Alejandro Aravena, The UAE Pavilion, Venice Biennale for Architecture

UAE National Pavilion to highlight transformations of an Emirati National house at 2016 Venice Biennale

Transformations: The Emirati National House will be the exhibition presented by the UAE National Pavilion la Biennale di Venezia, curated by associate professor of architecture at the UAE University in Al Ain, Yasser Elsheshtawy.

The exhibition will highlight the transformations of the Emirati National house, also known as ‘Sha’abi’ (folk) house, focusing on how a basic housing model was adapted by residents to individualised homes, reflecting their culture and lifestyle.

The topic is a response to the curator of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, Alejandro Aravena’s call to present examples of how the built environment can improve people’s quality of life.

“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,”  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,” he added.

Elsheshtawy will present a number of case studies that provide lessons on how constructing an adaptable and flexible typology, as seen with the instance of the Emirati National house, can be used to address the universal concern of providing adaptable social housing.

READ MORECentury of UAE architecture to be exhibited at Venice Biennale

National houses can be  found in residential neighbourhoods around cities in the UAE. Initially designed in the 1970s, these houses were implemented throughout the 1970s and 1980s, to offer homes and modern amenities to a transient local population.

The standard housing typology 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, or Sha’abi, houses today show evidence of a cumulative accretion of various architectural elements over the years, a process of transformation from a basic model to individualised homes, which have become an important component of the etymology of the UAE’s built environment.

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The National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development.

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia will be held in Venice, Italy from May 28 to November 27, 2016.

Last year marked the UAE’s first participation at the event, with the exhibition Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the UAE, curated by Michelle Bambling.

Images are courtesy of National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia.