Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, the founders of multidisciplinary practice waiwai design, have long worked to address the social, environmental, economic and technological aspects of architectural projects, building a strong reputation with their work on prominent cultural institutions including Dubai’s Jameel Arts Centre and Jeddah’s Hayy: Creative Hub, as well as on their latest collaboration as curators of the UAE Pavilion exhibition at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.

Formerly known as ibda design in Dubai and GINGRICH in Tokyo, in 2019 the firm was renamed waiwai – a Japanese onomatopoeia which refers to the sound of a cheering crowd. Al Awar initially founded the company in 2009 after moving back to the Middle East from Tokyo, where he worked with renowned Japanese architects to develop a strong cultural understanding and geographical sensitivity to different project contexts.

Kenichi Teramoto joined the firm as a founding partner in 2012, working as principal architect until 2021. He has worked in Tokyo and Rotterdam on local and international projects, building an extensive design experience in both Asia and Europe. His own experiences have trained him to develop an understanding of culture, geography and materiality.

Now the team has embarked on their latest project as curators of the UAE Pavilion exhibition Wetland, currently on show at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale until November 2021. Together Al Awar and Teramoto are confronting the harmful effects of traditional cement on the climate, and are experimenting with an alternative cement for the country’s pavilion.

“For this exhibition, we have been inspired by the UAE’s traditional vernacular architecture of coral houses, to hand-cast modules in organic, coral-inspired shapes,” Al Awar and Teramoto said. “In this way we are reimagining modern architectural processes and retaining a strong, poetic sense of the region’s identity and culture within the structure.”

As part of their exhibition, the duo is showcasing a large-scale prototype structure made of environmentally friendly cement, created from recycled, industrial-waste brine derived from the UAE's salt flats, known as 'sabkha'.

Wael Al Awar is also participating in the Curators’ Collective, a collaboration between curators of many of the national pavilions at the 2021 Biennale. Throughout the extended preparation period of this edition, the curators have met regularly to develop a manifesto for the future of architecture, generate ideas through dialogue and investigate new avenues to fulfil the Biennale’s platform for accessible collaboration.

“Exploring the relationship between nature and the built environment and developing new and more sustainable architectural methods are vital for our future, and this global conversation is long overdue,” they add.