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National Pavilion UAE announce curatorial theme for 15th Venice Architecture Biennale
Examples of National (Sha'abi) Houses in Al Maqam District in Al Ain. Photography by Yasser Elsheshtawy. Courtesy National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia.


VENICE.- Yasser Elsheshtawy, curator for the National Pavilion United Arab Emirates (UAE) la Biennale di Venezia and Associate Professor of Architecture at the UAE University, Al Ain, will present Transformations: The Emirati National House, an exhibition highlighting the transformations of the Emirati national house, also known as Sha’abi (folk) house.

Responding to the call of AIejandro Aravena, curator of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, to present examples of how the built environment can improve people’s quality of life, Yasser Elsheshtawy will focus on how a basic 1970s housing model was adapted by Emirati residents to become individualised homes, reflecting their culture and life style. He will present case studies that can provide useful lessons on how constructing an adaptable and flexible typology can be used to address the universal concern of providing adaptable social housing.

National houses are found in residential neighbourhoods of most cities in the UAE. They 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. The design is highly adaptable and has transformed as Emirati families’ lifestyles evolved. Many national, or Sha’abi, houses today display a culmination of various architectural elements over the years, a process of transformation from a basic model to individualised homes, and have become an important component of the evolution of the UAE’s built environment.

“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,” Yasser 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 neighbourhoods the architectural discourse in the UAE moves to one that is concerned with the everyday spaces of its citizens.”

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.






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