The 2017 Tenth Cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design Jury Report
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 disappointedly 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.
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.
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
September 25, 2017
Watch jury members Hanif Kara and Sahel Al Hiyari talk about the tenth Award cycle jury decisions. Click here