The inaugural Sharjah Architecture Triennial
is the first major platform to invite dialogue on architecture and urbanism in the Middle East, North and East Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Running from November 2019 until 8 February 2020, and curated by Adrian Lahoud, the Triennial - titled Rights of Future Generations - rethinks fundamental questions about architecture and its power to create and sustain alternative modes of existence. An opening weekend programme of performances, forums and summits is scheduled from 9 11 November.
Arising from the conviction that architecture can address climate change by emancipating itself from entrenched forms of hegemony and extractivism, Rights of Future Generations is an invitation to identify and question unspoken assumptions on which design has been based for so long. The Triennial posits one way of doing so is to pay attention to existing social struggles, including indigenous ones, against such paradigms. Crucially, such struggles often take place in territories that have found themselves at the frontline of climate change.
The Triennial announced two recently decommissioned public buildings, the Al-Qasimiyah School and the old Al Jubail Vegetable Market, as its main exhibition venues. The venues resonate with the broader themes of the triennial through a commitment to adaptive reuse and intergenerational legacy. Both venues, leading examples of 1970s and 80s architecture across Sharjah and the wider United Arab Emirates, will be variously activated by the participants projects displayed therein.
Architect Mona El Mousfy, advisor to the Sharjah Architecture Triennial and currently leading the renovation of the Al-Qasimiyah School, further explains:
We consciously opted to work with the possibilities of existing structures in the city rather than start with a blank slate. Not only is this approach environmentally sustainable, but it also creates a layered architecture in continuous dialogue, building upon the citys history and memories while responding to contemporary uses and evolving aspirations. We believe that thoughtful adaptive reuse of culturally valuable buildings supports the re-evaluation and transformation of architecture.
Educational development was prioritized in the period following the UAEs formation in 1971 and the Al-Qasimiyah School is based on the mid-1970s federal commission of an elementary school prototype designed by the engineering consultancy Khatib and Alami. Twenty-six such schools are distributed across Sharjah City as well as three Indian Ocean port towns of Dibba Al-Hisn, Khor Fakkan, and Kalba and several others across the Emirates. The renovated school is the first example of adaptive reuse of these recognizable UAE buildings. It retains a strong sense of the original structure as well as its educational purpose by creating an invaluable resource for a future generation of architects.
Led by Triennial advisor El Mousfy, who has recently been shortlisted for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2019, the renovation works to preserve the modern heritage of Sharjah. It offers a community hub, complete with a library, café and exhibition spaces, alongside the Triennials permanent headquarters. El Mousfys research-based design studio SpaceContinuum focuses on cultural and social spaces and dwellings; she has also served as the Architecture Consultant for the Sharjah Art Foundation since 2005.
The old Vegetable Market, adjacent to the central Al Jubail bus station, was built in the early 1980s and decommissioned when the new Al Jubail Vegetable Market opened in 2015. The curved arcade is part of the citys old Jubail Souk complex, designed by the British engineering consultancy Halcrow Group a firm that has played a significant role in the development of the regions civil infrastructure. The choice of the market building as a venue anchors the Triennial within the context of Sharjahs long history as a trade hub, with a vibrant, multi-ethnic landscape cultivated by migration and exchange.
Across these two venues, both definitive examples of Sharjahs architecture, various participants will present projects that address specific conditions across the Global South in relation to architecture, colonialism and environment.