- Yusuke Obuchi, Digital Fabrication Designer
- Mika Araki, Structural Designer
- American University of Sharjah, Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences
- Dr Lucia Pappalardo, Associate Professor of Chemistry
- Aysha Shabnam, Research and Lab Assistant