The architecture and built environment of Saudi Arabia takes the international stage with the inaugural KSA pavilion at the 2018 International Architecture exhibition at the Venice Biennale. The presentation, organized by the Misk Art Institute, explores the possibilities for activating spaces of cities and buildings.
For its first-ever national contribution to the Venice Biennale, the Kingdom was allocated a generous space in the Arsenale, the main exhibition venue since 1980, originally constructed over 500 years ago to build naval and commercial ships. The co-curators — Ms. Jawaher Al Sudairy, an architectural researcher at Harvard University and Columbia University, and Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, Dean of Faculty of Design at Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University — have interpreted the overall theme of this year’s Biennale, “Freespace,” through a uniquely Saudi lens. As Al Sudairy writes:
“Over the past four decades, Saudi metropolitan centers have undergone rapid urbanization, with rural migration propelling built territories outwards. Settlement-driven growth produces disjointed, mono-functional, car-dependent neighborhoods connected by highways. In this state of fragmentation, over 40% of city land lies vacant. The wide distances between residential enclaves erode social ties and deplete natural resources. As concerns about quality of life and spatial considerations propel national economic plans, recent design and policy interventions at the municipal level attempt to reverse sprawl and encourage density.”
A pair of young Saudi architects, the brothers Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz, were selected out of more than 70 applicants to design the exhibition. The result is “Spaces in Between,” comprising three sections. First, a relaxing entrance area invites visitors to pause and explore the interior. Second, the heart of the exhibition is defined by cylindrical modules built of resin. Each of these spaces contains information presented in the form of maps, videos, images, and soundscapes to educate visitors about urban growth and life in Saudi Arabia. The third and final section is an open “forum” with flexible seating designed to encourage conversation and interaction.
The curators intend to emphasize “the role design can play in shaping social life and rebuilding community,” such as promoting greater walkability and mixed-use development. This message reinforces the Vision 2030 development initiative spearheaded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The 16th International Architecture Exhibition is open to the public through November 25, 2018.