National Pavilion UAE wins Golden Lion Award for Best National Participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale

The National Pavilion UAE was awarded the Golden Lion Award for best National Participation at La Biennale Architettura 2021 at an awards ceremony in Venice on 30 August 2021. The Golden Lion award is the Biennale’s top honor.

Curated by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, Wetland, the National Pavilion UAE’s tenth exhibition at La Biennale Architettura, was selected by the Biennale jury for being “a bold experiment that encourages us to think about the relationship between waste and production on a local and global scale, and opens us to new construction possibilities between craft and high-technology”, Kazuyo Sejima, President of this year’s jury said at the ceremony.

Wael Al Awar Curator of Wetland_NPUAE_Photo by Andrea Avezzu_Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia
Wael Al Awar Curator of Wetland_NPUAE_Photo by Andrea Avezzu_Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE, said: “Following ten exceptionally thought-driven and creative exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, National Pavilion UAE is honored to be chosen for the Golden Lion Award for best National Participation out of 60 national pavilions. This is a testament to the work we have been doing to contribute to the UAE’s evolving art ecosystem, and a recognition of our continued efforts to tell the UAE’s untold stories in a globally relevant way. Winning this award also coincides with a milestone participation for us, as well as the UAE’s landmark 50th anniversary this December. Wael and Teramoto have put forward a notable contribution at the heart of a global conversation surrounding sustainable building, which makes us very proud that Wetland demonstrates yet another exemplar untold story from the UAE.”

Curator and Architect, Wael Al Awar, who accepted the award on behalf of the Pavilion at the ceremony said: “Marking a tenth successful participation for National Pavilion UAE in Venice, we are honored to accept this award. I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the National Pavilion UAE team, the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, the Ministry of Culture and Youth and all our cross-discipline collaborators who have enabled us to bring Wetland to life with their continued support. We are very proud and humbled as we continue to spotlight potential solutions to global issues and move towards the future.”

Wetland presents a prototype of an environmentally friendly salt-based cement alternative from recycled industrial waste brine, which could reduce the impact the construction industry has on the environment.

The exhibition, which will remain on display until November 21, 2021 also celebrates the UAE’s Sabkhas (salt flats), which inspired the research for the development of the renewable building material, through large-scale images of the UAE’s UNESCO World Heritage Site-nominated sabkhas (salt flats) created by New York-based Emirati artist Farah Al Qasimi.

The curators worked with specialist teams at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Amber Lab, the American University of Sharjah’s Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and the University of Tokyo’s Obuchi Lab and Sato Lab to develop the chemical formula for the cement.

A publication titled The Anatomy of Sabkhas, written by urban researchers Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib and co-edited by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, accompanied the exhibition, and explored the ecological and socio-economic significance of these natural phenomena in detail based on case studies, personal essays, and photography. A supplementary volume edited and written by Aga Khan Award-winning architect Marina Tabassum details the journey of Wael and Teramoto’s research for the Wetlandexhibition.

The news marks the region’s second ever country pavilion to win the Golden Lion, following the Kingdom of Bahrain which was awarded the Golden Lion for the best national participation at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition in 2010. 

The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth. The current exhibition,Wetland, is curated by Wael Al Awar, Principal Architect and founding partner of waiwai, an award-winning multidisciplinary architecture, landscape, graphic and urban design studio, and architect Kenichi Teramoto who was a founding partner of waiwai and recently founded the Office of Teramoto in Japan.

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