Open Space

The Misk Art In­sti­tute’s Saudi pav­il­ion at the Venice Bi­en­nale of Ar­chi­tec­ture takes a new look at the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Saudi cities and their spa­tial en­vi­ron­ment.

Bespoke - - LIVING - Writer: Mar­wan Naa­man

It's been a year of mile­stones for Saudi Ara­bia. For the first time in its his­tory, the King­dom lifted its ban on women driv­ing. Movie the­atres are no longer against the law, and even reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing the strict seg­re­ga­tion of the sexes are be­ing re­laxed. The year 2018 also marks Saudi Ara­bia’s de­but ap­pear­ance at the Venice Bi­en­nale of Ar­chi­tec­ture, with an in­au­gu­ral Saudi pav­il­ion or­gan­ised by the Misk Art In­sti­tute and cu­rated by Su­maya Al-so­laiman and Jawa­her Al-su­dairy. Named ‘Spa­ces in Be­tween’, the Saudi pav­il­ion at the Venice Bi­en­nale ex­plores this spa­tial prob­lem, while of­fer­ing pos­si­ble uses for the lim­i­nal spa­ces that now form part of ev­ery Saudi city. “The de­sire to cre­ate Freespace [the theme of the over­all fair]

can be­come the spe­cific in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter­is­tic of each in­di­vid­ual project,” the Bi­en­nale’s pres­i­dent Paolo Baratta said in a state­ment. “But space, free space, pub­lic space can also re­veal the pres­ence or ab­sence of ar­chi­tec­ture, if we un­der­stand ar­chi­tec­ture to be ‘think­ing ap­plied to the space where we live, that we in­habit” The no­tion of space is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to Saudi so­ci­ety. The post-world War II oil boom brought un­told riches to the Ara­bian

Penin­sula, and to Saudi Ara­bia in Partcu­lar. This in­flux of wealth en­cour­aged Saudis to de­velop their coun­try, and the en­su­ing build­ing boom, which spanned nearly half a cen­tury, changed the very fab­ric of Saudi so­ci­ety. As cities ex­panded at a dizzy­ing pace, the mostly ru­ral Saudi pop­u­la­tion rapidly be­came ur­banised, and to­day over half of the coun­try’s peo­ple re­side in cities that in­clude Riyadh, Jed­dah, Mecca, Dam­mam and Kho­bar. In spite of this ur­ban growth, large swathes of Saudi cities have re­mained empty, re­sult­ing in dis­jointed and car-de­pen­dent neigh­bour­hoods. The pav­il­ion, lo­cated in Venice’s Arse­nale, is helmed by ar­chi­tects and brothers Ab­dul­rah­man and Turki Gaz­zaz, who rep­re­sent Saudi’s young new gen­er­a­tion of ur­banised, ed­u­cated and dy­namic cit­i­zens. Ab­dul­rah­man has a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Ar­chi­tec­ture and Plan­ning from Bris­tol’s Uni­ver­sity of the West of Eng­land, and Turki holds a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Ar­chi­tec­tural En­gi­neer­ing from Mcgill Uni­ver­sity in Mon­treal. To­gether,

the two men founded ar­chi­tec­ture firm Brick­lab in 2015 in Jed­dah. Theirs was se­lected from 70 en­tries in a com­pe­ti­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the Bi­en­nale. Through their work for the Saudi pav­il­ion, the Gaz­zaz brothers at­tempt to ex­plain how de­sign can be used to rebuild com­mu­ni­ties and en­rich so­cial lives, de­tail­ing how Saudi cities are re­pur­pos­ing empty lots and trans­form­ing them into meet­ing points and ac­tiv­ity hubs. Their on-site in­stal­la­tion of resin cylin­ders clearly ref­er­ences

the vast oil fields that have been at the core of Saudi Ara­bia's spec­tac­u­lar eco­nomic growth and that have essen­tially fu­elled the seem­ingly un­stop­pable ex­pan­sion of Saudi cities. “The ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plores the so­cial im­pli­ca­tions of ar­chi­tec­ture,” says Jawa­her Al-su­dairy. “Ar­chi­tects Ab­dul­rah­man and Turki Gaz­zaz are us­ing this op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine the re­la­tion­ship be­tween space and ar­chi­tec­ture – hop­ing to en­gage vis­i­tors in the po­ten­tial of cre­at­ing in­ter­ac­tion through re­design.” Es­tab­lished in 2017 by Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz Al Saud and head­quar­tered in Riyadh, the Misk Art In­sti­tute en­cour­ages grass­roots artis­tic pro­duc­tion in Saudi Ara­bia, with var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tions and events as well as an arts ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme. This year’s projects in­cluded a Saudi con­tem­po­rary art

ex­hibit and the screening of the doc­u­men­tary film 'Re­frame Saudi', based on vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nolgy and re­flect­ing on a so­ci­ety that is­rich with di­ver­sity. Both were shown in Wash­ing­ton, DC in March and then in April in New York City, dur­ing MBS’ visit there. The ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion, how­ever, rep­re­sents a ma­jor coup for the In­sti­tute. “Our par­tic­i­pa­tion in the In­ter­na­tional Ar­chi­tec­ture Ex­hi­bi­tion of La Bi­en­nale di Venezia is an un­prece­dented mo­ment for Saudi Ara­bia’s cre­ative com­mu­nity,” says Ahmed Mater, the artist and Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Misk Art In­sti­tute. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity to bring pi­o­neer­ing Saudi thought to an in­ter­na­tional plat­form through our cre­ative ver­nac­u­lar. Cou­pled with the al­lo­ca­tion of an in­cred­i­ble pav­il­ion space, we are very ex­cited about our pre­sen­ta­tion this year at the Bi­en­nale Ar­chitet­tura but also, look­ing for­ward to fu­ture years and pre­sen­ta­tions and what they will draw upon from our own com­mu­nity.”

Above: Misk Art In­sti­tute pre­sented the US premier of 'Re­frame Saudi' in New York at Phillips on Park Av­enue. This vir­tual re­al­ity doc­u­men­tary ex­plores Saudi Ara­bia from the per­spec­tives of a new gen­er­a­tion of con­tem­po­rary artists.

This page: Saudi Ara­bia's in­au­gu­ral en­try to this year's Venice Bi­en­nale can be found at the Arse­nale and fea­tures an ex­hi­bi­tion com­mis­sioned by the Misk Art In­sti­tute un­der the theme of 'Spa­ces in Be­tween'.

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