Sustainability symposium at Jameel Art Center urges return to vernacular and local

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A day-long international symposium titled “Material Matters: Experiments in the Built Environment, was held recently at the Jameel Art Center in Dubai bringing together key thinkers from architecture, design, and the visual arts.

The symposium explored how innovations in materials and design were shaping the future of our cities in a time of environmental flux.

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Presentations and discussions were anchored around four key approaches: Enabling sustainable production through bioregions and local materials; supporting civic engagement through new urban pedagogies; reflecting historical narratives through the built environment; and impacting global expertise through regional design.

This Symposium was commissioned by EUNIC (European Union National Institutions for Culture), conceptualised by waiwai Dubai and Art Jameel as venue partner, with endorsement from the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth. EUNIC is the network of European Union National Institutes for Culture, with 36 members from all EU member states and associated countries.

Those participating were architect Daniel Bell (Atelier LUMA); architect, artist and activist Axel Timm (raumlabor); artist Jasmin Werner; designers Tymon Hogenelst and Jesse van der Ploeg (Studio Wild); curator of the National Pavilion UAE La Biennale di Venezia at the Biennale Architettura 2023, Faysal Tabbarah (American University of Sharjah), and NYUAD professors and members of the NYUAD Anthropocene Research Kitchen, Katia Arfara & Dale Hudson.

In light of a global imperative to reduce emission footprints and waste creation, architects, artists, and designers are increasingly looking to vernacular architecture and local landscapes as sources of knowledge and renewable materials. Their aim is to create context-responsive environments that work with local climates, landscapes, and cultural habits: from engineering with algae, to building with salt, and seeing the city as a classroom.

Using both site-specific research and speculative experimentation, the speakers at the symposium urged a return to the vernacular and the local.

Nora Razian, Curator, Art Jameel. (Photo by Daniella Bapista)
Nora Razian, Curator, Art Jameel. (Photo by Daniella Bapista)

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Nora Razian, Curator, Art Jameel, said: “’Material Matters: Experiments in the Built Environment’ was a collaboration between EUNIC, waiwai and Jameel Arts Center. The conference tackled some of the most urgent questions of our time; how can we make cities more liveable and more resilient in the face of the climate crisis, and how can architects and designers lead the way with innovating in the use of sustainable materials and vernacular architectural forms.”

“The symposium was in line with Art Jameel’s wider work in creating a public forum on important issues and questions that relate to our changing world; working with leading thinkers, artists, academics and cultural producers to create meaningful debate and action around the climate crises.”

Fareed Majari, Director of the Goethe-Institut in the Gulf Region. (Supplied)
Fareed Majari, Director of the Goethe-Institut in the Gulf Region. (Supplied)

Fareed Majari, Director of the Goethe-Institut in the Gulf Region on behalf of the EUNIC cluster in the UAE, said: “As the world faces serious environmental and social challenges, international cooperation is imperative. EUNIC, the network of national cultural institutes in the European Union, has the goal to enhance cultural ties and build trust and understanding within the EU and beyond.”

“With this conference at Jameel Art Center, we brought key thinkers from architecture, design and the visual arts to Dubai to explore how innovations in materials and design are shaping the future of our cities in a time of environmental flux. As so often, creative ideas come from experiments at the crossroads of science, technology, and the arts. We are very happy with the outcome of this conference.”

Read more: Jameel Index for Food Trade launched to study impact of climate on food security

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