Sharjah Architecture Triennial
The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability
The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability, the second Sharjah Architecture Triennial curated by Tosin Oshinowo, reflects on how issues of scarcity in the Global South have created a culture of re-use, re-appropriation, innovation, collaboration and adaptation. The thirty selected participants showcase how innovative design solutions can reorient global conversations to create a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable future.
Each project is situated within the historic and cultural context of Sharjah - creating collaborative installations that utilize local materials and knowledge. Space Caviar followed closely the development of each participant's project encouraging them to follow a common goal of creating an exhibition without waste. We discussed alternatives to materials commonly used in the exhibitions such as drywall and styrofoam and worked to collaborate with locally sourced materials and learn techniques and tools from the surrounding context.
The curatorial statement put forward by Tosin Oshinowo was one that resonated deeply with us. Especially at this moment, we felt the Triennial was an important place for solidarity and care both for the planet and for each other.
Industrial Areas of Sharjah
When we first visited Sharjah, we went straight to the surrounding areas of the Triennial sites. We were interested in the grid of the city - divided into 'Industrial Areas' (1,2,3,4,5 etc). Each area sells a different highly specific product and many of these areas sell used and second-hand materials. Some sold used insulation panels - likely excess production from projects that are then stored in these material storage yards, others sold old car parts - 1/2 of a car stacked in tall piles, another rented scaffolding and wooden boards, and others produced and sold bricks some of which were in small quantities and colorful - a surplus from color testing for various architectural projects and now used in our exhibition design. The glass on top of the pedestals also came from one of these Industrial Areas. We asked the producer what their most common size was (a shower door) and based our pedestal modules on these dimensions so that the glass could be returned to the glass Industrial Area following the exhibition.
We were very inspired by our visits to these Industrial Areas, to see the towers of these materials and how the workers in the Industrial Areas used the materials as ready-made furnitures and public space. A pile of bricks turned into a seat and a stack of insulation panels for lunch in the shade. We wanted to bring that same quality to the Triennial and highlight this interesting material economy that exists adjacent to the exhibition venues.
An Exhibition that Produces No Waste
Our goal was to produce an exhibition that would not generate waste - in order to do this, Space Caviar proposed to form collaborations between several industrial area vendors, contractors, and SAT. The new and used construction materials were brought to the venues of the Triennial to create a landscape of material storage. This stock was in turn constructed into spaces of public space and display. We designed areas for the public program such as a cinema, workshop areas, and the public arena.
This collaboration aims to make visible the externalities that construct not only Sharjah but much of the UAE and begin conversations around the material economy of the architecture we design and build. Following the duration of the exhibition the materials (unchanged - uncut etc.) will be returned to their vendors and contractors towards future constructions.
As with many of our other exhibition set-ups, we wanted to use it as an opportunity to rethink the materials we use in exhibition design. We approached this exhibition with what we often refer to as our 'the hardware store model' looking to see what is locally available and renting materials for temporary exhibitions. This palette of materials produces an alternative to the aesthetic normally seen in exhibitions. We consider the design of an exhibition as a research process, in which innovation is urgently needed in order to rethink the vast amounts of waste typically produced by these events.
This exhibition is intentionally heavy - to make visible the weight of architectural materials. There are no secret wooden boxes hidden within the brick pedestals. Far too often the materials we build with are rendered invisible and remain an externality. At the same time, the exhibition is modular, unglued, and moveable. It is designed to be dismantled and returned to new or original uses.
In many ways, the exhibition was designed by the brick designer. The design of the brick module shapes our buildings, and cities - creating constraints for the way we build. The brick is a technology that is thousands of years old, yet its enduring significance in construction continues to influence contemporary architecture and has not drastically changed in size, materiality, or method.
We were constantly redesigning the exhibition. Each time a new brick or material became available the pedestal module and the grid of the other pedestals was readjusted. The design of the supply chain, when materials would arrive, how they would be moved throughout the space, and when they would be returned - all impacted the design of which materials went where. Following the opening weekend events, the stage and scaffolding seating was dismantled and returned and the courtyard design was adjusted to allow for new programming. The remaining courtyard arena will be used for the duration of the triennial as a pop-up cafe, workshop spaces, performances, and talks. Following the triennial, all materials will be returned to the various contractors and industrial areas from which they came from.
Wayfinding and participant descriptions were wheat-pasted onto the walls of venues using recycled paper with graphic design from Studio Lys.
The process of wheat-pasting allowed for a flexible, recyclable strategy that could respond to the diversity of venues. Each participant's text was placed directly outside of their installation to allow for the more immersive installations to not be interrupted by light and text. We encouraged each participant to list the materials used in each of their installations - as these materials were all sourced locally and will be returned or reused following the exhibition. We also highlighted where each participant was based as part of each text. At times there were challenges of cooking the wheat glue in some of the more remote venues but a camping stove did the trick. As the exhibition evolves with public programs and events, the graphic design strategy can continue to be layered and pasted upon itself.
SAT02 exhibition design: 28,200 bricks, 115 insulation panels, 100 wooden beams, 240 sheets of plywood, 10 sheets of glass, 2 scaffold units
Sharjah Architecture Triennial Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Exhibition Design Team:
Space Caviar (Joseph Grima, Sofia Pia Belenky, Barbara Doroszuk, Lorenzo Bondavalli)
Hoor Al Qasimi
Yinka Shonibare CBE
Hoor Al Qasimi
Mona El Mousfy
Raghad Al Ali
Sahil Abdul Latheef
Sharmeen Azam Inayat
Shareeja Abdul Majeed
Ieva Saudargaite Douaihi
Talie Rose Eigeland