UAE pavilion wins prestigious Golden Lion award at Venice Architecture Biennale

The Silver Lion was awarded to an installation that traces the transformation of a farm in Gaza

Roberto Cicutto, president of the Venice Biennale, applauds as Italy's culture minister Dario Franceschini, left, awards the Golden Lion for the Best National Participation to Wael Al Awar, right, curator of the Wetland project. EPA
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Wetland, the UAE's innovative pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, has been awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Best National Participation.

In giving the award, the Golden Lion jury commended the UAE’s exhibit for making visitors consider the relationship between waste and production, saying it “opens us to new construction possibilities between craft and high technology”.

It is the 10th time the UAE has participated in the Venice Biennale. This year's event, which runs until November 21, is held under the theme How Will We Live Together?.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, described the award on social media as a “testament to the talent and ingenuity that represents the UAE”.

More than 60 countries developed national pavilions, in addition to the UAE’s Wetland exhibition, which was curated by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto.

Wetland examines the potential for creating sustainable building materials from the UAE’s salt flats, or sabkhas, and features an environmentally friendly cement produced with recycled desalinated water.

The exhibit is inspired by traditional coral houses, but its ground-breaking cement has the strength and durability to be used in modern architecture in standard brick shape.

A series of Farah Al Qasimi’s photographs was commissioned to complement the installation, showing the interplay between the salt flats and industrial development.

At its opening in May, Al Kaabi said the exhibit provided “a rare opportunity to present stories and ideas that define the UAE”.

“This culture of bridge-building and multinational exchange is fundamental to who we are as a nation," she said.

"Wetland presents a truly insightful idea, and a fresh perspective on the global issue of climate change. Developing more sustainable ways of balancing the needs of the modern world with the need to protect our environment is absolutely critical, and very high on the UAE's national strategic agenda."

Amsterdam's Fast wins Silver Lion for Gaza project

A project by the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (Fast) from Amsterdam was awarded the Silver Lion for "a promising young participant".

Dubbed Watermelons, Sardines, Crabs, Sands, and Sediments, the project is the latest iteration of Fast's Border Ecologies and the Gaza Strip initiative, which "explores the emergence of unexpected spaces in response to stresses and war at the Israeli-Palestinian border."

The project was developed in collaboration with the Qudaih family in Gaza. It traces the transformation of the family's farm on the southeastern end of Khuza’a – a Palestinian agricultural village along one of the territory’s most militarised borders with Israel.

For the Biennale, Fast conducted several interviews with Amir Qudaih and his family, detailing daily life on the farm.

"Linking mundane material, such as watermelon, sardines, sand and sediment, to bureaucratic protocols, Israeli-imposed restrictions, and continued acts of violence, these stories attest to the Khuza’a community’s continual engagement in collective acts of survival, resistance, mutual aid, and solidarity," the project's website reads.

One of the stories, Wheat and Weddings, shows how marriage ceremonies are held on two small wheat fields in Gaza.

"Late spring marks both a celebration of the end of the wheat harvest and the beginning of the wedding season," the website reads. "Unlike other farmland in the area, on which farmers rotate crops year-round, these two fields are used only for monocropping to allow space for communal gatherings and wedding parties in the summer."

The project also features an installation composed of a dining table and a custom-made tablecloth designed by Malkit Shoshan and Sandra Kassenaar in collaboration with the Qudaih family.

Two projections juxtapose short videos captured on mobile phones by Khuza’a farmers. The exhibition also includes photographs, short stories and testimonies, as well as a website that makes the exhibition material accessible online.

Updated: August 31, 2021, 1:06 PM