The 2015 Eighth Cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design
The projects that the students submitted are representations of architecture. There are conventions for representing architecture through both visual tools (plans, elevations, sections, three-dimensional drawings, models, photographs…) and textual information (explanatory texts, image captions …). We are of course aware that such conventions are undergoing a process of transformation, particularly as a result of ongoing and rapid developments relating to digital technologies. The students obviously are experimenting with traditional and up-to-date methods of visual representation, and a number of them seem to show great technical mastery. Many of the submitted projects in fact feature a few highly seductive images. 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. Accordingly, rather than attempting to draw out the implication of each media to the limits of its potentials, we have been presented with a proliferation of images, as if “quantity” is a goal. It also should be mentioned that the accompanying textual information for many of the projects greatly suffers from a lack of clarity, poor grammar, and incorrect spelling.
Having said that, we should add that we have not imposed any preconceived narratives on the submitted projects, and made every effort to identify the essence that each aimed at communicating. We did, however, search for a range of positions that we feel should be addressed such as attention to issues including clarity in defining problems and programs, urbanism, materiality, detail, structural integrity, and developing innovative solutions to problems. In doing so, we still have aimed at understanding and relating to what the students have attempted to present to us.
We have noticed that a good number of the submitted projects share similar themes that focus on a range of topics that are challenging and that are of special relevance to the Arab world. These topics include economic opportunities, political violence, commemoration of past events, and the Palestinian issue. Although we felt that many of the submitted projects are very interesting in terms of the themes they address, we also found many of them to be lacking in design quality. Several projects were immediately excluded for being either too conventional or unclear in both approach and presentation. The majority of presentations are cluttered by an overwhelming amount of text and images, thus distracting attention from the projects themselves. A number of projects present interesting conceptual challenges, but fail to effectively develop them.
Selecting the winners:
We went through several selection and elimination processes during the jury sessions. We eliminated those projects that fail to express strong, adequately-developed, clear, and imaginative ideas. We also eliminated those projects that are not well-developed or well-explained and those that are heavily reliant on pictorial images rather than clear and precise architectural drawings, whether plans, sections, or elevations. We started with an initial review of the 130 projects submitted to us (another eleven projects already had been disqualified by the organizers since they belonged to previous years rather than to the 2014 – 2015 academic year), categorizing them under three groups: projects that were eliminated, projects that deserved to be kept for the second round of assessment, and borderline projects that fell between the two groups. As we reviewed the projects, each jury member noted his impressions of each submitted project. We then went through the borderline projects again to decide if they should be kept for the second round of assessment or excluded. By the end of this process, we ended up with 43 shortlisted projects.
The 43 shortlisted projects we selected express a decent level of cohesion and clarity of expression. Due to the amount of excessive information generally displayed for each project, we decided to zoom in on every project. Through this, we found a few design gems hidden within the overall designs of a number of the projects. As a result, we further narrowed down the submitted projects to sixteen finalists that we feel express a sense of unity, consistency, and great potential.
We then selected from these sixteen finalists a group of first-place winners (three projects), a group of second-place winners (three projects), and a group of honorable mentions (six projects).
The winners are as follows:
First Prize Winners:
We feel that this project provides a very powerful intuitive reaction to its site conditions. We find the idea of a bridge connected to two mountain ranges with a structure suspended from it to be deeply effective. The intricate structure reverses the conventional conception of architecture being built from the ground up as if it is fighting against gravity. It is an excellent idea with great potential, and provides for an impressive engineering feat and a spectacular impact on the natural landscape of Wadi Rum. Its potentials, however, have not been fully explored, and its vertical circulation does not seem to be fully worked out, and, ironically, the very thing that activates the idea (i.e. the structure) itself is explicitly flawed in its conception.
Tale't Al Qarya Interfaith Caves
This project is impressive in that it presents a great amount of detail and is consistent with the archaeological quality of the artifacts it addresses. The project’s new buildings, moreover, provide continuity with the metaphor of excavation as they read as an erasure of lines rather than an addition of them, thus creating space out of density. The project uses its various architectural elements to stitch the resulting fabric and to develop it as one entity rather than fragmenting it into a series of entities. It is clear that considerable effort was invested in designing and communicating its well crafted plans. Moreover, the rigor of its drawings somehow succeed in demonstrating the potential of representation to project a reality - however abstract it may be – and to convey a space of imagination outside the immediately perceivable values of commercial viability, programmable spaces, or conventional functions. It succeeds because it veers around the idea of convention. The three-dimensional development of the plans into spaces and forms, however, has not been explored adequately, even though its forms are reminiscent of the architectural masses created by Louis Kahn. And although this is a project of poetic charge, it is badly laid out, with too many drawings and no hierarchy.
The Incubatrix: Vertical Farming Production and Research Center
This project is comprehensively thought out and well developed. It presents an innovative vision and a creative interpretation and redefinition of a conventional building in a way that encourages self-reliance. It engages both the ground and the skyline, and establishes a connection to the city through its site plan in a manner that defines new scenarios for living and working in the city. Moreover, the idea of a vertical farm using green technology will definitely rejuvenate the area in which it is located. The design, with its strong concept and clear architectural expression, creates a physical solution that promotes socio-economic sustainability. The presentation is well developed and conveys unity through its expressive graphics. However, it presents itself as a final statement, and leaves little room for speculation.
Second Prize Winners:
Desert Exploration Center
The project has a primordial and intuitive quality about it. Its design is extraordinary in that it fits into the topography of the area as it presents a well-thought out and seamless relationship between the natural and the manmade, thus promoting symbiosis and unity. It stimulates imagination through its analysis of how space may be ascended diagonally and horizontally, and can be described as a riddle that may only be unraveled as one inhabits it. An organic architectural approach is used to solve design problems by adapting the project to the site, climate, and materials. The project plan, however, is of poor resolution. Moreover, it is not clear how the project will be used, and its vertical circulation is not fully worked out.
Stitching the Pockets, Khan Amman
This project is comprehensive, well-laid out, and shows conceptual clarity. It presents a certain duality in how it excavates the hills at the points where it connects with them on the one hand, but on the other hand floats over the low part of the valley. The goal of engaging a forgotten site with the urban fabric to bring back life to the area is of great merit. However, the connections across streets and the vertical elements that are used to bring the different levels together have not been adequately developed. The roofs present a missed opportunity as they could have been put to better use.
The House of Music / Zahle
This exciting Beaux Arts influenced project is intricately planned and has a well-composed section. It effectively relates to its surrounding urban complexity and has a clear and strong logic. The design, however, shows a lack of constraint. It places too many forms and materials in one entity. Moreover, the presentation does not fully explain the building.
Bayt Al-kasid (Poetry House)
The Poetry House project shows sensible planning with a potential for developing pleasant internal spaces, and attempts to deal with context and urban issues, but is unfortunately not adequately developed. The jury found the design of the project's buildings appealing due to their clear structural systems, functions, and façades, which are influenced by Arabic poetry and syntax.
This project is an acknowledgement of the impulse towards visual rhetoric. It does not possess the architectural infrastructure that the other projects possess and lacks an actual context, and instead works exclusively with form and ambiance. The tower is surrounded by a structure that opens up and appears as a flower striving to break away from its connection to earth. The design’s simplicity embodies an organic metaphor. Furthermore, the project is closer to a work of science fiction, and develops its own unique and powerful linguistic tools, systems, and images.
Museum Narrating the Palestinian Conflict - Disjunction of the Lemon Tree
This project, which showcases the Palestinian conflict, does not seem to compartmentalize memorials. It presents fragmented aspects of reality and even addresses architectural drawings as entities rather than expressing a certain unity. It is an example of the power of architecture as narrative, and of the use of the choreography of movement to activate episodes that build up to something larger than the sum of their parts. It also exhibits expressive graphics through its plans, sections, and three-dimensional drawings.
Solid Waste Recycling Complex
This project is different from the others since it is connected to urban planning and landscaping. It tries to deal with pertinent issues such as the recycling of waste in parallel with the conservation of materials. It proposes to build a solid waste recycling complex while still attempting to develop the site into a coherent and usable landscape. It promotes ecological management of resources and waste to reduce the ecological footprint. The design creates a physical solution that promotes socio-economic sustainability, thus contributing to improving the quality of life and to human enjoyment. This project acknowledges that ‘nature’ too is an artifice, that the ground is to be fabricated and cultivated, and that architecture ultimately must be rooted in a deeper response to the site.
The Animation Park
The project reawakens the imagination through taking the viewer through a journey from the real world to the virtual and back again. Its presentation moreover expresses high-quality graphic abilities. The project, however, shows a diversity of techniques, themes, and approaches, which results in a level of clutter that leads to a lack of clarity. Also, the project's architectural language and the arrangement of walls come across as incompatible.
The Liberty of Soul
Although lacking a clear program, this exciting project is an exercise in exploring space in an abstract, poetic, and metaphysical manner. It creates a memorial defined by heavy walls, ceilings, pillars, and pavements that are articulated by a strong contrast between light and shadow. In this, it reminds us of the un-built 1942 Danteum project by Italian architect Giuseppe Terragni. Moreover, it is an intricately planned and well composed project that is located within an urban context. It provides for excellent architecture with a strong sculptural quality.
Hani Imam Hussaini
Josep Lluís Mateo