National Pavilion UAE searches for environmentally friendly alternative to Portland cement in 2020 Venice Biennale exhibition ‘Wetland’

Curated by architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, the exhibition explores how the salt compounds found in the UAE’s Sabkha (salt flats) could inspire renewable building materials

The National Pavilion UAE at the 2020 Venice Biennale will present an experimental solution to the critical environmental impact of the construction industry, with an exhibition exploring how salt and mineral compounds found in the UAE’s Sabkha (salt flats) could inspire the development of renewable building materials.

The exhibition, named Wetland, is curated by architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto. Through scientific experimentation and research, the curators are attempting to create a technological equivalent of Portland cement from the crystalized salt and minerals that form the UAE’s unique Sabkha. 

“The cement industry accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions, in its production of concrete, which is the world’s second most highly-consumed material – so developing an alternative construction material without this high environmental impact is vital for shaping a sustainable future,” said curators Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, Principal Architects of waiwai design (formerly known as ibda design). “Sabkha are among the UAE’s richest geological features, and their mineral makeup has the potential to create a renewable, natural building material that is equivalent in scale, cost and strength to Portland cement. Through the Wetland exhibition project, we are experimenting with unlocking this potential through a process of scientific research.”

Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE – la Biennale di Venezia, said: “The biannual architecture edition of the Venice Biennale is a platform for architects, curators and global thinkers to collaborate and share ideas. This year marks the UAE’s tenth participation at the Biennale, and fittingly our curators are contributing to the global dialogue around environmental sustainability and climate change from a distinctively local perspective. Their work draws inspiration from one of the UAE’s most abundant and unusual natural resources to create an immersive exhibition about living in balance with our planet.”

The exhibition will be presented at the National Pavilion UAE at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale from 23 May to 29 November 2020.

The 2020 Biennale is being curated by Lebanese architect Hisham Sarkis under the theme ‘How Will We Live Together?’, which encourages curators to consider how architecture can address global challenges requiring coordinated action. The UAE’s exhibition responds to Sarkis’s call for pavilions to look at architecture’s ability to engage people and communities across increasing social, economic, political and digital divides.

Inspired by what Sarkis calls “the overlooked role of the architect as both cordial convener and custodian of the spatial contract”, the National Pavilion UAE’s curators have partnered with teams at New York University – Abu Dhabi, the American University of Sharjah and the University of Tokyo (UTokyo), who will contribute to the exhibition’s innovative technical research. In partnership with Alserkal Avenue, the 2020 curators occupied the space of Warehouse 47 in Alserkal Avenue, displaying samples of Sabkha, images and some of their experiments in preparation for the 2020 exhibition.

The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, with a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale – Sale d’Armi. 2020 marks the UAE’s tenth exhibition at the Venice Biennale since 2009 and its fourth participation in the International Architecture Exhibition.

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