New material cultures – Golden Lion Award in Venice

Story in brief

In brief

This year the Golden Lion for ‘Best National Participation’ was awarded to the United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibition titled WETLAND explores new material possibilities for the construction industry and ways to improve the mineral composition of concrete in order to make it more sustainable. In response to the 2021 theme ‘How will we live together’ this exhibition proposes a material connection for humans to mineral sources and better reuse.

According to Kazuyo Sejima, Japanese architect and president of the jury, this exhibition: ‘encourages us to think about the relationship between waste and production on a local and global scale, and opens us to new construction possibilities between craft and high-technology.’ Kazuyo Sejima is founder of SANAA and was also the president of the 2010 Architecture Biennale.

WETLAND is a joint project initiated by waiwai architecture and design studio (based in Dubai and Tokyo) as the curators, in collaboration with research teams from New York University, AbuDhabi, Tokyo of University and American University of Sharjah. Waiwai is a multidisciplinary studio founded by two architects, Wael Al Awar from Lebanon and Kenichi Teramoto from Japan. Both have previously worked for Arata Isozaki, and Wael Al Awar also for SANAA.

Their contribution at the UAE Pavilion is a simple installation, in which the material qualities of the new concrete can be observed. The oval mound, made of course concrete blocks, recalls the form of a sea breaker with an armour-like appearance. Altogether there are 2400 individually handcrafted blocks, their shapes mimicking the corals that were used in the local building practice of the Emirates region until the 1960s. These types of houses have disappeared since high-rise buildings have come to dominate the urban developments.

‘Today we aim to usher in a new era of building with nature, not against it. We can do this by learning from the unconscious wisdom of the natural world, and putting our inquiring minds to the task of harnessing renewable materials.’ the curators state.

Marianna Wahlsten


Nikhilesh Haval




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