Journal

Spaces in Between – Saudi National Pavilion

The first National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia responded to the Biennale's overarching theme of Freespace with an exhibition entitled Spaces in Between. Architects Bricklab and curators Jawaher Al-Sudairy and Sumayah Al-Solaiman considered the urban and social implications of five decades of rapid, oil-fueled, car-oriented development in Saudi Arabia. 

Over the past five decades, Saudi’s metropolitan centers have undergone rapid urbanization, propelled by rural migration that has extended built territories outwards. Settlement-driven growth has produced disjointed, mono-functional, car-dependent neighborhoods connected by highways. This translates to a state of fragmentation, with over 40% of land within cities vacant. The wide distances created between residential enclaves have thus eroded social ties and continue to deplete natural resources

Co-curator, Jawaher Al-Sudairy 

Spaces in Between is the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia's presentation at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia

Free space invites opportunity. It welcomes passersby, visitors and tenants to sit, rest and reside. Once, open land offered endless space for independent settlement. Today, such informal consumption of space drives suburban growth in most cities. Within urban peripheries, where development meets open desert, the distinction between city edge and hinterland is blurred as bare expanses are punctured by spontaneous development.

Over the past five decades, Saudi’s metropolitan centers have undergone rapid urbanization, propelled by rural migration that has extended built territories outwards. Settlement-driven growth has produced disjointed, mono-functional, car-dependent neighborhoods connected by highways.

This translates to a state of fragmentation, with over 40% of land within cities vacant. The wide distances created between residential enclaves have thus eroded social ties and continue to deplete natural resources.

As questions of quality of life and spatial considerations take center stage in national economic plans, including the National Transformation Plan 2020 and Saudi Vision 2030, design and policy interventions at the municipal level attempt to reverse sprawl and create density. The most noteworthy of these interventions include: announcing taxation on vacant land, reconsidering zoning and height limitations on buildings, building more public parks, constructing public transportation infrastructure and instituting transit-oriented development.

This recent reckoning of the challenges of urbanization has emphasized the role that design can play in influencing people’s behaviors and preferences, shaping social life and rebuilding communities. Saudi cities are seeking to steer development inward and repurpose empty lots into public and convivial spaces that allow for walkability, human interaction and mixing in an attempt to improve the quality of life. These developments are directly transforming the architectural landscape of Saudi’s urban centers, and include the proliferation of iconic structures that rise on the skyline.

In this exhibition, architects Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz, founders of Bricklab, examine the social implications of architecture. Visitors are invited to explore Saudi cities and architecture through vignettes that engage visitors with the impact of space and design. The installation consists of connected cylinder-shaped modules, ranging in size. Each module is individually dedicated to a component of the overarching theme, ’Spaces in Between,’ such as vacancy, sprawl, isolation and inclusion. The cylinders are constructed using resin, a petrochemical derivative. The choice of material aims to highlight petroleum as a component of sprawl, considering the extent to which petroleum has propelled urbanization in Saudi Arabia as well as shaped the form of cities and architecture in the country.

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