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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

The innovative company behind the Abwab pavilions at Dubai Design Week

The theme of the exhibition is Between the Lines, and these lines can be viewed as either physical or metaphorical

A rendering of this year’s Abwab pavilion, which will be created by Architecture + Other Things. Courtesy of Architecture + Other Things
A rendering of this year’s Abwab pavilion, which will be created by Architecture + Other Things. Courtesy of Architecture + Other Things

As its name suggests, Abwab – the Arabic word for doors – was created to offer insight into the region’s rich design scene.

The annual exhibition, which is a linchpin of Dubai Design Week, aims to promote creative talent in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, while encouraging the exchange of information and ideas. Its existence also serves to reinforce the UAE’s role as an incubator for regional design.

So far, more than 150 designers have participated in the exhibition, which is presented in a new format each year. For 2018, Abwab will focus on the idea of storytelling, and how this has long “been an impactful medium of cultural expression and endurance” in this part of the world. Organisers invited participating designers to consider the role of the “rawi” or “hakawati”, traditional storytellers who would share their tales in local cafes and other public spaces, facilitating and shaping the exchange of information within their communities.

In this instance, Abwab designers are the hakawatis and Dubai Design Week is the public gathering space. The theme of the exhibition is Between the Lines, and these lines can be viewed as either physical or metaphorical. “They can be lines of territory, topography, meaning, and those in drawings or text,” Abwab’s organisers explain. “In an exploration of regional tradition, visitors will experience the impact of storytelling as an instrument to reveal and conceal a city’s record.”

As an added layer, designers were also invited to consider how sound could be integrated into the exhibition.

The five pavilions

This year’s instalment of Abwab will feature five pavilions, representing Amman, Beirut, Kuwait City, Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and Dubai.

Renderings of the Abwab pavilion. Courtesy of Architecture + Other Things
Renderings of the Abwab pavilion. Courtesy of Architecture + Other Things

Participating designers include Berlin-based Jordanian architect, musician and designer Basel Naouri, who specialises in immersive audiovisual experiences and exhibitions, and is currently researching the cross-section between architecture and sound as part of his master’s in media spaces; Hashem Joucka, a multidisciplinary designer, digital fabrication expert and material researcher based in Amman; Lebanese artist and designer Tamara Barrage, who is known for her explorations of materiality; and David Habchy, a Beirut-based visual artist working across animation, illustration and printmaking.

The Dubai pavilion, which is supported by Tashkeel, will feature work by Emirati artist Saeed Al Madani, who studied printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London; and Hind bin Demaithan, a curator and video composer who is the founder of the creative agency Hamzat Wasl, and director of events at the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre.

Their creations will be presented at D3 during Design Week, taking place from November 12 to 17, within custom-created pavilions by Architecture + Other Things, a collaborative, multidisciplinary design platform headed by Faysal Tabbarah, Nada Taryam and Khawla Al Hashimi.

The concept of temporality

The trio kicked off the conceptualisation of these particular structures with a simple question: “Where do the twigs go?”

“We saw the potential for fallen timber and twigs to have a second life prior to composting,” explains Tabbarah, who is an associate professor of architecture at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). “Our materials research integrated them with locally recycled paper pulp to create structural walls from this material composite. The materials used, therefore, are the primary drivers of this project, influencing both the overall form, spatial and textural qualities.”

A sketch of the Abwab pavilion. Courtesy Architecture + Other Things
A sketch of the Abwab pavilion. Courtesy Architecture + Other Things

A thickened, porous framework is coated in recycled and dyed paper pulp (including pulp created from old editions of The National), which acts as both a surface coating and structural binder. The end result is intended to evoke a sense of temporality, which is a fundamental feature of both storytelling and nature.

“Appreciating that Abwab required temporary structures, we approached the concept of temporality from multiple angles. For example, the main materials that we used in the design, such as vernacular tree branches and locally recycled newspaper, implied an understanding of how the entire construction will behave over time, especially towards the end when it will all get recycled. The fact that the project will disappear entirely and be repurposed across multiple industries is something we envisaged from the beginning and actively worked towards,” Tabbarah elaborates.

Supporting talent in the region

Sustainability is integral to the Architecture + Other Things’ mandate. Dedicated to exploring alternative models of architecture and design (of multiple scales and within various disciplines), Architecture + Other Things is all about deploying technology to create novel solutions. Previous projects include Earth, which was commissioned by Sharjah’s waste-management company Bee’ah, and consists of a series of objects created from rubber tyres that have been converted into crumbs. Atavistic Shelters, meanwhile, explores the relationship between the natural and the synthetic; and Shelter 0 looks at the potential of recycled materials such as rubber to recreate the spatial condition of traditional arish, or palm-frond, shelters.

Shelter 0, a past project by Architecture + Other Things. Courtesy of Architecture + Other Things
Shelter 0. Courtesy of Architecture + Other Things

“We integrate architecture and technology to investigate timely global issues and propose solutions arrived at through a unique regional lens,” Tabbarah says. “Our current agenda is titled Almost Natural, and it investigates alternative models of sustainable design through the blurring and synergy between synthetic and natural material and the Anthropocene. This research methodology is also emphasised at the College of Architecture, Art and Design at AUS.”

The Abwab pavilions seemed like a fitting platform to highlight Architecture + Other Things’ agenda. “Abwab is a unique initiative in the region that offers designers from across the Middle East a prominent stage to showcase their work,” says Tabbarah.

“It has become a great platform where talent is identified, nurtured and supported. Therefore, designing this year’s pavilions provided an exciting opportunity for our collaborative to apply innovative and dynamic design ideas that focused on sustainability in a public setting.”

Given that the focus of Abwab is on storytelling, what is the tale that Architecture + Other Things hopes its pavilions will tell? “We hope that our design will convey how innovative sustainable design solutions are being produced and implemented in the UAE. Sustainability in design is a global issue, and our pavilion proposes a solution that addresses this concern from a regional perspective across multiple scales involving design, such as planning and materiality,” Tabbarah concludes.

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