January 27, 2021 - United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice Biennale - Wetland
e-flux Architecture
January 27, 2021
January 27, 2021

United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Courtesy of National Pavilion UAE at the Venice Biennale.

National Pavilion UAE at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale
May 22–November 21, 2021

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For its tenth participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale, the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates is conducting groundbreaking research into an environmentally-friendly cement alternative inspired by the UAE’s Sabkhas (salt flats) and created from salts and minerals extracted from waste brine.

An accompanying book titled The Anatomy of Sabkhas, written by urban researchers Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib, will explore the ecological and socio-economical significance of these natural phenomena in detail based on case studies, personal essays, and photography. Aga Khan Award-winning architect Marina Tabassum will detail the research journey carried out by the UAE’s curators, Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, in a supplementary volume.

The production of traditional cement generates 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions, while brine, highly-saturated saltwater left over from industrial water desalination, is often poured back into the oceans with significant impact on marine life and ecosystems. In partnership with specialist teams at NYU Abu Dhabi, the American University of Sharjah and the University of Tokyo, the curators are researching a solution addressing both these issues: a strong, insoluble MgO-based alternative cement inspired by the crystallized salts and minerals found in the UAE’s Sabkhas, and created from recycled waste brine.

Wael and Teramoto will present their research to date at The World Around Summit, a global architecture conference examining the most urgent topics related to the environment, equity and the city, on 30 January. To register, visit theworldaround.com.

Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE,​ said: “The National Pavilion UAE provides a high-profile platform for curatorial and research concepts that address international conversations from a distinctive local perspective. Wetland and the accompanying research put the UAE at the heart of a vital global dialogue about the future of architecture and its impact on climate change and our natural resources.”

Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto said: “The structure of the UAE’s natural sabkhas offers ecological insight into the world’s most vital challenge: climate change. In researching ways to address the irreversible impact of industrial construction and desalination, we have aimed to bring vernacular architecture into the 21st century by creating a sustainable material that could recycle  industrial waste and reduce the world’s reliance on Portland cement. Our work with the National Pavilion UAE has provided us with the resources to experiment with this vision through a collaborative process, enabling us to develop a proof of concept showing that locally-sourced salt-based cement is a viable, scalable alternative.”

Ahmed and Rashid bin Shabib said: “As renewable energy, climate change and sustainability become the most urgent cause of our generation, we must turn to the natural world for answers. One square meter of sabkha can sequester more carbon than one square meter of rainforest, yet our understanding of them is still in its early stages. Through this publication we demonstrate that the UAE’s sabkha are an essential part of our ecological order and are vital to plant growth, animal migration and biodiversity. We ask how we can preserve, study and nurture sabkha from both a rural perspective, looking at their geological networks, and an urban one, exploring humans’ rich historic relationships with the sabkha as a natural resource.”

The project is scheduled to be presented at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale from May 22 to November 21, 2021. While preparing for the exhibition, the National Pavilion UAE continues to monitor the situation closely with the safety of staff and visitors as its top priority.

United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
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