Paradigms for the Future Golden Lion for Best National Participation to United Arab Emirates
The traditional production of cement is responsible for 8% or world carbon emissions. The two Emirati Pavilion’s curators, Wael Al Awar e Kenichi Teramoto, show an experimental alternative to concrete based on oversaturated saltwater, a waste product of industrial-scale desalination. The idea of a resistant, insoluble building material has been inspired by salt crystals and other minerals found in saltpans in the United Arab Emirates. The intersection of an ancient geological treasure with innovative research on sustainability becomes a model for the future..
As architects we are responsible moving forward. How can we build our future cities in a sustainable and ecological manner that will keep a planet for us?
What answer does your project give to the theme posed by Hashim Sarkis: How will we live together?
In response to Hashim Sarkis’s question, we saw this as an opportunity to explore the relationship between humans and nature.
To answer the question how we will live together as humans, it was important to start by addressing the more pressing matter of how we will live together with our planet. As humans we have never been so disconnected from nature and our planet earth. The construction industry is responsible for 40% of global pollution, 40% of resource depletion, 36% of global energy use and 40% of waste generation. Cement alone is responsible for 8% of Co2 emission. We are today a population of seven billion people and projected to grow to ten billion by 2050. As architects we are responsible moving forward. How can we build our future cities in a sustainable and ecological manner that will keep a planet for us?
Researching new materials, sustainability, urban transformation are recurring themes at this Biennale.
As architects, Teramoto and I have a deep interest in the UAE’s geography and natural landscapes inspiring our work. In researching ways to address the irreversible impact of industrial construction and desalination, we have aimed to bring vernacular architecture into the 21st century by creating a sustainable material that could recycle industrial waste and reduce the world’s reliance on Portland cement. However, this is not to say that we are promoting this material to be used across the globe for architecture in every country. It just happens that in the UAE, desalinating is huge, and we encourage other countries to take a closer look at their industrial waste. I would like to ask the question: could industrial waste of our cities be the Future Vernacular?
Let’s get to the heart of Wetland: an innovative, ecological type of concrete made with recycled brine – usually an industrial waste.
We wanted to research a solution addressing harmful environmental issues: an MgO-based alternative cement created from recycled waste brine – this is saturated saltwater left over from industrial water desalination. Our research is focused on discovering a sustainable alternative building material to Portland cement. The structure of the UAE’s natural sabkhas offers ecological insight into the world’s most vital challenge: climate change.
Our work with the National Pavilion UAE has provided us with the resources to experiment with our vision through a collaborative process. We developed our research 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 and use advanced digital engineering technology to formulate a viable structure inspired by the concept of “future vernacular” architecture.
This has enabled us to develop a proof of concept showing that locally-sourced salt-based cement is a viable, scalable alternative.
The exhibited prototype has been inspired by traditional local architecture in the UAE – specifically, coral houses, which are handmade, coral-inspired organic modules.
What role for tradition and cultural identity in the development process of modern architecture?
The prototype is the anti-thesis of modern architecture. We need to also address the production of space and architecture, not only the materials we use. How can our architecture respect our climates and reflect our culture and identity? The prototype was built without any drawings but a procedure manual that forces the builders to engage in a communal conversation to build. The Vernacular architecture of the UAE was built from corals, and we wanted the prototype to be an homage to that. Inspired from corals, we asked the builders to draw by hand their interpretation of corals into the soil moulds. I must say what is most interesting, is that during our mock-up building stages we ran experiments simultaneously in Dubai and Tokyo and each time the result was different because the students always drew different sizes and forms of what they imagined as corals.
The UAE’s sabkhas were the inspiration behind the alternative we’ve created. We were looking for examples in the natural world as inspiration in our search for an alternative to lime and came across the sabkhas, or saltpans. They are one of the UAE’s richest and most unique geological features, and a fascinating phenomenon. They can absorb more CO2 per square metre than the rainforest – but our understanding of them is in its very early stages. The salt and mineral crystallisation in the sabkhas has inspired architects for centuries, with early buildings in the region, like Egypt’s Siwa, being created from salt-based bricks, so we knew they had immense potential to inspire us.
Padiglione Emirati Arabi Uniti
Until 21 November 2021
Sale d’Armi, Arsenale