Sharjah has just announced the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, featuring “exhibitions, competitions, conferences and publications that will serve as a platform for debate and the dissemination of architecture and urban challenges, targeting the general public, the professionals and the decision makers”.
There’s little detail as yet – the event was announced with little fanfare via the state press agencies, and there’s not even a date for it – but the Triennial intendeds to position itself as “the major architecture event in the MENA region”.
A statement from Sheikh Khalid bin Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi said “the programme will produce research in the field of architecture and urbanism, and reflect on how research and practice in architecture mutually shape one another”.
Sheikh Khalid, who chairs the Triennial, is also chairman of Sharjah Urban Planning Council; and one obvious goal for the Triennial is to support Sharjah’s development plans to provide a coherent, integrated framework for the city. Sharjah hasn’t yet published these plans in anything like the detail of the urban strategies produced by Dubai and (especially) Abu Dhabi.
Although there’s a nod to tradition – the Triennial intends to emphasise the value of the Emirate’s built landmarks both for their architectural value and their role in cultural history – we’re assured that the event “will acknowledge excellence inside and outside the country” while also supporting UAE talents in the field.
The basis for a good, professional event is there. Sharjah has some good traditional architecture, perhaps the best in the UAE, especially around the heritage area. There are some elegantly quirky buildings from the 70s and 80s on both sides of the peninsula – who could not love the Flying Saucer? Sharjah has implemented impressive projects in recycling, environmental awareness and natural habitat protection. The pace of current development and the opportunity to lay down some markers for the future makes for an urban laboratory environment.
And of course there are existing institutions that can contribute significantly – the Maraya Arts Centre and 1971 Design Space, Sharjah Arts Foundation, AUS and its School of Architecture and Design – not to mention high-profile activist commentators like Sultan Sooud al Qasimi and Sheikha Hoor al Qasimi.
Fingers crossed: this could be a major statement from Sharjah and a significant contribution to design in the region.