Shahad Alazzaz, the designer of the 2019 Abwab exhibition’s Eastern Provinces of Saudi Arabia pavilion, talks about what inspired the installation, which represents the region’s native craft of palm frond weaving. The project, called Sa’af, was supported by Ithra, part of whose mission is to “build cultural bridges by merging traditional culture with global perspectives to create new experiences.”

What was the look and feel you wanted to achieve with the pavilion?

It was a very vibrant pavilion where the story of a craft is transmitted, with a design focused on bringing awareness to one of Saudi's most dominant crafts and celebrating the beauty of it through architecture. I was intrigued by the palm frond material and wanted to push the boundaries of its graphical characteristics. Working on a larger scale where the entire pavilion will be covered with the traditional weaved meshes was key to creating the desired aesthetics.

The final product holds a pile of interactions not only between different materials but also for myself as an architect & the local community of weavers.

What makes Saudi design unique?

A lot of designers in Saudi Arabia remain true to their national identity in their work.

What inspired you to create a pavilion around the traditional craft techniques of the Eastern provinces?

Like many others who are curious about what creative design can do with traditional culture, I had always wanted a chance to see what happens when you mix disciplines like that. I have always seen the craft of palm frond weaving in products like saddle bags, floor trays or baskets. But the pavilion created a new kind of platform where visitors could appreciate the beauty of this traditional craft and the complexity of its technique.

What were you most looking forward to in your participation in Dubai Design Week?

The exchange of knowledge and exposure that happens during Dubai Design Week is significant. Being there for one of the biggest creative festivals in the region is a great experience, and I’m grateful to have been given an opportunity to represent Saudi Arabia next to some of the world’s leading designers.

What was the research process you went through to create this pavilion?

We undertook the typical design process designers use to produce the "technical package" of any piece. But a dominant part of our research for this project was finding the artists who still practice the craft of weaving. Alahsa in the Eastern Province turned out to be home to most of the local weavers we found, because of the availability of palm trees, and we asked some of the families and individual craftspeople there to work with us in producing the exterior skin of the pavilion.