January 7, 2016 - United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice International Architecture Biennale - Transformations: The Emirati National House
January 7, 2016

United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice International Architecture Biennale

Examples of National (Sha’abi) Houses in Al Maqam District, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Courtesy United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice International Architecture Biennale. Photo: Yasser Elsheshtawy.

Transformations: The Emirati National House
May 28–November 27, 2016

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Yasser Elsheshtawy, curator for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Pavilion at the Venice International Architecture Biennale, will present Transformations: The Emirati National House, an exhibition highlighting the Emirati National House, also known as Sha’abi (folk) house, at the 15th Venice International Architecture Biennale, from May 28 to November 27, 2016. His focus is on how a basic housing model was adapted by residents to individualized homes, thus reflecting their culture and lifestyle.

The United Arab Emirates Pavilion is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development.

The exhibition will feature case studies exploring useful lessons on constructing an adaptable and flexible architectural typology, and address the universal concern of providing adaptable social housing.

National Houses are found in residential neighborhoods of cities in the UAE. Initially designed in the 1970s, they were implemented throughout the 1970s and 1980s to offer homes and modern amenities to a transient local population.

The standard National House is composed of a series of rooms overlooking a central square courtyard, and has proved to be highly adaptable as Emirati families’ lifestyles evolved. Many National Houses today show evidence of a cumulative accretion of various architectural elements, a process of transformation from a basic model to individualized homes which have become an important component of the etymology of the UAE’s built environment.

“This exploration of Emirati Sha’abi housing responds to the Biennale’s theme, which reflects on the ways in which the built environment can be formed to improve people’s quality of life,” Yasser Elsheshtawy explains. “Through the provision of a flexible model, inspired by older and existing buildings and their specific layout, the initial architects enabled residents to modify their homes to fit their needs. Changes occurred in allocated plot size and detailing but the basic framework remained the same. These houses proved to be highly adaptable with residents making a series of changes so that these models could be made more compatible with their lifestyle and local culture. Moreover by focusing on such neighborhoods the architectural discourse in the UAE moves to one that is concerned with the everyday spaces of its citizens.”

“For our second participation in the Venice International Architecture Biennale, we are proud that the United Arab Emirates Pavilion will explore the evolution of this element of local architectural heritage,” said Khulood Al Atiyat, Projects Manager – Arts, Culture & Heritage at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation. “As the UAE emerges as a global centre for arts and culture the United Arab Emirates Pavilion continues its commitment to further the arts and architectural practices of the UAE by facilitating a dialogue with the international community through its exhibitions.”

The inaugural participation of the UAE at the Venice Biennale commenced in 2009 and has continued in each art exhibition. 2014 marked the UAE’s first participation in the International Architecture Exhibition.

The 2015 exhibition, 1980–Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates, curated by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, was a retrospective on contemporary art exhibitions in the Emirates over the last 40 years through an unprecedented grouping of over 100 works, which will now return to the UAE where it will be hosted at the Sharjah Art Foundation between February 13 and May 14, 2016.

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