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.
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:
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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
Saida (Sidon), Lebanon
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
Bourj Hammoud, Beirut, Lebanon
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.
The following projects were commended for their engagement and investigation of certain themes. Each presented a few good ideas that stand out from amongst the entries presented for this cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Award.
Joinery at the Frontier
The Syrian – Turkish border
This project stood out amongst 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.
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.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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.
Jury members: Khaled Azzam, Farrokh Derakhshani, and Ahmad Humeid.