Art

This Used to Be the Future

26 November 2019Aidan Imanova
This Used to Be the Future
This Used to Be the Future
This Used to Be the Future

The inaugural Sharjah Architecture Triennial took place in the Northern emirate as the first platform for architecture across the Middle East, North and East Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Spread across multiple venues including the newly renovated Al Qasimiyah School and the old Al Jubail Fruit & Vegetable market, the theme, titled ‘Rights of Future Generations’, is an invitation to rethink fundamental questions surrounding architecture, urbanism, and climate to create alternative modes of existence for generations to come.

   


Nidhi Mahajan, Silences and Spectres of the Indian Ocean, 2019. Installation view. Commissioned for ‘Rights of Future Generations’, inaugural edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. 2019. Photo courtesy of Antoine Espinasseau.

    

Aidan Imanova caught up with Adrian Lahoud, curator of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, and Dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art in London, during the opening programme, which took place from 9-12 November. Lahoud approached the triennial’s theme by connecting narratives across continents and neighbouring societies of the Global South, which share similar climatic conditions and sometimes, political realities. Through these collective circumstances, a dialogue was born that allows alternative methods of thinking, which in time will hopefully yield positive solutions.

 

 

Aidan Imanova: How has your background and areas of interest within architecture and urbanism shaped the themes and programmes of the inaugural Sharjah Architecture Triennial?

Adrian Lahoud: Part of it is that my background is Lebanese, and that my parents immigrated from Lebanon to Australia in the late 1960s. As soon as I started my research work, it had a lot to do with the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, which led to looking at post-disaster situations in cities, and how they responded to these very extreme conditions – physically, but also socially and politically. Being part of the Lebanese diaspora and engaging with the aftermath of the civil war gave me a political education at a very young age — that has been very influential in the way that I think about architecture and what it does.

 

Alonso Barros, Gonzalo Pimentel, Juan Gili, and Mauricio Hidalgo, The Atacama Lines, 2019. Installation view. Commissioned by ‘Rights of Future Generations’, inaugural edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. 2019. Photo by Antoine Espinasseau.
    

This is primarily an architecturally-led discourse, but you have brought in many other disciplines including art, anthropology, science, music, and even activism and policy making. What do you think is the significance of a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving, and how can this impact future possibilities from an urban and environmental perspective?

When we started, it was more the questions that we were interested in, and then we would unfold from those issues the various collaborators that we thought were important to be able to tell that story. However, I’m not sure I would say that what we are doing in this exhibition is trying to provide solutions, but instead, about posing questions in certain kinds of ways. I think architecture is particularly well-placed to try to formulate questions because architects generally feel comfortable moving across different forms of knowledge production. Because of the way architects think about scale, they have an insight into quite complex conditions, and as you know, this exhibition is full of complex conditions. It is more interesting to use the Triennial not just to work out how to fix them, but to pose the questions and to examine aftermath and legacy.

 

One of the aims of the Triennial that most interested me was how the platform will try to redefine, or simply look at more regionally-rooted ideas of architecture that stray from, or even debunk, the common Western-adopted principles and ideologies. How did that end up manifesting within the Triennial, and why is this important?

It has translated in ways that I expected, and in ways that I did not. HaRaKa Platform, which is a performance group from Cairo, is talking about the development of the Suez Canal and the redevelopment of Cairo in a way that is totally unconventional. The way the artist and architect Ibiye Camp tells the story of the Ethiopian church forest is through 3D point clouds -  a very sophisticated recent technology. Dewa Alit, the Balinese Gamelan orchestra, looks traditional but is not – it is an avant-garde form within the context of the history of the Gamelan. What’s interesting for me – and this is also a real discovery — is that in the cases of all those practitioners, they are working extremely radically. It just looks to us to be traditional because we don’t know anything about the history, so it reshapes our understanding of what is traditional and what is non-conventional.

 

Marina Tabassum Architects, Inheriting Wetness,  2019. Installation view. Commissioned for ‘Rights of Future Generations’, inaugural edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. 2019. Photo courtesy of Antoine Espinasseau.
    

Going back to your personal work, you have quite a lot of research on the topics of climate change and humans’ effects on the environment, and that is one of the major topics highlighted within the Triennial. How has that taken form?

I think the question of climate change is at the heart of the theme: the inter-generational relationship, the idea that we have inherited the world from our parents and our ancestors and we will pass it on after us – this is at the core of the struggle against climate change to stop us thinking individualistically.

 

Marina Tabassum Architects, Inheriting Wetness,  2019. Installation view. Commissioned for ‘Rights of Future Generations’, inaugural edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. 2019. Photo courtesy of Antoine Espinasseau.
    

This is expressed through every single project. For example, Marina Tabassum’s prefabricated homes project, [which highlights the plight of families that are forced to relocate their homes as water routinely rises within the Bengal Delta] started at the back of a taxi with us having a discussion, where she said to me, “at the intersection of the Padma and the Magma rivers, people will point to the middle of the river and say ‘that’s where you will live’ to their children because they know when the river moves, that used to be their plot of land”. So, it’s also this oral history which is passed on from one generation to the next.

 

Looking more locally at the Triennial, what would you say is its significance for Sharjah as a city?

When we look back at this event in 30 years’ time, I have no doubt that we will have started a process that will have a huge impact on the city, the way it’s organised, and its architectural and intellectual culture. You can also see that in the renovation of the buildings where the Triennial is taking place and the reinvention of the use of the historical fabric of the city. Hopefully, as time goes on, you will see more of its impacts on the city at large, on its outskirts and industrial areas, and on how it approaches the various communities who live in Sharjah.

 

Al Ahly Thikr Jamaah, procession as part of the opening programme of ‘Rights of Future Generations’, inaugural edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. 2019. Photo courtesy of Talie Eigeland.
    

What do you hope to leave behind, both physically and in your message of the Triennial?

I hope that we are able to change the way people think, and that we have introduced people who have similar struggles to each other, to learn from each other. Each one of the projects will leave a legacy. Let’s just say that there are very interesting discussions happening as a consequence of this event about what’s possible after the Triennial.

 

The Sharjah Architecture Triennial runs until 8 February 2020.