UAE Modern: People Planet Profits, Trials of a Sustainable Future

Together with Dubai Design Week for the second year consecutively, UAE Modern in partnership with MAS Paints have produced the custom conference for the Dubai Design Week main stage programme, hosted the atrium of building 4, Dubai Design District (d3) – the hub of Dubai Design Week.

From the Vernacular to the Transient Country

There is a thread that intertwines the narratives of the three participations of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates (NPUAE) at the Architectural Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. 

The UAE have taken over the responsibility to re-construct a foundation for the country’s legacy and to “reflect on the untold stories of the UAE, to contextualize those stories to regional and international discourse, and to identify contemporary developments in architectural discourse within the UAE”. For doing so, from the debut in 2014 with the exhibition “Lest we Forget, Structures of Memory in the UAE” curated by Michele Bambling the NPUAE marked its presence in Venice with stories that aimed at unveiling aspects of the recent achievements that had fallen in oblivion for too long for having been overwhelmed by the constant flow of change. 

The first NPUAE had focused on architectural achievements by questioning on “how public and residential architecture, built within a rapidly expanding urban context, shaped the newly established federation and prepared the foundation for its emergence on a global stage” showcasing the buildings and public works of which most of those who have lived in the UAE have had a direct experience – from the Dubai World Trade Center, to the Cultural Foundation and National Library and Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi, to the Blue Souk in Sharjah.  It is in fact also through the production of first-of-its-kind buildings and infrastructures that the newborn nation has established the symbolic framework where to self-represent and to thrive. To bring to the world attention this very first representation of “a nation is born” was also a way to show the importance played by emerging education, healthcare and mobility systems, new residential typologies and commercial buildings in shaping the country and projecting it into the future. In 2016 it was time for telling the story of a process that highly influenced the process of modernization of the country: that of the sha‘bī (popular) house. "Transformations: The Emirati National House" curated by Yasser Elsheshtawy, highlighted the unprecedented move to provide publicly funded single homes environments that transformed a still predominantly nomadic population into a settled down community, where traditional courtyard typologies allowed for incremental additions to the initial built up area in order to adapt the homes to the changing needs of the family over the years.

“Lifescapes Beyond Bigness”, curated by Khaled Alawadi for the 16th architectural exhibition La Biennale di Venezia has built along this narrative by emphasizing on the human scale and the relationship “between the physicality of architecture and places, and the dynamic choreography of everyday life”. A study of urban structures and natural landscapes, that unveils the poetics of daily rituals embedded in the “neighborhoods, urban blocks, streets and alleyways, squares and public spaces, mountains and agrarian settings”.

The NPUAE at the architectural exhibitions La Biennale di Venezia are cutting edge representations of the commitment to the study and the contextualization of UAE environmental, socio-cultural and economic transformation that a rising number of scholars, associations and public institutions have developed in the last decade. An important body of research work has been dedicated to the period comprised between the 1950s and the 1980s, a phase rich in experimentation that has seen the application of late forms of modernity that were still capable to cope organically with the harshness of climate, the expectations of society, the constraints of culture, the pulling of economical drivers; achievements that were too soon overwhelmed by the speeding up of processes that transformed the UAE in a transient country.

 

From Recognition to Proposition

It is time to transform the efforts put in the construction of a narrative encompassing both the country's material and immaterial legacy into drivers of a vision for the future, and to shift from the recognition framework into a proposition set of tools for advancing the quality of Emirates natural and man-made environments, by mean of sustainable strategies that can help to strengthen the bond of the community with places and to improve its relationship with nature.

To date, two main ways have been adopted in the UAE to forecast the future and to draw actions to lead the community across the transition. The first was that of working on innovation and creativity as platforms able to anticipate the future; the second, that of contextualizing the future transformations into broader regulating frameworks.

Iconic events and initiatives including the construction of outstanding buildings venues and destinations, events such as EXPO Dubai 2020 and programs such as Dubai Smart City, share an aptitude to the first approach. Advance planning - the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030 – cultural platforms such as the Sharjah Architectural Triennial, conservation platforms for the listing of buildings as those promoted by the TCA Abu Dhabi and Dubai Municipality pertain to the second. The country development nurtures itself with the two approaches and we need to make the best out of them both by transforming their controversial relationship into an opportunity. 

This can be done by carrying on a twofold strategy: on one hand, to identify a common ground of values and a common set of targets on which to establish a shared vision for the future; on the other, to start an investigation over the key topics with the highest impact on the future of the UAE. 

Following this rationale, UAE Modern has decided to shift from the goal it was originally established for - to spread awareness on the legacy of the achievements of modern architecture of the period comprised between the 1950s and the 1980s – to the broader subject of sustainability, seen as the binding value that will help bridging past and future through design innovation. Together with Dubai Design Week for the second year consecutively, UAE Modern in partnership with MAS Paints have produced the custom conference for the Dubai Design Week main stage programme, hosted the atrium of building 4, Dubai Design District (d3) – the hub of Dubai Design Week.

The DXBDW 2018 programme revolves heavily on the aspirations to establish Dubai as a benchmark city. People Planet Profits is a sustainability-focused conference due to host knowledge exchange by global experts including panel discussions and a keynote.

The conference builds upon the awareness of the impact of the smart use in the public sphere of emerging technologies such as automation, data and connectivity, energy and resources, interfaces and visualization, materials; it also looks forward to the implications of such changes on society, natural and man-made environments.

  

The Panels

Super Interaction: interconnected transport and infrastructures

There are many unanswered questions regarding the transportation systems of the future. New big-scale mobility solutions are currently being advanced and promoted as those that will characterize the 21st century. The Hyperloop high-speed service, for instance, proposes a much faster move of people and goods within a low-pressure tube. The Sky-Tram could potentially move people and cargo along elevated tracks without being impacted by crowded roads and other cities’ infrastructures. The use of personal transportation including bikes, scooters, rollerblades, skate and hover boards, could spread to overcome most of local transportation vehicles.  Autonomous, self-driven (shared) vehicles have the potential not only to transform the way to move, but also to re-shape our urban spaces: a drastic decrease in the number of privately owned vehicles would offer a huge availability of space and unprecedented chances for urban retrofit. The panel will investigate on these open questions thanks to the contribution of international experts who are involved in projects that impact, or are impacted by, new transportation systems, their integration and interconnection at local and global scales.

 

Circular Economies: adoption and adaptation

It is not an easy task that of drawing the shadow-line along the evolution of humankind that identifies the transition from a time of balanced contribution among the living species to the thrive of the planet to that of domination of humans above natural kingdom. The forging of the term Anthropocene came across to labeling an age when the influence of our species on the transformation of the environment is for the first time prevailing on all other issues. A rising awareness on the obsolescence of development models based upon the sequence extracting, processing, producing, using and disposing is calling for an urgent change of approach, where any single phase of a process can generate value that counterbalance the drawbacks that the operational chain produces. The principle of preserving and enhancing natural capital, that of optimizing resources yelds by circulating products, components and materials, and that of fostering system effectiveness are at the base of Circular Economy, that is widely recognized as the next target to tackle with the most impacting processes and to adopt scalable solution for their integration. The above challenges will be discussed by professionals that are contributing in their fields of expertise to rebuild financial, manufacturing, human, social or natural capital towards the target of creating a circular economy.

 

Society in Motion: Community, Resilience, Place

The speeding up of processes, the impact on our lives of new technologies and the increase of people’s migration have a direct influence on the type of relationship that communities establish with the places where they live. The panel aims at highlighting the role played by the multifaceted framework of social, cultural and environmental aspects that contribute to shape places identity and at fostering the actions that contribute to preserve and project them into the future. All invited speakers were curators of a national pavilion at the 16th architectural exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia, and their interpretations of the “Free Space” are relevant to the target of developing human centered strategies for fostering the bond between communities, places and territories. They will share narratives of places that, although marginalized from the mainstream, contain the seeds of the alliance between communities and places that can now be disseminated to become a founding value for the next generation of human spaces. 

 

Architectural Education from the Perspective of the Future 

Will architects exist in 2025? The question was raised by the launch of “RIBA Building Futures’ The Future for Architects Report” in 2011.  The radical change in the professions of architecture that the study predicted was supported by analysis of the new demands of global economy and the impact of economic recession, to then highlight how these factors will contribute to transforming business practice. More than disappearing, the professions of architecture are likely undergoing epochal transformation of role and shape within society, to which education and professional training and can heavily contribute. This transition could offer fantastic chance to give professionals in the field of architecture, advanced tools to lead in the market and to contribute – much more than in the present and in the past – to shaping better human environments. The many open questions, ranging from specialized vs comprehensive education, the relationship between education and professional practice, the role of research, new technologies, artificial intelligence, will be debated in a discussion among experts that are currently involved with roles of high responsibility in architectural education.

 

KEYNOTE: Rights of Future Generations 

“We are connected to future generations through present decisions, but can we imagine future generations as bearers of rights in the present? How do we negotiate with a generation that is yet to exist? What does it mean to articulate this intergenerational relationship in terms of rights discourse - in terms of rights to cities, to memories, to traditions, and histories?

Already expressed in various traditions of indigenous thought and now emerging as one of the most radical proposals within international law, the rights of future generations is a concept that has the potential to fundamentally reshape the way we think about the design of our societies and our environment - with profound implications for architecture, heritage, planning, and preservation practices. 

Using Sharjah as its primary field of research, this event brings together an emerging generation of architects, urban designers, planners, scholars and artists from across North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and their diaspora. It responds to the unique challenges and opportunities faced by our generation in terms of emancipatory struggles, institution building, and historical archives, in such a way as to foreground their future possibilities. It aims to use the occasion of the exhibition to establish a series of conceptual, practical, and legal legacies that will resonate through architectural discourse both within and beyond the Arabic speaking world.” [Adrian Lahoud]    

Massimo Imparato

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