Arab Contemporary: Architecture, culture and identity, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Arab Contemporary is the second in a series of exhibitions by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art focused on the integral connection between cultural identity and architectural design. The exhibition will attempt to draw out unifying themes within the broader cultural notion of an Arab world. In an area divided in religion, politics and landscape, Arab Contemporary examines the effects of architecture in expressing common themes and concerns.

This exhibition explores the transformation and development of space. It examines the boundaries between spaces both private and public, and attempts to develop ideas of the Arab landscape, particularly the desert, as ‘place.’ Concerned with the constant transformation of society, politics and design, Arab Contemporary tracks the architectural development of a vast area, consisting of 22 countries, in an attempt to identify the essence of Arab culture today.

Spanning the length and breadth of the Arab world, the exhibition explores places to the East, focusing on areas such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Similarly, it applies its attention to the Arabian Peninsula and the architectural influences of the Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Finally, Arab Contemporary explores the areas to the West, or ‘where the sun sets’, focusing on the landscapes and buildings of Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Featuring architects such as Aziza Chaouni, Sahel Al Hiyari, and Jean Nouvel, as well as art historians such as Bahia Shehab and visual and audio artists, the exhibition moves through the places of significant development in the modern Arab world. The exhibition features architecture and art as well as documentary film and photography.

As nothing remains the same within the Arab world and constant change, particularly architecturally, is a way of life, the result is a continual metamorphosis of the land. With the desert covering around 80 percent of the Arab world, this harsh environment dominates life for those who live within its bounds. This is lifestyle conducted on the edge of the desert, with inhabitants rarely building inside such an inhospitable landscape but rather living on the boundary between worlds. Co-existence between people here and the landscape itself is reflected across Arab culture and can be seen in the architecture.

The need for adaptability and the call of a nomadic state has drawn out fluid design that works around the more permanent aspects of a land under constant change, according care and reverence to the spirit of the space. On the edge of the Yemeni desert, the 16th century mud-brick city of Shibam grows out of the sand, a paragon of practical and architectural collaboration that today inspires urban planners around the globe.

Conversely, in places such as the Arabian Peninsula to the West, a building boom is taking place. Development here is driven by property speculation and economic growth and progresses with little sympathy for climate or landscape. There, skyscrapers stand emboldened regardless of previous architectural heritage, in a bid for political and economic prowess. Arab Contemporary engages with the issues at work in the progression and development of Arabic design, charting an architectural pathway through the history of the Arab world, leading to ideas about its future.

Arab Contemporary: Architecture, culture and identity, runs until 4 May, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Gl Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk, Denmark. For more information visit

1. Image courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.