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The National Pavilion UAE Exhibition Showcases A Future Vernacular Prototype Made With Eco-Friendly Cement

The green cement used for the project at the Biennale Architectura 2021 could be a pioneering solution to the global climate change issue.

For the upcoming 17th International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venzia (Venice Biennale), the National Pavilion UAE will present the “Wetland” exhibition featuring a large-scale “future vernacular” prototype. Designed by architects and exhibition curators Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto in a collaborative research process, it will be available to view from May 22 to November 21. However, experimental early versions of the prototypes are already on display at the “Wetland” research lab in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue until the end of March.

Once on show in Venice, the salt-based prototype, which is 2.7m tall and 7 x 5 metres wide on its exterior, will create a walkable interior space the size of an average room. The structure is constructed from up to 3,000 hand-cast modules made of an MgO-based cement, sustainable material that is inspired by crystallisation in the UAE’s sabkha (salt flats). And it will be complemented by commissioned photography of the sabkha by artist Farah Al Qasimi.

While working on the chemical formula for the innovative, environmentally friendly cement made of recycled industrial waste brine, the curators teamed up with specialist teams at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Amber Lab, the American University of Sharjah’s Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences and the University of Tokyo’s Obuchi Lab and Sato Lab. They also worked together to use advanced digital engineering technology to formulate a viable structure inspired by the concept of “future vernacular” architecture.

“Throughout our collaborative research process to develop a building material without the critical environmental impact of Portland cement, we’ve maintained a focus on a localised architectural practice deeply intertwined with the resources and environment of the Gulf,” the duo said in a statement. “Our MgO cement is made from brine leftover during industrial desalination, a resource that the UAE has in abundance. It has the strength and durability to be used in modern architecture in standard brick shapes, but for this exhibition, we have been inspired by the UAE’s traditional vernacular architecture of coral houses, to hand-cast modules in organic, coral-inspired shapes. In this way we are reimagining modern architectural processes and retaining a strong, poetic sense of the region’s identity and culture within the structure.”

The “Wetland’ exhibition, which will mark the UAE’s tenth presentation at the Venice Biennale, also includes a three-minute soundtrack capturing the ecological story of the UAE sabkha depicted by Al Qasimi. This includes water moving underground, the desalination process that creates brine and the exhibition’s research journey.

An accompanying publication titled “The Anatomy of Sabkhas,” written by urban researchers Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib and co-edited by Al Awar and Teramoto, will explore the ecological and socio-economic significance of these natural phenomena in detail based on case studies, personal essays and photography. A supplementary volume edited and written by Aga Khan Award-winning architect Marina Tabassum will detail Al Awar and Teramoto’s research journey for the “Wetland” exhibition.

A digital version of the exhibition will be available on the National Pavilion UAE website. 

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