The 2018 Eleventh Cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design
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.
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.
Sahel Al Hiyari