The 2014 Seventh Cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design
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 7of 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.
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 readymade 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
October 20, 2014