Century of UAE architecture to be exhibited at Venice Biennale

Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezi opens this month featuring 100 years of Emirati building design and urban development

A century of architectural history and urban development across the UAE will be on show this month at an international design event in Italy.

La Biennale di Venezi will host “Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the United Arab Emirates” at its architecture exhibition. The display will take place in the UAE’s debut pavilion at the event and will be curated by Michele Brambling, who worked alongside architects Adina Hempel and Marco Sosa with advisor Hana Sayed Worrell.

Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, founder of the foundation which commissioned the work, said: “For the UAE’s first participation at the International Architecture Exhibition we are pleased to present this unique architectural narrative of our nation showcasing the journey of growth and development of our country.

“Today, we are one of the fastest growing countries in the world, and we are proud that our modernity is deeply rooted in heritage and tradition as evident in the story of the exhibition.”

The theme of the event is “‘Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014” which was set by the curator of the event Rem Koolhaas.

The UAE display presents the findings of a project to archive the history of architectural and urban development in the UAE over the past century.

With an emphasis on the 1970s-1980s, the exhibition examines how public and residential architecture, built within a rapidly expanding urban context, shaped the newly established country and prepared the foundation for its emergence on a global stage.

“I wanted to create an interactive exhibition that encourages exploration and the rewards of discovery through an open archive. I also wanted to open a conversation between architects and urban planners with citizens who experience the built environment of cities in the UAE,” explained Bambling.

“Much of the diverse material has been gathered, created for the exhibition or shown to the public for the first time – content that is typically hidden within in files of architectural and engineering firms, and in municipal and federal archives, in Emirati family photo albums, on travellers’ post cards, and in photographic collections.”

The exhibition concentrates on four periods each with a distinct theme. From 1914-49 it concentrates on vernacular architecture. The next two decade feature infrastructure. From 1971-74 structures of modernity take centre stage and the rest is retrospective and innovation.

Archive drawers hold architectural and engineering renderings, official documents, industry aerial photographs, historic photographs, family snapshots and oral histories.

The second component is filmed conversations projected on large screens which bring together the UAE’s leading professionals in architecture, engineering, education and culture.

The final element is made up of maps, figure-ground diagrams and a comprehensive timeline which features the buildings of the UAE within the context of international events and details of leading participants in development.

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