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.
Garbage Village: Social Integration through Quarry Architecture , Mokattam, Cairo, Egypt
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, Wadi al-Mujib, Jordan Valley, Jordan
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.
Second Prize (shared):
House of Sound and Word (Dar al-sawt wa'l-kalima), Beirut, Lebanon
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.
Third Prize (shared):
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.