OMA-Designed Islamic Arts Biennale Opens its First Edition in Jeddah

January 30, 2023

With a scenography designed by OMA / Iyad Alsaka and Kaveh Dabiri, the first edition of the Islamic Biennale has opened in Jeddah, hosted by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation. Artworks are displayed over 120,000 square metres of exhibition spaces, taking over the Western Hajj Terminal, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and winner of the Aga Khan Award in 1983.



Under the title Awwal Bait, which translates as “First House,” the biennale explores how Islam’s most sacred sites—Makkah, the destination of the annual pilgrimage, and Madinah, the place where Prophet Mohamed is buried—inspire Muslims around the world to create a sense of belonging in their home, bringing unity in a plural world.

“This exhibition is an opportunity to discover and learn about Islamic culture. More than 200 ancient objects are on display, some of which have never been seen by the larger public. In addition, there are artworks by contemporary artists from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa to countries like the UK and South Africa, giving a new dimension to the timeless rituals of Islam,” says Iyad Alsaka, OMA Partner.

The OMA-designed scenography divides the exhibition space into two complementary parts. 

Firstly, a choreographed trajectory through a sequence of newly built galleries allows visitors a progressive sense of orientation as they move from one room to another. Inspired by the concept of the Qiblah – the direction Muslims face when they pray – the exhibits manifest gradually in a journey from darkness to light, starting in a dimly lit room filled with 17th-century astrolabes – used to calculate the Qiblah – and concluding in the bright space hosting an installation which incorporates the First Saudi Door of the Ka`bah in Makkah, installed during the reign of King Abdul Aziz.

Secondly, under the terminal’s canopy, a desert-like landscape alludes to the journey of Hijrah – Prophet Mohamed’s journey from Makkah to Madinah. Slopes and slanted walls of various heights, arranged in relation to the geometry of the existing structure, have been built to display the artworks, creating a sense of exploration throughout the visit. Two freestanding pavilions act as reference points in the open landscape, exhibiting artefacts from Makkah and Madinah. In contrast to the rough atmosphere outside, the exhibits in the two pavilions are embedded in a bright, diaphanous screen wrapping the perimeter of the walls.

Independent from the theme of the Biennale, a separate gallery named AlMadar, or The Orbit, features items from twelve local and international institutions, including Kuwait’s Al Sabah Collection of Islamic art, together with an exhibition that pays homage to the Hajj Terminal—both celebrating their 40th anniversaries.


“Our scenography design aims to create a space that works with the cable-stayed, fabric-roof of the Hajj Terminal—a seminal piece of modern architecture known to Muslims around the world—literally reinventing it as an umbrella for Islamic Arts,” says Kaveh Dabiri, OMA Associate. 

The exhibition design has been led by OMA Partner Iyad Alsaka, Associate Kaveh Dabiri, and Project Architect Saskia Simon. The project is OMA’s first built work in Saudi Arabia, ushering in a new chapter in the firm’s long-standing involvement in the country. OMA’s portfolio in the Middle East includes projects such as the Qatar National Library, the headquarters of the Qatar Foundation, and Concrete at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai. OMA’s think tank, AMO, has published extensively on the rapid urbanisation of the region in two special issues of Volume magazine, Al Manakh (2007) and Al Manakh: Gulf Continued (2010).

The curatorial team of the Islamic Arts Biennale comprises Dr. Saad Alrahid, Dr. Julian Raby, Sumayya Vally, and Dr. Omniya Abdel Barr. The exhibition will be on display until April 23, 2023. 

Posted under: News

Tags: Islamic Arts Biennale, Jeddah, OMA

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Showcase


CLOU architects was commissioned by Vanke to design the fourth-floor atrium of the newly opened Future City Mall in Qingdao, China. Located in Qingdao’s northern district, Vanke Future City is a new shopping and leisure …

Continue reading

Ambientec will be taking part in Euroluce with two designs by Elisa Ossino and Kensaku Oshiro. Alongside this exclusive premiere, the Japanese light-design brand will take the opportunity to showcase the recent special editions of …

Continue reading

Alessandro Andreucci and Agape unveil a new concept of retractable storage cabinets with pivoting mirrors, for equipped walls that feature practicality and elegance in equal measure. Voilà transforms at the lightest touch, instantly expanding the …

Continue reading
Translate »