Saudi’s pavilion for Venice Biennale reflects country’s tension between tradition and liberalisation
Saudi Arabia has recently revealed its first ever pavilion for the 2018 Venice Biennale, entitled ‘Spaces in Between’, which will be organised by the Misk Art Institute and designed by Bricklab’s Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz.
According to a statement released by the institute, the Saudi pavilion will explore new possibilities for the utilisation of “liminal spaces to increase socialisation and community building within Saudi’s rapidly expanding cities.” It added that Saudi metropolitan centres have undergone rapid urbanisation, with rural migration propelling built territories outwards. This settlement-driven growth has produced disjointed, mono-functional, car-dependent neighbourhoods connected by highways.
Consequently, 40 percent of city land lays vacant with wide distances between residential enclaves “eroding social ties and depleting natural resources.” The pavilion will further emphasise the role architects have in reckoning this fragmented urbanisation, and steering development inward with empty lots repurposed into convivial public spaces that encourage social interaction.
While Saudi Arabia has undergone rapid change since its oil boom, a tension has risen between traditional and modern values, exasperated by the expansion of its urban fabric. According to the architects, while there has always existed a common consensus among Saudis that the preservation of their traditions overrides modernisation, the way Saudi cities are occupied reflects otherwise.
“Acknowledging this tension and radically reconsidering the role of tradition in shaping contemporary Saudi society is imperative for our future development,” the architects told designMENA. “This is translated into the Saudi Pavilion in its materiality — we have developed a unique material composed of resin and sand to create the walls and floors of the pavilion.
“Resin as a petrochemical byproduct was chosen to symbolise the nation’s oil dependent economy, and sand on the other hand was used to reflect Saudi Arabia’s predominant natural landscape. by bringing the two together we are emphasising a need to move beyond oil dependency and to reassess our natural and cultural heritage to be engaged more critically for the development of our society.”
Other materials that have been embedded in the resin further reflect how the oil economy has glossed over and changed modern lifestyles in the country. A traditional carpet is used to reference spaces of gathering and social inclusion, while broken bits of phones and other electronics are also embedded in the resin to highlight the consumption of virtual public space on social media platforms and “its ultimate failure in reforming our community.”