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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award winners find their inspiration in Abu Dhabi’s desert

'Qasa’ed [Poems] takes inspiration from the desert landscape of the UAE. It is an imitation of poetry, one of the key traditions of the Bedouins.'

Maram Kassab and Mariam Ayoub’s ‘Qasa’ed’ on display. Courtesy NYUAD
Maram Kassab and Mariam Ayoub’s ‘Qasa’ed’ on display. Courtesy NYUAD

The 2018 winners of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude award, the Abu Dhabi-based architects Maram Kassab and Mariam Ayoub, have unveiled their pavilion – an undulating structure made of wood, emulating the curves of sand dunes.

Kassab and Ayoub, both Palestinians who live in Abu Dhabi, won the award earlier this year when they were studying at Abu Dhabi University. The prize is in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and NYUAD, where the pavilion is installed.

Qasa’ed [Poems] takes inspiration from the desert landscape of the UAE,” says Ayoub. “It is an imitation of poetry, one of the key traditions of the Bedouins.” More than just representing the landscape, Kassab and Ayoub sought to give voice to the activities that took place within it, such as oral storytelling and Arabic calligraphy. The building also echoes the flowing curves of Arabic lettering. “We wanted to bring the potential of the desert back,” Kassab says.

The structure was so complicated to put together, the pair say, that they had to carve a number into each beam. Though the pavilion looks symmetrical, every panel is unique and the two sides create subtly different curves.

The pair also found inspiration in another figure associated with the project: Christo. “We were so inspired by how he had an idea, and how he kept on following what he wanted,” says Kassab.

Christo has famously worked on the Mastaba project for more than 30 years, hoping to build a sculpture made of 410,000 barrels of oil, stacked 150 metres high and 300 metres across in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert.

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Read more:

Christo on his Abu Dhabi desert dream: 'I hope to do the project before I die'

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award winners say inspiration came from ‘the culture of the UAE’

Artist Christo on his special relationship with the UAE

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He achieved partial success just this year, realising a smaller version of the Mastaba in the lake in London’s Hyde Park, in conjunction with a retrospective of his work at the Serpentine Gallery. But he hasn't lost sight of the UAE, and the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, which he has been running since 2012, is proof of his commitment to the country. It comes with $5,000 (Dh18,360) prize money each, plus final production of the pavilion – not quite on the scale of the Mastaba, but still, like Christo’s, somewhere between art and architecture. “Ours is also a conceptual project,” says Ayoub.

Kassab and Ayoub are now working in separate architecture firms, but say they met on weekends to see their project through. The pavilion will be at NYUAD until December 11, and then will move to Umm Al Emarat Park from December 12-21. Though the original idea allowed for visitors to sit within the frame, it ended up being too fragile. After being installed at the park, it will be returned to Kassab and Ayoub, who will install it at their alma mater, Abu Dhabi University.