Architectural diagrams, photographs, scale models and archival material tells the story of this year’s UAE Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, entitled ‘Transformations: The Emirati National House’.
The exhibition explores the transformative aspect of the housing model of the Emirati national houses, known in Arabic as sha’bi (folk) house, which were introduced across the UAE from the 1970s in order to offer homes and modern amenities to the population.
These types of houses are found in residential neighbourhoods of most cities across the UAE, with the standard typlogy involving a series of rooms that are overlooking a central courtyard. While first designed as a standard housing model, there has been architectural modifications made to the basic structure to cater to the changing lifestyles of the residents.
The exhibition itself, curated by associate professor of architecture at the UAE University and expert on regional architecture and urban planning, Yasser Elsheshtawy, features historical and technical materials including detailed architectural analysis of a present day national house, archival newspaper clippings that document the initial start of the National Housing program, as well as photographs by Dutch photographer Gerard Klijn, taken in the 70s. It also features specifically commissioned photographs by Emirati photographer Reem Falaknaz.
The exhibition is presented in the UAE’s permanent pavilion in Venice’s Arsenale- Sale d’Armi, and is divided into four interwoven sections, conceptualised as a series of scales moving from the regional down to an individual house that is laid out on a grid is separated by wall panels that draw visitors through the story of the national house.
The four sections includes the following: the History section presents archival images, documents and videos that record the establishment of the National Housing project throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. It also includes aerial photographs by captured by British Petroleum.
Next comes the Neighbourhood section that examines the urban fabric of the national housing developments at a city-wide scale including an interactive map as well as architectural models. The House section develops a detailed analysis of the national house at an individual level, through the use of massing models, elevation drawings and diagrams that present the changes of each building within a contemporary neighbourhood.
Lastly, the Central section, which is the centerpiece of the exhibition, presents a detailed case study of a single national house and the Emirati family who continue to live there.