Jury Reports 2008 - 2018

Jury reports in Arabic are only available from the Seventh cycle (2014) until the Eleventh cycle (2018).

Jury Report 2008 - First cycle

An award such as the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Excellence in Architectural Design can greatly encourage establishing positive exchange of ideas among students,architects, faculty members, and universities. Moreover, the jury, through which both local and foreign architects are represented, helps establish linkages between academia and practice.

It is hoped that this event will be institutionalized to become a regularly recurring one, and that it will be expanded to include graduation design projects from both Jordan and the surrounding region.

The graduation design projects presented to this Award underline the considerable talent, ability, as well as the will to learn and grow evident amongst students of architecture in Jordan.

Even though we greatly appreciate the effort and passion expressed in the submitted projects, certain prevalent features in the projects do raise serious concerns regarding the general state of architectural education as it has evolved over the past few years in Jordan as well as in other countries of the region.

Our general consensus as a jury is that the students are relatively well-versed in the techniques of visual graphic presentation. However, much of the student design work coming out of our universities today is highly formalistic and focuses on graphic visual impacts and stimuli. In such work, clarity and discipline often are absent, and ambiguity prevails. The ordinary, silent, and neutral are feared; clutter often dominates in both
design and presentation.

Such work portrays an unhealthy dependency on CAD technologies to produce images that are detached from architecture as a multi-disciplinary endeavor and as a material manifestation of the creative process. Under such circumstances, architectural representation techniques that denote basic design skills and delineate careful planning, spatial qualities, and materiality suffer greatly. Moreover, while a project may begin with very promising diagrams and sketches, these often are not developed fully or seriously, and, in many cases, function is sacrificed for the sake of form.

Although the process of architectural design requires a high level of critical and analytical rigor, the outcomes of architectural design studios today often consist of derivative and watered down versions of trendy vocabularies primarily disseminated through architectural magazines and the Internet. Students of architecture have become heavily dependent on superficial readings of such sources. Examining the rich and diverse examples of architecture and urbanism that history has to offer is absent. This deprives students from an in-depth intellectual and visual investigation of the making of architecture, and prevents them from fully developing and polishing the considerable talent they possess.

Numerous student projects therefore are intended to impress at first sight and provide a degree of "shock value" through exhibitionist presentation techniques. These techniques often consist of collages of images that incorporate a multi-layering of forms, colors, and lines, and that do not adequately reflect the physicality and materiality of architecture.The final result often is an obsession with image and arbitrary form. Issues relating to physical, technological, social, and cultural contexts are to a great extent absent, resulting in what may be referred to as a state of disconnection between the architectural design process and architecture as built form.

Jury comments on winning projects
First Prize
This project expresses considerable restraint and sensitivity that establish a degree of connectedness to its context. It also shows an understanding of local preexisting vernacular typologies.

The project effectively addresses issues relating to conservation, materiality, and function. The final result is one that conveys an overall sense of "silence" and a sense of place.

The jury appreciates the project's clear design thinking processes as well as outcomes.

Second Prize
This project effectively addresses the challenges of program and function. It also resolves issues relating to siting and spatial components in a balanced manner. It develops an original conceptual diagram into a well thought-out design with considerably developed planning features.

The project expands the original function of the complex to include cultural and recreational activities that engage a wider range of users from the surrounding community.

Third Prize
This project shows a reasonably well-proportioned and refined articulation of forms, and presents clearly thought-out and developed planning features. Both plan and form are elegantly developed in a harmonious manner that takes into consideration the topography of the site.

The project's horizontality helps counteract the verticality of the adjacent large-scale development.

Honorable Mention
This project presents a creative interpretation and redefinition of a conventional building program. It allows a centralized, serious corporate function to fragment and expand throughout the city and moreover injects a recreational component into it.

Sahel Al Hiyari
Han Tümertekin
Farouk Yaghmour

Jury Report 2009 - Second Cycle

The jury is delighted to see such a diverse group of entries from all over the Arab world and hopes submissions to the Award will increase in the future as such an activity can only improve our cultural landscape.

The jury noted a diversity of themes with a particular focus on challenging topics that are of special relevance to the Arab world, such as sustainability, peace, and the preservation of identity. The topics are meaningful. However, their translation into projects only reached a significant level of development and maturity in some of the projects, and did not live up to the potentials of such undertakings in other cases.

Several projects show promising architectural directions but contradict their themes and contexts. Also, a few projects are over-designed, faddish, and even engaged in visual acrobatics.

The three prize winners exhibit restrain in their solutions and show solid alignment to their theme, site, and context. Their solutions are concise and convey their concepts very clearly. They are unpretentious, humble, authentic, understated, yet powerful.

Although the second- and third-prize projects were not developed to their full potential capacity, they steer clear of acrobatic formative tactics and present solutions that have high potential for becoming resonating environments, once developed with guidance.

All the winning entries and honorable mentions, however, fall short on thorough climatic/environmental analyses and do not integrate imperative sustainable strategies.
Some projects were quickly eliminated for being conventional, banal, and unimaginative, including those that are poorly presented in terms of clarity of approach and feel of graphics.

Many projects are characterized by the use of excessive textual information and visual images. This has resulted in over-clutter and "visual noise." Some presentations are too busy that they detract from the project itself.

The jury was disappointed with the quality of some presentations, particularly regarding the incorrect use of semantics and basic grammar, as well as the misspelling of words.

First Prize
'Ain Ghazal Interpretation Park
This project provides a strong sense of place, a very well-resolved scheme, a rigorous design approach, and a site-sensitive solution that shows maturity through its methodical approach and project expression. It also incorporates a high-quality investigation of the development of building details and roof structures. Its forms integrate well into their context and contribute to effectively linking two nearby urban areas. We also found the idea of a living bridge over the highway particularly powerful.

The project, in addition, incorporates a "story-telling" approach that encourages a sequential exploration of the site, thus giving value to archeology and the history of the place. It also effectively conveys the feeling of an architectural dig as well as captures and preserves the excavation of the site as a conceptual driver of the design. The design provides a good sense of the integration of landscape elements (trees and water). Its materials are clearly thought-out and articulated, resulting in rich, soulful places. Moreover, the character of each of its components offers a pull factor that keeps the visitor interested andengaged.Finally, the project's presentation is very effective.

Comments for improvement
The poetic gestures found in each architectural component are somewhat absent in the overall combined expression of the project buildings on the site. There also are potentials for making the project a more subtle expression by developing the overall scheme to blend more effectively into the earth and the surroundings. Moreover, the project can be made less imposing in its totality; in fact, a well-thought-out landscape layer can help achieve a more discrete and subtle intervention within the context of the surroundings.

We encourage the designer of this project to further develop the presentation and present it to the relevant authorities to propel it into the realm of implementation, thus providing a bridge between academia and a real-life solution.

Second Prize
A Moment of Regret and the New Beginning
The jury members appreciate the student's bold decision to address such a unique and culturally controversial theme: that of women's abuse. We can feel the passion and sensitivity expressed in this design, which has transformed a potentially defensive building type into an embracing environment that is both humane and architecturally powerful. The deliberate organic disposition of the buildings on the site is appropriate for this healing retreat and very much in line with its conceptual direction. The monolithic gestures of the buildings and spaces evoke a sense of silence and serenity that allows for healing and spiritual reconciliation.

The project relates well to its site. Moreover, the negative space carved out of the existing natural setting creates a sense of detachment, and is therefore successful in transforming an urban plot into a healing sanctuary. The sense of arrival and unfolding of the building particularly provides for an appropriate therapeutic experience.

Comments for improvement:
The translation of the narrative (mapping of the stab wounds) is too literal and arbitrary to the solution. The project in fact needs to be further developed - especially in terms of architectural character - without losing its monolithic expression. There also is a need to further develop the internal components and rooms as intimate spaces needed for contemplation and individual healing.

Third Prize
Urban Plank: Projecting the City of El Mina Back to the Sea
The concept of reconnecting people with the sea is the strongest aspect of the project. The project expresses a clear sequencing of a narrative linking the city and the sea, and the siting and positioning of the building shows a well-developed example of an investigation of urban issues and a good understanding of the urban context.
The project expresses a coherent sense of planning that incorporates simple architectural plans to resolve a functional program. The jury members appreciate the reductionist approach of formal exploration through modeling to arrive at a simpler solution.

The rooftop for viewing the city and the sea could become a viable destination for the city.

The project's presentation is effective, especially in its depiction of the old town.

Comments for improvement:
The project needs further development in relation to materials, skins, and facades. In this context, the extensive use of glass facades is climatically questionable. Moreover, the quality of the internal spaces needs to be further defined and articulated. The roof areas also need further development, and the option of engaging with the sea beyond the visual should be further explored. Perhaps the project's ample open-air spaces can be exploited as opportunities for accomplishing this.

Honorable Mention 1
Parametric Dubai: Emerging Poly. Morphi. City
This project is commendable for exploring a unique intellectual concept with a promising density. It exhibits a good sense of place and geometry, as well as a strong juxstapositioning and balance between the temporary/mystical and the progressive/dynamic. Once more fully resolved and developed, the project has the potential to become an evocative destination. The design, however, still falls short of developing its concept. It is worthy of further investigation as it remains an example of paper architecture.

The presentation is exemplary: concise and effective. Its subtlety effectively reflects the mood and spirit of the concept.

Honorable Mention 2
'Ain Ghazal Interpretation Park
This well-presented project provides another strong approach through which a simple solution is developed for resolving a complex program and a challenging site. The design manages to articulate inherent views available from the site with only a few gestures. It provides a simple and strong statement: that of the building as a balcony onto the archeological dig.

The project shows both an understanding of the site and sensitivity to context. Although it is conceptually strong, the translation into details falls short of achieving the anticipated results. Finally, for both the First Prize and Honorable Mention 2 projects, which deal with the same program, we commend the students for selecting a site of paramount importance to Jordan and for providing poetic solutions that are sensitive to heritage values.

Saleh Al-Hathloul
Vladimir Djurovic
Khalid Nahhas

Jury Report 2010 - Third Cycle

In assessing the entries submitted to the third cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Excellence in Architectural Design, the jury members agreed to consider the changing dynamics and the evolving discourse affecting architecture and architectural education, and not to support sustaining outmoded and no longer relevant architectural paradigms.

Moreover, the jury viewed creativity and originality as a major criterion, but it also considered the entries’ social and environment relevance. The jury appreciated the social, political, and economic conditions that the students have projected. Moreover, the jury concentrated on assessing the students’ architectural responses to the problems that their tutors identified.

The Jury considered the uneven conditions and the differing educational briefs and objectives that the various participating students represent. In the final result, it decided not to rank the projects, but instead distributed five equal prizes.

Choreographic Center in Oman
This entry shows a very good analysis of the movements, stretches, and tension associated with dance. The analysis of the movements has been explored in sequential and permutational orders so as to generate pattern as the basis of form. Even though the analysis addresses Indian dance, the method is generic and may be conceived as being universal.

The project generates lines of forces based on positions and movements that originate in dance, then transforms those into architectural forms. The lines of the forces transformed into form show a persuasive relationship to their origin (dance) and destination (architecture). The overall process of this generation of form is original, creative, and inspiring.

The generated patterns also effectively relate to the surrounding landscape, and are sensitively transformed into building form. The final result is an entity that is in harmony with nature and landform.

The Jury appreciated the project’s commitment to both free thinking and well-disciplined analysis.

The project, however, needs to employ clear structural systems, and its spaces must be formed in line with those systems. A clear explanation of the design decisions made is needed for the selection of materials and method of construction.

No Man’s Land
This project expresses freedom in a creative and experimental way.

It has succeeded in transforming a pertinent political issue (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) into basic elements of architectural value. Important factors of site, territory, and borders are addressed through an architectural vocabulary based on bridging, geometric nodes, platforms, surfaces, and gestures.

The student has presented an explosive architecture that explores issues related to freedom, and that provokes us to think further about those issues.

The project has a strong concept and clear architectural expression. The presentation is graphically well designed. The drawings and renderings are expressive.

Cinematic Academy
The student has succeeded in following up on the concept of interaction, establishing effective visual communication and programmatic relationships linking the different functions through the creation of several strata that address both sides of the valley. These interconnect and fold to link and form the ramps and steps.

The plan follows two grids that connect at a central zone, giving access to the series of public spaces overlooking each other.

The openings in the building take the form of thin and large slits depending on the amount of light that needs to get through.

The total expression is that of slabs, surfaces, openings, and bridges, rather than doors, windows, and rooms.

This project has high architectural qualities, a clear concept expressed in the sequence of overlapping layers that form the project. Another sequence of renderings expresses the journey within the building.

The structure, however, needs more study. The thresholds between the project’s decorative and structural elements are blurred and need to be clarified.

The project presents an abstract feeling of materials that gives it a strong and unified expression.

Development of Beirut's First Pier
The project provides a very sober understanding of its site, a highly-prominent junction of the city with its water front. Its major gesture of an intrusive mass growing into the sea provides a culmination of a prevailing direction in Beirut’s urban evolution as a city encroaching on the sea and meeting it face to face.

Through meticulous planning, the design has consolidated a complex program in a convincing manner, showing how design development is an integral part of any architectural project. This is the strongest design in terms of taking on the extra step of thinking through the major architectural questions affecting the building.

The design generated from shifting planes along strong contextual site lines resulted in a bold massing that has managed nonetheless to tread lightly on the waterfront and to recall typologies related to port cities without engaging in simplistic typological borrowings.

However, as with many massing concepts developed from plane shifts, the building envelop seems to have been developed as an afterthought, and is not at a similar level of development as the rest of the design.

A Story about the Future of an Old Building
Iconic buildings from the past present a major challenge to modern use, especially when their history carries the scars of war. In this project, the designer has taken the very bold move of presenting the building as is, juxtaposing a new light framework that serves as an additional skin. This enables the use of the building without undermining the effects of time. The juxtapositioning opens the building up for new uses and brings it back to life.

The new metal structure operates on many levels: the symbolic, functional, and structural. Its major success is found in the fact that it neither aims at overwhelming nor worshiping its past. It is simply there because it needs to be there. It is so very well integrated into the function and fabric of the old building. The design could benefit from a further solidification of its intention by actually considering the structural role of the new metal framework in a more realistic manner. Still, the designer has managed to develop an intervention, which, despite its very odd shape, seems to naturally belong to the project program.

Considerable attention is paid to the interface between the old fabric and the new one while developing a functional yet flexible program. The city of Beirut has seen many attempts at re-weaving its urban fabric and consolidating the divide line that separated its eastern and western parts. This project is not a reconciliation with “the other,” like many of Beirut's previous projects that tackled the question of damaged buildings along the green line; it is about coming to peace with ”the self.”

Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj
Nadim Karam
Suha Ozkan

Jury Report 2011 - Fourth Cycle

The projects submitted for the fourth cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Excellence in Architectural Design express a wide range of approaches in terms of focus, scale, and type. However, they are inconsistent in terms of quality, depth, and pertinence.

In assessing the submitted projects, we have identified three important and interconnected approaches that deserve attention, and that express a set of skills that any accomplished architect will need to master during the course of his or her career.

The first of these skills is that of developing formal solutions concentrating on forms, spaces, materials, and textures. This of course is a very important and essential component of the process of creating works of architecture. The submissions for the Award have shown a few powerful formal solutions that range from simple platonic forms, to soft, fluid plastic ones, often set against dramatic landscapes.

The second approach emphasizes carrying out extensive analyses of physical contexts, both natural and built, and also of functional requirements, and developing solutions that come out of such analyses. These solutions accept and even embrace physical contextual complexities, using them as a source of guidance, and even inspiration, in developing works of architecture and planning.

The third approach emphasizes architecture's role in addressing socio-economic and environmental challenges, and helping achieve sustainable built solutions that contribute to improving people's quality of life. While the jury believes it is very important for architects to master all three skills, the overwhelming socio-economic and environmental challenges people everywhere are facing today make it particularly important for architects to articulate their role as agents of positive change in their societies.

Still, it should be emphasized that for all three cases, architects need to rigorously "test" their solutions and to ensure that they effectively address formal, programmatic, socio-economic, and environmental issues in the best and most thorough manner possible.

We feel that each of the winning projects we have selected addresses at least one of these requirements in a competent and well-thought-out manner. It should be mentioned, however, that none of them successfully address all three, and many of the submitted designs express weaknesses in terms of mastering basic design skills and clarity of visual communication. This indicates that the process of rigorous "testing" mentioned above often is lacking. We of course understand that the submitted designs are solutions developed by students who have not yet begun their professional careers, and that architects are only able to effectively develop their skills through years of dedicated work. Still, certain skills that we feel should have been mastered by architects who have just completed their formal architectural education are not evident in many of the submitted entries.

All in all, we hope that our selection and assessment of the winning projects will encourage students, as well as their instructors and the departments of architecture with which they are affiliated, to rigorously emphasize developing these different set skills and also to thoroughly explore the contributions that architects may make to their societies.

First Prize
Garbage Village: Social Integration through Quarry Architecture
This project is very pertinent to issues of poverty and community development, and addresses them in a manner that promotes self reliance. The adaptive reuse of an old quarry as an urban magnet through its function as a community center is particularly noteworthy. The design creates a physical solution that promotes socio-economic sustainability and that is harmonious with its surroundings. It provides public green areas that enhance the quality of life in those surroundings, and promise to have a significant positive impact on them. Moreover, the rehabilitation of the quarry is carried out in a visually sensitive, unobtrusive, and thoughtful manner.

Second Prize (shared)
Al-Mujib Gateway: Visitor and Morphogenic Design Center
This design presents an elegant and seamless insertion in the landscape. It excavates the site, but blends in it through layers that create well-articulated roof-ribbons and a discreet roofline. It creates a powerful composition that has its back tucked into the rock formation, and its front open to the Dead Sea.

The plan and section, as well as the circulation, are well thought out. The project features a wide variety of shelters and canopies, yet remains compact. It effectively sensitizes its visitors to nature, and provides them with a rich spatial experience.

House of Sound and Word (Dar al-sawt wa'l-kalima)
This project provides for a thorough analysis of its context, site, and functional requirements. It is sensitive to the human scale. It addresses the issue of developing an infill project within a pre-existing urban fabric, providing effective visual links between the project's site and its surroundings in central Beirut.

All in all, the project indicates a high level of maturity in carrying out the design process. The presentation expresses clarity of thought although the visual information it provides could have been better explained.

Third Prize (shared)
Rum Astronomy Center, Wadi Rum, Jordan
This project presents an effective set of framed, modular platonic geometric objects that are juxtaposed against a dramatic natural background. Its design is simple and clear. The contrast between the natural and the man-made is powerful.

This issue of scale, however, is problematic since the structure extends over thirteen stories in height. Also, no attention is given to developing the project's site plan.

Agencies of Empty Quarter – Liwa Desert – Performance Infrastructure
This project shows elegance and poetry. It is an example of architecture reduced and distilled to single object. The design effectively relates to the powerful presence of the desert through a controlled, organized porous softness that evokes images of mirages and also of desert reptiles.

The design, however, is functionally unrealistic, and is massive in scale, both in terms of height and length, particularly in relation to the simple and limited functions it holds.

Nabil Gholam
Hanif Kara
Hazel Wong

Jury Report 2012 - Fifth Cycle

We reviewed an impressive amount of submissions covering a large number of countries and architectural students: 129 projects from 34 schools in 11 countries. The competition entries provide a representative snapshot of the state of architectural education in much of the Arab world. A main general impression that arises from examining the submitted projects is that they address a number of the primary important issues that face communities everywhere in the world. These include interaction with the natural environment, pressing socio-economic challenges, sustainability, and the shift away from commercial real-estate development oriented thinking to an emphasis on the needs of communities. The entries clearly indicate that the students of the universities of the Arab world are aware of future challenges and opportunities that face their societies, and are willing to fully engage with them.

A main criticism of the entries is that a large number of them show a dominant influence of computer generated designs on the forms of buildings as well as on the method of visual presentation. This is accompanied by a disparity between architectural program and final form, and many of the submitted designs seem to be formed without any relevance to their brief. Many such presentations convey an impression of monotony and lack any sense of place.

We also noticed numerous instances of forced shapes in the development of site plans, where there is an emphasis on expressing site plan as a logo or graphic design instead of a three-dimensional experience. We also noticed that there is very little engagement with traditional and historical contexts, which could have created a platform from which young students may face contemporary challenges. Many of the projects also show very little evidence of any deep investigation of the sites in which the projects are located. It is here that the winning projects distinguished themselves since they all showed real engagement with their context.

Regarding the written abstracts that students presented about their projects, they often engaged in pretentious and highly-abstract language, instead of presenting concrete contextual and functional descriptions about their projects.

As for the winning projects, we felt that they present programs that are relevant to their contexts, and that they are increasingly addressing projects that are of great value to societies in the Arab world, as with those dealing with the challenges of urbanism, community spaces, and public places for congregation.

Winning projects:
We felt that the winning projects strongly present a sense of place and relate to their contexts. They address relevant issues; focus on social aspects, communities, and environment; and are characterized by clear visual presentation methods.

The jury chose the following five winning projects:

Spatial Prosthetic
This project deals with a new reality. It is well set in the cosmopolitan context of Dubai, and provides a critical reflection of the urban developments that have taken place there. It provides a solution to an urban crisis in an optimistic manner. It additionally reflects upon a problem that is present in other parts of the world, where newly-built or unfinished developments are left vacant because of the repercussions of the 2008 economic crisis. Moreover, historical references add extra value, thus allowing the project to extend beyond being a visual representation based on multimedia and video projections.

Streetbook Community Park
This project is an expression of what is currently happening in Egypt, concentrating on the older parts of Cairo. It shows an awareness of ongoing social change, and how people are defining their expectations and responsibilities as they try to find their own solutions to the urban problems of a neglected area.  The project creates a fun and positive space that provides a rapid answer to a problem. The project also accommodates change, and presents a powerful reflection on positive networks that may emerge between different people and different generations.

Awareness through Experience... Connecting Solar Elements
This project presents an intelligent use of materials and an understanding of environmental contexts. It presents an effective integration of building into the natural landscape, and shows an appreciation of the beauty of Aswan. It also conveys a positive quality of light, which is not only practical, but also addresses issues relating to culture and environment, and is fun and beautiful. The space created by the design of the structure is simple, yet provides a very good integration of form, structure, and decoration.

Looking Within: intervening in the old Saida town
This project presents a positive approach to interventions in a historical urban texture. It is an investigation of history as layers. Its facilities are integrated within a node in a historic context. It provides a very strong narrative of the project, and clearly shows how we understand history and culture. The project presents a strong idea and a strong narrative even though there is an awareness that it is not a realistic project. The jury members also appreciate that this project incorporates hand-sketching as a means of investigation and presentation of an idea.

Permeable Field of Education
This project is an expression of the active social engagement of the architect in providing spaces in a dense urban area. It shows an awareness of the impact of major buildings on communities. It presents different communal uses for buildings that otherwise would be closed at the end of the school day and at certain times of the year. It also is an acknowledgement of the changing model of schools and education in general. This project promotes developing schools in a manner that is sustainable, multifunctional, and that is a part of the community. In addition, it changes perceptions of how communities view the schools located in their midst.

Honorable mentions
The following projects were commended for their engagement and investigation of certain themes.  Each presented a few good ideas that stand out from among the entries presented for this cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Award.

Joinery at the Frontier
The Syrian – Turkish border
This project stood out among other projects that address the issue of borders and transitional areas because of the effective manner through which it dealt with such sites. It expresses the connection between land and people, and is sensitively engaged with the site and its people.

The Living Voids
This project provides an example of a widespread urban reality: voids resulting from uncompleted construction projects. It brings a remedy to them and creates life in them. The project deals with construction holes in a way that is an inversion of what is presented in the winning Spatial Prosthetic project, thus providing a different response to the problem. While the Spatial Prosthetic project focuses on a media-oriented artistic use, this one makes a statement that is connected to the surrounding community.

Mystic Intertwine
This project addresses the critical issue of the destruction to the landscape through urban sprawl. It is a modest, yet effective statement on how to reactivate a site, even though it presents a first step and not a complete process. It is sensitive, respectful, and understated.

This project presents a conceptual and abstract design brief. It is an exploration of how light and illumination change, and how the impact and appearance of buildings change accordingly. It is an interactive structure created out of light, and represents an example of a conceptual investigation that emphasizes the non-materiality of architecture. The project challenges self-censorship and tests the limits of imagination in student projects.

Khaled Azzam
Farrokh Derakhshani
Ahmad Humeid

Jury Report 2013 - Sixth Cycle

Can Architecture produce meaning?
In a profession that is increasingly succumbing to corporate practices, our objective in this jury deliberation was to select and reward those who demonstrated that it is still possible to explore alternative paths.

This can begin with resisting present-day aesthetic fashions that are too often imposed by market forces, but that also result from the proliferating images coming out of the trend-setters of our profession.

From amongst the 145 entries that were submitted for this year’s Award cycle, a significant number of participants showed considerable capabilities relative to what our profession expects from graduates entering the field.  We selected five winning projects from these entries for their courageous attempts at producing meaning through the act of architecture.

The variety of the questions resulting from these explorations shows that students from the Arab world are very capable of making worthwhile contributions to the ongoing architectural debates currently taking place beyond its regional frontiers.

We feel that the five winning entries may be divided into two groups:

The first group contains three projects that are an outcome of an engagement with the very specific social, economic, and political forces - if not upheavals - currently affecting societies in the Arab world.

All Senses Pavilion
is a marvelous project that presents a poetic narrative, and that gives hope and transcends the conventional limits of architecture by proposing an experiential project rather than a contemplative one.

Home for Bedouins
is the only built project submitted for the Award and the only candidate that shows great resistance to the prevalent ways of construction.

Treading the Line
demonstrates the importance of reinventing and constructing a relevant program as a central part in the architectural act. The proposed project shows great levels of poetics by drawing interesting parallels between destruction and production, and by creating life in abandoned cemeteries.

In contrast to the first three nominees, the two entries of the second group show a concentration of effort on producing form as a main driving force in the act of architecture. As a result, we feel that these two projects could have been produced anywhere and are not concerned with the notion of context.

Crystal (De) Formation
is an attempt aimed at identifying alternative means of producing complex forms. It addresses the question of whether chemical processes can produce shapes that are of architectural interest. Although that question has been raised by too many members of what is often a baffled architectural community for way too long, the candidate nonetheless shows great ability in producing powerful formal gestures.

Machine in an Empty and Vast Territory
is another exercise in form-making that clearly demonstrates that we can still succumb to dangerously-seductive and self-indulgent architectural compositions. The jury had great difficulty tracking the ballerina’s graceful and dynamic performance in the heavily-material manifestation of the resulting architectural proposition. This project proves the limits of architectural metaphors. Its accompanying text, however, promises a more honest engagement with the political context for which this project was initially proposed. Still, the temptation of producing complex forms prevails.

Shahira Fahmy
Bernard Khoury
Murat Tabanlioglu

Jury Report 2014 - Seventh Cycle

The jury’s approach to selecting the winning projects was to choose those that have strong philosophies, ideas, moral attitudes, and a clear architectural interpretation of the program proposed rather than projects that present iconic images. We also aimed at understanding the challenges that the students tried to address in designing their projects.

We went through several elimination processes during the jury sessions, and focused on projects that express strong relationships with their contexts; that present social, economic, cultural, historical, and political visions; and that show ethically-based approaches towards the making of architecture. Also, as practicing architects, we assessed whether these projects are earthly (or down-to-earth) rather than simply being presented as a set of attractive images.

We went through the three phases identified below in selecting the winning projects.

First phase: identified 25 shortlisted projects
We noticed that a good number of projects focused only on ostentatious presentations and the use of exhibitionistic architectural forms rather than on context. These were eliminated.

We also eliminated a group of projects that belong to experimental methodological processes that do not produce completed architectural projects. They do not seem to provide an expression of architecture, but are rather conceptual, experimental, and not connected to everyday needs and to context. They might be considered a beginning of a research process, but are very far from being works of architecture, and many of them seem to lack an architectural program.

Second phase: eliminated 7 of the 25 shortlisted projects
The shortlisted projects we identified in the first phase deal with problematic sites and shed light on common problems. They all present excellent ideas and express architectural potential. Moreover, their programs show an understanding of the surrounding contexts. They also create some interesting experimental spaces, and the architectural drawings and diagrams presented for them are well developed.

We still were able to eliminate 7 of these 25 projects since their general architectural qualities, articulation, and volumetric compositions were not developed satisfyingly. Moreover, they are segregated from their surroundings and imposed on their topographies, which weakens their relation to their contexts. In addition, they include useless spatial and structural compositions. We also felt that these projects do not express a high level of architectural curiosity, and deal with their sites in a shy manner.

Third phase: selected the eleven winners
Although the eighteen projects we shortlisted present good architecture, we found that some of them express weaknesses when dealing with their contexts in terms of scale, architectural language, landscaping, and the use of material.

Some of these projects also show excessive efforts that aim at creating superfluous and unnecessary structures. In addition, we felt that these projects show a gap between their concepts and their architectural program.

As a result, we eliminated seven of this second shortlisted group of projects. We then divided our final selection of winning projects into two categories: a group of equal first-place winners (six projects), which reflect a high quality of design and a sense of innovation more successfully than the others, and a group of equal second-place winners (five projects).

The winners are as follows:

First Prize Winners
Abu Alanda Community
This is a very realistic and unpretentious project. It is about improving housing and the experience of living. Although the project seems conservative in its use of architectural vocabularies, we found it respectful to its context as it uses local and historical materials and patterns, but in a modern way.

The project shows a rejection of the de-contextualizing of architecture, and also shows that architecture does not have to be revolutionist, but can be continuous; and that solutions may be found in local morphologies and construction techniques. The project is a good example of respecting, preserving, and even reproducing preexisting ideas.

We feel, however, that the project’s presentation graphics may be improved, and that more architectural details may be provided.

Almahatta - Stitching Trails
This project is impressive in that it deals with stitching a division, and links two parts of the city, both physically and socially. Creating new public spaces and opening up leftover spaces for the public is a very good approach and is very much needed in a city such as Amman. The project’s architecture is sensitive. It uses the Amman Hijaz Railway Station as a point for linking the two sides of the city, and does so through relying on simple compositions and through a good command of scale.

Al-Nakba Museum: The Question of The Palestine Museum & Center
The project reflects the symbolic meaning and philosophy of the term “al-Nakba,” which translates into “catastrophy” and refers to the loss of Palestine as an Arab land and the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland. This project brings an architectural interpretation to this event through its choice of architectural forms and their integration into the landscape. Architecture is here used as an unconventional but brilliant tool to emphasize the experience of al-Nakba.

The building from the outside melts into the landscape, and the experience from the inside is primarily defined by transitional spaces. The contrasts in the composition of shapes and in the manipulation of light, which is also used as a way-finding tool throughout the paths of the project, simulate feelings of tension connected to a traumatic event such as that of al-Nakba.

We feel that a weakness of the project is that a number of its spaces are rectangular masses that stray from the project’s overall concept and the approach.

Anchoring the City Back to the Sea
We can describe this project as a protective social, humanitarian, and cultural project. The project dealt with the problematic situation of the Aqaba seashore being blocked by the port through opening the area to the public, through establishing connections within the landscape and creating continuous spaces, and through promoting local agricultural practices.

The planning elements of the project, such as its walkways, act as extensions to the existing site, and the circulation networks that take people from one level to another are carried out in an effective manner that allows users to experience the shore in new ways. There is also an emphasis on the horizontal forms of the project’s architecture, which opens it to the sea and uses local materials in a transparent manner. All this gives the complex a sense of lightness and helps integrate it within the surrounding landscape. Although the scale of the project is large, its architecture remains humble and is integrated within the landscape.

Circassian Interpretation Center
The project addresses a subject matter of “authenticity”, brings an identity to the proposed program, and sensitively situates the project on its site. Moreover, the project’s different units create a unified and coherent composition that expresses a close relationship between its different parts.

The final architectural product emerged from several analysis phases that are clearly reflected in the presentation (massing study model, layering study model, morphological diagrams…etc). The complex also is sensitively connected to the surrounding topography, and effectively incorporates the local construction material of stone. The interior of the project, however, is not continuous with the project’s pattern, and resembles a ready-made product.

Streets of Shatila: An Artifact of Exile
This project is very sensitive in that it effectively connects to the urban context and deals with a diverse urban community, which is usually a challenge in architecture. This is especially the case for a project such as this one, since it deals with the radical urban complexities of refugee camps, which are almost always isolated from the surrounding areas. The concept arises from the complexity of the city and its dense urban patterns, and is reinterpreted into architecture by using a minimum of architectural elements, essentially by adding or removing architectural pieces while still completing and improving them by reinterpreting the existing architectural language. Moreover, the project uses these architectural elements to stitch the urban fabric and to develop it as one entity rather than fragmenting it into a series of entities. This project is an excellent example of urban stitching that is achieved in both its two-dimensional and three-dimensional compositions. This is realized through adding roads, linking nodes, and through adding small parts to existing buildings, which may consist of a wall, a segment of a façade, or a room. All these provide excellent examples of what may be identified as acupunctural architecture.

Architects usually tend to create projects as complete objects. This project, however, shows a different approach, which is to use incomplete small parts that yet belong to a complete architectural program. We also found the presentation to be very sensitive and successful on both the urban and architectural scales.

Second Prize Winners
Battle of Badr Museum
We generally found the fluidity of the project’s plans, as well as the fragmentation and integration of the project within the surrounding landscape to be very successful. The project’s architectural vocabulary and materials as presented within this landscape all complement each other. The weakness of this project lies in its awkward architectural articulation, which results in the building appearing too exposed and poorly proportioned.

House of Trasion – The Exposed Dumpster
This project fills in a wasted space, reinvents it, and regenerates it by manipulating new additions while enabling the scale of the project to fit very well within the scale of the existing urban context. It deals with the existing surrounding buildings in a clever way and presents a good articulation of architectural elements. By adding some masses and spaces, and also creating vertical and horizontal circulation elements, the project creates different identities between the solid and the void, and creates spaces that are expected to have a new life, all of which provide for very powerful ideas. Also, the section drawings show sensitivity to the surrounding local scale.

In terms of materials, we feel that their selection could have better respected the local context. The use of steel structures creates an unnecessary contrast between the new intervention and its  surroundings. The new structure, as a result, appears too exposed, alienated, and not very respectful of its context.

Land Museum
We believe that the power of this project, which is dedicated to Palestinian history, lies in its successful landscaping and circulation. The language of the landscape is appreciated as it complements the existing building, and the circulation plan is very clear and connects the project’s masses, experiences, and landscape. We also appreciate the contrast between the monumental parts of the project and its more modest parts, as well as the overall composition of all its parts. However, the main building in the center seems disproportionate in regard to the landscape, and can potentially be better integrated.  We also feel that the three-dimensional drawings used in the project’s presentation need to be more detailed, but also simplified. 

Tell Al-Rumman Environmental Interpretation Center
This is a very courageous and powerful project that expresses a different approach to integrating the building within nature, and searches for different kinds of relationships between nature and architecture. Architecture in this project is used as a sculpture that presents itself in nature as a blunt architectural piece. The contrasts in color and the continuity between the roofs of the architectural forms and the surrounding landscape are expressive. We, however, find that it is a huge challenge for such structures to coexist with nature without destroying it, and that more effort should have been placed on ensuring that such structures dissolve within nature. One should be unusually careful when dealing with such a sensitive natural context, which once destroyed will be extremely hard to replace. Even though the main concept is appreciated in the sense of highlighting nature, it overloads in the project. Also, some of the masses used are brought from urban architectural patterns and consequently create a mismatch the project’s intentions.

The Reconstruction of the Souks of Beirut 
We appreciate the fact that this project presents a kind of opposition to prevailing attitudes towards the city, and a rehabilitation of a problematic area. We also appreciate the fact that the project uses the urban scale and existing urban patterns as its base, emphasizes the pedestrian circulation of the area, continues the site’s existing axis, and protects its archeological sites. The project challenges the approach of following star architects and large-scale projects that the media celebrates. 

Although we feel there is room for improving the project from an architectural point of view in the sense of avoiding a ready-made architecture language, we find it a powerful statement that searches for alternative approaches and different solutions to urban complexes, rather than developing additions that have nothing to do with existing urban scales and realities.

Saad El Kabbaj
Emre Arolat
Senan Abdelqader

Jury Report 2015 -  Eighth Cycle

The projects that the students submitted are representations of architecture. There are conventions for representing architecture through both visual tools (plans, elevations, sections, three-dimensional drawings, models, photographs…) and textual information (explanatory texts, image captions …). We are of course aware that such conventions are undergoing a process of transformation, particularly as a result of ongoing and rapid developments relating to digital technologies. The students obviously are experimenting with traditional and up-to-date methods of visual representation, and a number of them seem to show great technical mastery. Many of the submitted projects in fact feature a few highly seductive images. All submitted projects, and in varying degrees, have been unable to provide a comprehensive, coherent, and carefully worked out system of representation that brings the project being represented into a clear unified whole. The ease of digital representation, in fact, has allowed the students to move away from any sense of restraint, or from calculating their representational efforts. Accordingly, rather than attempting to draw out the implication of each media to the limits of its potentials, we have been presented with a proliferation of images, as if “quantity” is a goal. It also should be mentioned that the accompanying textual information for many of the projects greatly suffers from a lack of clarity, poor grammar, and incorrect spelling.

Having said that, we should add that we have not imposed any preconceived narratives on the submitted projects, and made every effort to identify the essence that each aimed at communicating. We did, however, search for a range of positions that we feel should be addressed such as attention to issues including clarity in defining problems and programs, urbanism, materiality, detail, structural integrity, and developing innovative solutions to problems. In doing so, we still have aimed at understanding and relating to what the students have attempted to present to us.

We have noticed that a good number of the submitted projects share similar themes that focus on a range of topics that are challenging and that are of special relevance to the Arab world. These topics include economic opportunities, political violence, commemoration of past events, and the Palestinian issue. Although we felt that many of the submitted projects are very interesting in terms of the themes they address, we also found many of them to be lacking in design quality. Several projects were immediately excluded for being either too conventional or unclear in both approach and presentation. The majority of presentations are cluttered by an overwhelming amount of text and images, thus distracting attention from the projects themselves. A number of projects present interesting conceptual challenges, but fail to effectively develop them.

Selecting the winners:
We went through several selection and elimination processes during the jury sessions. We eliminated those projects that fail to express strong, adequately-developed, clear, and imaginative ideas. We also eliminated those projects that are not well-developed or well-explained and those that are heavily reliant on pictorial images rather than clear and precise architectural drawings, whether plans, sections, or elevations. We started with an initial review of the 130 projects submitted to us (another eleven projects already had been disqualified by the organizers since they belonged to previous years rather than to the 2014 – 2015 academic year), categorizing them under three groups: projects that were eliminated, projects that deserved to be kept for the second round of assessment, and borderline projects that fell between the two groups. As we reviewed the projects, each jury member noted his impressions of each submitted project. We then went through the borderline projects again to decide if they should be kept for the second round of assessment or excluded. By the end of this process, we ended up with 43 shortlisted projects.

The 43 shortlisted projects we selected express a decent level of cohesion and clarity of expression. Due to the amount of excessive information generally displayed for each project, we decided to zoom in on every project. Through this, we found a few design gems hidden within the overall designs of a number of the projects. As a result, we further narrowed down the submitted projects to sixteen finalists that we feel express a sense of unity, consistency, and great potential.

We then selected from these sixteen finalists a group of first-place winners (three projects), a group of second-place winners (three projects), and a group of honorable mentions (six projects).

The winners are as follows:

First Prize Winners
Adventure Center 
We feel that this project provides a very powerful intuitive reaction to its site conditions. We find the idea of a bridge connected to two mountain ranges with a structure suspended from it to be deeply effective. The intricate structure reverses the conventional conception of architecture being built from the ground up as if it is fighting against gravity. It is an excellent idea with great potential, and provides for an impressive engineering feat and a spectacular impact on the natural landscape of Wadi Rum. Its potentials, however, have not been fully explored, and its vertical circulation does not seem to be fully worked out, and, ironically, the very thing that activates the idea (i.e. the structure) itself is explicitly flawed in its conception.

Tale't Al Qarya Interfaith Caves 
This project is impressive in that it presents a great amount of detail and is consistent with the archaeological quality of the artifacts it addresses. The project’s new buildings, moreover, provide continuity with the metaphor of excavation as they read as an erasure of lines rather than an addition of them, thus creating space out of density. The project uses its various architectural elements to stitch the resulting fabric and to develop it as one entity rather than fragmenting it into a series of entities. It is clear that considerable effort was invested in designing and communicating its well crafted plans. Moreover, the rigor of its drawings somehow succeed in demonstrating the potential of representation to project a reality - however abstract it may be – and to convey a space of imagination outside the immediately perceivable values of commercial viability, programmable spaces, or conventional functions. It succeeds because it veers around the idea of convention. The three-dimensional development of the plans into spaces and forms, however, has not been explored adequately, even though its forms are reminiscent of the architectural masses created by Louis Kahn. And although this is a project of poetic charge, it is badly laid out, with too many drawings and no hierarchy.

The Incubatrix: Vertical Farming Production and Research Center 
This project is comprehensively thought out and well developed. It presents an innovative vision and a creative interpretation and redefinition of a conventional building in a way that encourages self-reliance. It engages both the ground and the skyline, and establishes a connection to the city through its site plan in a manner that defines new scenarios for living and working in the city. Moreover, the idea of a vertical farm using green technology will definitely rejuvenate the area in which it is located. The design, with its strong concept and clear architectural expression, creates a physical solution that promotes socio-economic sustainability. The presentation is well developed and conveys unity through its expressive graphics. However, it presents itself as a final statement, and leaves little room for speculation.

Second Prize Winners
Desert Exploration Center
The project has a primordial and intuitive quality about it. Its design is extraordinary in that it fits into the topography of the area as it presents a well-thought out and seamless relationship between the natural and the manmade, thus promoting symbiosis and unity. It stimulates imagination through its analysis of how space may be ascended diagonally and horizontally, and can be described as a riddle that may only be unraveled as one inhabits it. An organic architectural approach is used to solve design problems by adapting the project to the site, climate, and materials. The project plan, however, is of poor resolution. Moreover, it is not clear how the project will be used, and its vertical circulation is not fully worked out.

Stitching the Pockets, Khan Amman
This project is comprehensive, well-laid out, and shows conceptual clarity. It presents a certain duality in how it excavates the hills at the points where it connects with them on the one hand, but on the other hand floats over the low part of the valley. The goal of engaging a forgotten site with the urban fabric to bring back life to the area is of great merit. However, the connections across streets and the vertical elements that are used to bring the different levels together have not been adequately developed. The roofs present a missed opportunity as they could have been put to better use.

The House of Music / Zahle
This exciting Beaux Arts influenced project is intricately planned and has a well-composed section. It effectively relates to its surrounding urban complexity and has a clear and strong logic. The design, however, shows a lack of constraint. It places too many forms and materials in one entity. Moreover, the presentation does not fully explain the building.

Honorable Mentions
Bayt Al-kasid (Poetry House)
The Poetry House project shows sensible planning with a potential for developing pleasant internal spaces, and attempts to deal with context and urban issues, but is unfortunately not adequately developed. The jury found the design of the project's buildings appealing due to their clear structural systems, functions, and façades, which are influenced by Arabic poetry and syntax.

Futuristic City
This project is an acknowledgement of the impulse towards visual rhetoric. It does not possess the architectural infrastructure that the other projects possess and lacks an actual context, and instead works exclusively with form and ambiance. The tower is surrounded by a structure that opens up and appears as a flower striving to break away from its connection to earth. The design’s simplicity embodies an organic metaphor. Furthermore, the project is closer to a work of science fiction, and develops its own unique and powerful linguistic tools, systems, and images.

Museum Narrating the Palestinian Conflict - Disjunction of the Lemon Tree
This project, which showcases the Palestinian conflict, does not seem to compartmentalize memorials. It presents fragmented aspects of reality and even addresses architectural drawings as entities rather than expressing a certain unity. It is an example of the power of architecture as narrative, and of the use of the choreography of movement to activate episodes that build up to something larger than the sum of their parts. It also exhibits expressive graphics through its plans, sections, and three-dimensional drawings.

Solid Waste Recycling Complex
This project is different from the others since it is connected to urban planning and landscaping. It tries to deal with pertinent issues such as the recycling of waste in parallel with the conservation of materials. It proposes to build a solid waste recycling complex while still attempting to develop the site into a coherent and usable landscape. It promotes ecological management of resources and waste to reduce the ecological footprint. The design creates a physical solution that promotes socio-economic sustainability, thus contributing to improving the quality of life and to human enjoyment. This project acknowledges that ‘nature’ too is an artifice, that the ground is to be fabricated and cultivated, and that architecture ultimately must be rooted in a deeper response to the site.

The Animation Park
The project reawakens the imagination through taking the viewer through a journey from the real world to the virtual and back again. Its presentation moreover expresses high-quality graphic abilities. The project, however, shows a diversity of techniques, themes, and approaches, which results in a level of clutter that leads to a lack of clarity. Also, the project's architectural language and the arrangement of walls come across as incompatible.

The Liberty of Soul
Although lacking a clear program, this exciting project is an exercise in exploring space in an abstract, poetic, and metaphysical manner. It creates a memorial defined by heavy walls, ceilings, pillars, and pavements that are articulated by a strong contrast between light and shadow. In this, it reminds us of the un-built 1942 Danteum project by Italian architect Giuseppe Terragni. Moreover, it is an intricately planned and well composed project that is located within an urban context. It provides for excellent architecture with a strong sculptural quality.

Hani Imam Hussaini
Josep Lluís Mateo
Nader Tehrani

Jury Report 2016 - Ninth Cycle

The jury has found the review of the nearly 200 projects submitted to the Award to be very enriching. This Award brings together a diverse range of projects from all over the Arab world. It is accordingly contributing to developing a new process for recognizing students' work, and to establishing new ways of communication and discussion regarding the students' engagement in the making of architecture and urbanization.

We also are happy to see so many Arab countries participating in the award, although we would have liked to see a higher level of participation from the countries of North Africa, which have only had a very limited presence in this Award.

In reviewing the submitted projects, we noted that there is a degree of consistency in the presentations, which may be a result of the Award's formatting requirements for submissions.

In terms of subject matter, we found a good number of projects that deal with the relationship between architecture and urbanization, and that explore the subject of public space. There also are numerous projects that examine the realities of their geographic locations, and therefore explore diverse themes that include displacement, trauma, education, healing, and the environment. Many projects also specifically deal with the topography of their geographies, and a few address difficult urban sites.

One of the questions that arise from our review of this significant number of projects is the role of architecture beyond that of the singular building, i.e. how it may address the needs of communities rather than only a small group of individuals.

We also have noticed that many projects seem to emphasize technical engineering and construction solutions as drivers for the creation of the final product. This may be a result of the presence of so many schools of architecture in the Arab world in faculties of engineering. The understanding of engineering and construction, however, remains minimal, and they are used more as an "add-ons" rather than integral constituents of the design. Moreover, the solutions that are devised often lack coherence, and seem to be more the outcome of developing multiple fragments, which negatively affects their legibility. In addition, we felt that competencies in areas such as landscape architecture and urbanism remain limited.

We also noticed an overall weakness in addressing issues relating to interior space and light, and a generally poor understanding of the important tools of plan and section drawings. In this context, we wish there had been a higher reliance on the use of physical architectural models for the exploration of form and space, rather than an extensive (and almost complete) reliance on computer-generated images.

In general, we were struck by the uniformity of the various projects we viewed.

Based on our two-day examination of the designs submitted to the Award, we feel that the requirements for graduation projects at various schools of architecture should allow for, if not encourage, a greater deal of flexibility regarding a wide range of issues such as allowable building types and the minimum square footage for projects.

We in addition noticed an emphasis on processes and procedures in developing designs that seem to be an outcome of developing diagram bubbles into functions, and eventually into a structure. It is as if different individual spaces are glued together to create the final outcome. As a result, a "conveyor belt" mass production factory approach dominates.

There accordingly is not enough questioning of what architecture can or should do to address various social, economic, and political themes. In other words, there is not enough questioning of what is the contemporary nature of architecture.

We expect that all this is related to the generally inflexible structure of academic systems in universities in the Arab world. Accordingly, even with the incredibly large number of schools of architecture in the Arab world, so many of them are producing similar products, and almost none (with a handful of exceptions) are trying to distinguish themselves and to establish a sense of specificity in relation to the others. Such specificity or distinction may be achieved by focusing, for example, on specific subjects and themes, whether it is technology, landscaping, or low-income housing; or it may be achieved through emphasizing specific pedagogies such as integrating open studios or mentoring and apprenticeship in their programs.

All in all, we have come across great potential among the submissions in terms of talent and skills. We however feel that such talent and skills have not always been adequately guided, developed, or realized.

Awarded Projects

Winning projects (arranged alphabetically)
Ain Ghazal Interpretation Center and Archaeological Shelter:
One of the challenges of designing interventions in archaeological sites is how to provide an experience for the visitor that does not diminish the experience of visiting the archaeological remains themselves, and also how to provide interventions that complement existing spatial settings. This project for the Neolithic settlement at the Ain Ghazal archaeological site near Amman utilizes a series of lightweight structures that incorporate undulating roofs to cover the archaeological remains. There is an economy in how the site is addressed, and a careful precision in how its topography and different features such as the placement of the entrance are dealt with. As a result, the architecture becomes a device that allows for viewing the site in new ways. It provides a celebration of the vertical cutting of the earth, with careful judgment given to each section. 

The architecture also tries to be silent and understated, an issue that is of special importance in archaeological sites, which are defined by their fragility. The intervention in the site is characterized by both elegance and a lightness of touch.

We, however, would have liked to see more reversibility since one is never sure what these sites might yield as further excavations take place. We also found some of the features of the design components, such as the high beams, plywood mesh, and metal panels, to be 'noisy' and harsh within the surrounding landscape.

In addition, it would have been beneficial to have used section drawings more extensively. These would have been more informative in explaining the relationship between the site and the interventions, and also the relationship between the old and the new.

Almost Natural - Architecture of Preservation:
This project, which is not connected to a specific site, is based on the process of trying to understand the relationship between the role of creating spaces through digging into the earth, and of creating architecture as building. It is an investigation of the relation between the regular and the irregular. It is partly cave architecture, i.e. a result of carving and of creating space, and partly the result of extrusion, i.e. creating form.

This project is more concerned with new ways of generating architecture than with responding to a particular program or function. The author's investigations are primarily methodological in nature and explore the potential interrelationship between what is below ground and what can exist above ground. The project therefore relies on the concept of datum, the ground as the horizon that separates the realms of excavation, and that of construction. Using the concept of extrusion, the project attempts to establish a connection between these two realms.

The drawings of this project are very evocative and help present a vibrant aura or mood for the whole building. This is further supported by the project's commitment to depicting both the interior and exterior character of the proposed building with all its colors and textures. We found the drawings and the presentation to be beautiful. It is one of the few projects submitted for the Award that shows consistency in its drawings.

The strength of the project lies in its search for an architecture, and in its use of drawings as a means of both articulating and achieving that goal.

A Product of Nature
This project along the Ibrahim River in Lebanon is placed on top of the landscape. It stands above it, and is seen in opposition to it, as opposed to being embedded in nature. It provides a detailed investigation of how it is to be made, put together, and occupied. It is an attempt at rethinking the relationship between architecture and site. Unlike the general convention of architecture, which is grounded, this project attempts to achieve a revitalization of the relationship between the user, the 'building', and the site by proposing an adaptive architecture that is also responsive to water. The user of the project becomes directly affected and attuned by the specificity of its surroundings.

This kinetic structure provides a link to the avant-garde work of the 1960s Archigram group, but it is not trying to be a 'plug' that would be inserted into a given setting. We appreciate its reversibility since it can be dismantled with relative ease. This is a welcome feature in case the structure poses a threat to the landscape and needs to be dismantled.

We, however, also found the project to be highly singular in that it seems to address the needs and feelings of one person at a time. This raises the question of what could be the potential for this kind of responsive architecture when applied to more than one person, and how would such a structure serve a community when more than one is constructed. In other words, what are the consequences of repetition of this type of project, particularly within such a natural setting?

The section provided for the structure is helpful, but it does not provide much information about the materials used for it. In addition, more could have been done in terms of describing the interior. We moreover feel that there could have been an investigation of the economic nature of constructing such a project. Rather than using widely differing components, it could have incorporated a higher level of standardization. In addition, more information is needed regarding the structure's relationship to the water.

Finally, the structure seems a bit 'flimsy,' and the main three-dimensional image provided is not very convincing in terms of helping us understand the project's structural integrity.

Square One: Urban Library and Learning Center
This project addresses an important issue relating to the future urban development of Amman, which is how to deal with its distinct sloping topography by constructing structures that provide alternate forms of public space. Amman is a city that not only lacks an adequate supply of public space, but also lacks any meaningful articulation of its in-between spaces. This project is a serious attempt at addressing these issues. It houses the functions of a traditional library, digital library, and learning center on multiple floors, and provides external access for these functions to terraces. The project consequently is linked as a piece of urban infrastructure to the various levels of the surrounding network of buildings and streets. It accordingly operates as a public facility and a public space.

The project has a zero "spatial footprint" in that it is a visual corridor that does not subtract from the landscape and does not result in any visual obstructions. It conserves the site's original topographic slope while giving the city an alternative use of the space.

We however do feel that the project should have shown a more serious level of investigation of the interior section, which is almost completely missing. In fact, there is little articulation of the interior and of how the interior benefits from its access to light and to outdoor space. There also is little information about the relationships between its internal components of traditional library, digital library, and learning center.

In fact, the interior has a monotonous feel to it. It has the potential to be as amazing a space as the exterior terraces, but it unfortunately does not benefit from the site's topography.

In addition, the project seems to abruptly face the adjacent busy thoroughfare, and does not address the important issue of the relationship between site and street, or even how people may be able to cross that thoroughfare from the site.

Moreover, the relationship with some segments of the site's bedrock might have been preserved in order to include more greenery. The project accordingly only has one "skin," even though it could have had a "double skin" that incorporates tree cover, which would have provided for a richer exterior space that incorporates shade, color, and vertical - but non-obstructive - articulation.

Honorable mentions (arranged alphabetically)
Adaptive Foundation | Structure
Unlike the remaining projects, this one consists of a video rather than drawings. Both the jury and the competition organizers decided to accept this unorthodox project presentation for consideration for this Award cycle. The movement of the sand is the instigator for this project. By making a robot, the project creates a parallelism between architecture and the movement of the sand, and attempts to conceive an architecture that is not stationary, but that is defined by movement and time. This idea of a moving architecture is something we do see in oil rigs and in buildings that float on water. All in all, the conception of a changing site and architecture shows creativity and talent.

It would have been valuable to include more detail on one aspect of this project. This would give a more systematic understanding of this conceptual idea in architecture. Also, too much emphasis is given on the robotics part, but no attention is given to its specific application to architecture.

This is a project that could have benefited from switching media to architectural drawings in order to investigate the architectural space.

Artificial Island
This artificial island in Kuwait is at once a mega-structure, an outdoor shaded place, a landscape, and an indoor space that provides access to subterranean levels where marine life can be viewed. It is an ensemble of elements that simultaneously provide sculptural elements and shading. The shaded place is a good addition to the design, and makes sense in Kuwait's climate.

The project, which seems to rely on parametric tools for architectural design, provides little explanation regarding the logic of its forms as well as the specific characteristics of its indoor and outdoor spaces. Moreover, although the overall renderings are visually enticing, the section drawings in contrast seem rudimentary.

Baptism Site Ecotourism and Interpretation Center
This project provides very strong excavation plans, and the jury appreciates the subtlety of the plans and the emphasis on light and materials.

The shaping of space, however, does not carry through into the section drawings. In addition, the relation of the plans to the topography is not given enough care. The plans and sections are inconsistent as they give different messages. Also, more care should have been given to the design of the openings in the ground.

Beirut Opera House
This project provides a careful attempt at creating a significant urban monument in the context of an important archaeological site, and at reclaiming the site as a public space. The design uses a non-rectangular form that reflects its complex interior. In doing so, it provides a contrast to the grid of blocks that the rest of the city exhibits. The interiors provide a sense of promenade within the building, and platforms from which one may observe the surrounding urban panorama.

There however is a little attempt to describe the materials and construction techniques that are to be used for the project. Moreover, the relationship between the project and the ground-line is not well considered.

The National Center for Autism Rehabilitation and Treatment
The jury is appreciative of the talent demonstrated in the use of a site-plan model, which shows a decent articulation of the relationship between the form and its site. The fluidity and dynamism of the model, however, is not reflected in the section. The project moreover would have benefited from more conceptual editing. The design expresses a sense of speed and motion, but it is not clear at all how the building would successfully serve the function of a treatment center for autism. The jury in fact finds it hard to be fully convinced by the project's programmatic compatibility.

Roisin Heneghan
Ammar Khammash
Mohsen Mostafavi

Jury Report 2017 - Tenth Cycle

Ten years have passed since the founding of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design, during which the Award has completed ten jury cycles. We accordingly feel that this is a most appropriate moment to look at the Award’s journey over this past decade, and to recognize and examine both the accomplishments and the challenges it has faced.

As intended, the Award has brought attention to the work of architecture students across the Arab world, and has allowed students, as well as their instructors, departments of architecture, and universities to become much better acquainted with each other’s work and approaches towards architecture and architectural education. It also has given them all a public platform through which their work may be presented, and through which ideas may be exchanged. As a result, there is substantial respect in the region for the Award and for its winners.

In spite of these positive outcomes, the Award also has brought attention to a wide variety of challenges facing the teaching of architecture in the Arab world. As we have examined the jury reports from the nine cycles that preceded ours, we have been struck by how clearly and consistently these reports emphasized a series of weaknesses affecting the projects submitted for the Award. These previous jury reports have been consistently critical of the overall quality of those projects, and, by extension, the overall quality of architectural education in the Arab world.

These sentiments are very obviously expressed in the following selection of quotations we have taken from the past nine jury reports:

… much of the student design work coming out of our universities today is highly formalistic and focuses on graphic visual impacts and stimuli. In such work, clarity and discipline often are absent, and ambiguity prevails. The ordinary, silent, and neutral are feared; clutter often dominates in both design and presentation.

Several projects show promising architectural directions, but contradict their themes and contexts. Also, a few projects are over-designed, faddish, and even engaged in visual acrobatics.

… certain skills that we feel should have been mastered by architects who have just completed their formal architectural education are not evident in many of the submitted entries.

A main criticism of the entries is that a large number of them show a dominant influence of computer generated designs on the forms of buildings as well as on the method of visual presentation. This is accompanied by a disparity between architectural program and final form, and many of the submitted designs seem to be formed without any relevance to their brief. Many such presentations convey an impression of monotony and lack any sense of place.

We … noticed that there is very little engagement with traditional and historical contexts, which could have created a platform from which young students may face contemporary challenges.

Many of the projects … show very little evidence of any deep investigation of the sites in which the projects are located.

[The projects] do not seem to provide an expression of architecture, but are rather conceptual, experimental, and not connected to everyday needs and to context. They might be considered a beginning of a research process, but are very far from being works of architecture, and many of them seem to lack an architectural program.

All submitted projects, and in varying degrees, have been unable to provide a comprehensive, coherent, and carefully worked out system of representation that brings the project being represented into a clear unified whole. The ease of digital representation, in fact, has allowed the students to move away from any sense of restraint, or from calculating their representational efforts.

We … noticed an overall weakness in addressing issues relating to interior space and light, and a generally poor understanding of the important tools of plan and section drawings. In this context, we wish there had been a higher reliance on the use of physical architectural models for the exploration of form and space, rather than an extensive (and almost complete) reliance on computer-generated images.

… even with the incredibly large number of schools of architecture in the Arab world, so many of them are producing similar products, and almost none (with a handful of exceptions) are trying to distinguish themselves and to establish a sense of specificity in relation to the others.

All in all, we have come across great potential among the submissions in terms of talent and skills. We however feel that such talent and skills have not always been adequately guided, developed, or realized.

This year’s entries disappointingly have not shown any improvement in quality in relation to past years. Many of the comments provided in the selection of quotations above apply to the entries submitted to this cycle of the Award. Based on a close examination of these entries, and in order to reinforce the statements consistently made by previous juries, the members of this jury (all of whom have been jury members of previous cycles of this Award) have taken the decision to withhold the selection of winners, and to instead only identify nine finalists. Of these finalists, we have selected four to be given honorable mentions, and have identified five as projects of merit that address specific issues of relevance to architecture today. The $10,000 prize money is to be divided among the honorable mention projects and the projects of merit.

We are optimistic that future entrants will closely examine the outcomes of this jury’s deliberations, and that the standard of submissions for this deserving and significant Award will rise to realize its founding motivation of identifying excellence in architectural design in the Arab world.
Finalist Projects

Honorable Mentions
Ishan: Iraqi Marshland and Interpretation Center
This project targets a vanishing typology of buildings, and tries to revitalize it within the context of new formal and structural frameworks. It shows a simplicity in its approach, which is combined with considerable design efforts, to a water community that is disappearing, but that remains relevant today because of current challenges relating to climate change and rising water levels. The architecture is well considered and effectively addresses issues such as light orientation. We, however, question the use of steel for the project, and feel that timber would have been a more appropriate material as it will not suffer from corrosion. We also feel that the architecture could have been better integrated with modern building and infrastructure systems.

Phonogram: An Audio Archive and a Spoken Word and Poetry Field
This is an expressive, subtle, coherent, and poetic design that is characterized by an economy of language. The project is based on the use of insertions within the context of a simple system, but a complex field. It includes references to history, as well as repetition and simplicity. The presentation reinforces the message, and is commended for its use of a limited palette of colors.

Reinterpreting the Vernacular
Parts of this project are in-fills, and parts are interventions, all of which operate at various scales. The project emphasizes simplicity. It also pushes the vernacular into the contemporary. The intent and results are compatible, and the project delivers what it promises. The plans and sections are well-developed, and the presentation communicates the project clearly.

The Tenderline Project
This project shows architectural and urban skill, and a clear knowledge of selecting where to intervene within the urban context, while avoiding unnecessary complexity. The premise is interesting as it focuses on social phenomena that are often neglected by architecture. The project also is an example of urban upgrading that avoids gentrification.

Projects of Merit
The Amman Courthouse of Appeals
This project expresses a courageous and skillful collage of two very different architectural compositional languages: one that incorporates the rectangular, and another that incorporates the fluid. It shows a capacity to manage complex geometries. The design, however, seems to equate architecture almost exclusively with form.

Biogas Plant
It is refreshing to come across a project that shows the effect that architectural design can have on an architecturally ignored typology, that of solid waste management facilities. The project also does not shy away from linking architecture to engineering, as with the incorporation of photovoltaic panels. We, however, feel that it could have even shown a stronger emphasis on incorporating public uses, which would enrich the architecture of the complex.

Public War Shelter
The simplicity of this project expresses a level of maturity. It shows an understanding of space, typology, environmental and climatic concerns, as well as how buildings generally are put together. The elements of its design are communicated through a coherent presentation. The project does show serious problems, however, regarding its scale and its orientation within its overall context.

Route of Resistance
This project engages architecture with topography and landscape. It takes negative existing conditions, but turns them around into a strong statement. It also creates spaces through minimal physical interventions.

This project presents a high-quality design that is characterized by well-thought-out detailing, and that is presented through meticulously-executed drawings. The premise of the project, however, lacks clarity and coherence.

Sahel Al Hiyari
Hanif Kara
Han Tumertekin

Watch jury members Hanif Kara and Sahel Al Hiyari talk about the tenth Award cycle jury decisions. Click here

Jury Report 2018 - Eleventh Cycle

General Notes:
The jury’s assessment of the submitted projects is based on the visual material presented to it. One of the first issues to catch our attention is the lack of understanding of materials and techniques that is apparent in many of the submissions we reviewed. This may be connected to the fact that architecture schools in the Arab world generally do not include workshops for working with materials such as wood, metal, and masonry. There accordingly is a disconnect between the process of form-making and that of transforming those forms into physical realities. In this context, it is interesting to note that of the nearly 200 projects we reviewed, not one included a construction detail drawing.

It is also apparent that existing academic systems in the Arab world are not pushing or motivating their faculty members to test existing limits through research and studies. This reflects on the outputs of their students, who are directly shaped by their teachers and by the thinking of those teachers. Students moreover are very often expected to follow their teachers’ approaches, which deprives them from the opportunity to grow. The process of teaching should encourage students to expand their horizons rather than restrict them, and to think critically rather than indiscriminately accept what is handed down to them.

Accordingly, rather than celebrate the uniqueness and individuality of their students, colleges and departments of architecture seem to limit them to working within pre-set formulas and pre-defined molds that are primarily mediated through trendy images and showy graphics. Students need to be taught architecture from multiple perspectives, not a singular one.

We noticed that these formulas may be reduced to two. The first formula concentrates on producing mega-projects that fulfill academic requirements in terms of areas and programs, but that are artificially imposed on social issues, or on physical settings such as archeological and natural monuments. In fact, a major problematic issue that the jury came across is that of dealing with programs. The majority of projects seem to seek their legitimacy through their programs, which in most cases are irrelevant. This is in many ways an attempt at escaping from the difficult and demanding act of design. One should not always seek to avoid the neutral and the ordinary. It is important to understand that the act of building in most cases is not a heroic act, but is an act that also involves the tedious and demanding actions of calculation, negotiation, adaptation, and problem solving.

The second formula produces abstract projects that are completely disconnected from reality by their ambiguity, lack of vision, and lack of context.

Another problem is an apparent lack of clarity in the end products we have seen and also in the approaches leading to them. Our assessment of the projects is based on the visual material presented to us. In many cases, that visual material did not convey the necessary information needed to clearly and coherently convey the project, both as a process and an end product. The same applies to the texts accompanying the submitted projects.

The overall result is a collection of déjà-vus and clichés; projects that lack coherence, lack a connection to reality, and more importantly, lack an understanding of history and typology.

Moreover, judging from the projects submitted to us, it would seem as if the future of architecture is mega-scale projects. How does this reflect reality? Why cannot architecture colleges and departments allow students to design smaller projects that are more connected to daily lives and realities. Designing large-scale projects is not an essential recipe for learning architecture or for understanding architectural complexity.

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All of the above deprives students from engaging with architecture on a more personal level, and from learning how to compose buildings through basic forms and spaces, which are shoved aside in favor of ready-to-consume images.

We also wished to have seen projects that address important issues and challenges such as the increasing densification of Arab cities, as well as giving proper attention to landscape design and also to interior design.

And of course, basic design skills are often missing, as with designing a functioning floor plan or a site plan, or incorporating meaningful sections and technical drawings, rather than relying excessively on three-dimensional computer-generated images that emphasize exterior massing.

Awarded Project

Winning project
Relocation and Urban Reconciliation; The Case of the Three Gournas in Egypt

This project takes the spirit of the vernacular and transforms it into the contemporary. It expresses very clear intent, and also clarity in communicating ideas. It is not a “romantic” project, in spite of its connection to Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna village, but rather very realistic one that deals with social issues in a coherent manner. The project addresses its context without being nostalgic, and in a clear and sophisticated manner.

The project tackles issues including climate, water, landscape design, urban form, and socio-economic needs in a very sensitive, environmentally conscious, and detailed manner. The project extends across three different sites, but effectively weaves and connects them.

What is remarkable about this project is that it is very realistic, in both its vision and execution. With minor adjustments, it is ready to be built, and it will definitely work.

One criticism we have of this project is that it lacks an explanation of the connection between its different elements, and can benefit from incorporating more detailing and fewer rendered images.

Honorable Mention projects
This project looks for opportunities in our dense cities, and find solutions for problems in them. It incorporates different devices for solving urban issues such as activating roof tops, providing play opportunities for children, and developing community spaces; it is beautifully presented, graphically very interesting, and nicely detailed. Most interestingly, the student built elements of his / her design.

Most of the interventions, however, turn out to be gimmicky rather than mature urban elements. A number of them are not necessary. As a result, they are urban follies placed in an under-privileged community. It would have been much more powerful if the decision was made to work on one or two interventions, and push them to their limits. The premise of the project accordingly is questionable in that it has ended up being more an example of industrial design than a work of architecture.

Tyr the Mosaic City
This is a very interesting project in terms of how it deals with its site. It concentrates on the peripheries, and leaves the central space open. It is also apparent that the project incorporates a great deal of research. It, however, falls short when dealing with scale, whether the scale of the city or the scale of the archaeological sites it incorporates.

Moreover, the presentation is not clear, and the presented material is not entirely comprehensive. The presentation tips the scale towards excess. It treats Tyr as an alien landscape in which a building mass is introduced. This could be applied anywhere. Moreover, the project presents too many architectural languages.

Elias Anastas
Sahel Al Hiyari
Ammar Khammash