The 2016 Ninth Cycle of the Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design Jury Report
The jury has found the review of the nearly 200 projects submitted to the Award to be very enriching. This Award brings together a diverse range of projects from all over the Arab world. It is accordingly contributing to developing a new process for recognizing students' work, and to establishing new ways of communication and discussion regarding the students' engagement in the making of architecture and urbanization.
We also are happy to see so many Arab countries participating in the award, although we would have liked to see a higher level of participation from the countries of North Africa, which have only had a very limited presence in this Award.
In reviewing the submitted projects, we noted that there is a degree of consistency in the presentations, which may be a result of the Award's formatting requirements for submissions.
In terms of subject matter, we found a good number of projects that deal with the relationship between architecture and urbanization, and that explore the subject of public space. There also are numerous projects that examine the realities of their geographic locations, and therefore explore diverse themes that include displacement, trauma, education, healing, and the environment. Many projects also specifically deal with the topography of their geographies, and a few address difficult urban sites.
One of the questions that arise from our review of this significant number of projects is the role of architecture beyond that of the singular building, i.e. how it may address the needs of communities rather than only a small group of individuals.
We also have noticed that many projects seem to emphasize technical engineering and construction solutions as drivers for the creation of the final product. This may be a result of the presence of so many schools of architecture in the Arab world in faculties of engineering. The understanding of engineering and construction, however, remains minimal, and they are used more as an "add-ons" rather than integral constituents of the design. Moreover, the solutions that are devised often lack coherence, and seem to be more the outcome of developing multiple fragments, which negatively affects their legibility. In addition, we felt that competencies in areas such as landscape architecture and urbanism remain limited.
We also noticed an overall weakness in addressing issues relating to interior space and light, and a generally poor understanding of the important tools of plan and section drawings. In this context, we wish there had been a higher reliance on the use of physical architectural models for the exploration of form and space, rather than an extensive (and almost complete) reliance on computer-generated images.
In general, we were struck by the uniformity of the various projects we viewed.
Based on our two-day examination of the designs submitted to the Award, we feel that the requirements for graduation projects at various schools of architecture should allow for, if not encourage, a greater deal of flexibility regarding a wide range of issues such as allowable building types and the minimum square footage for projects.
We in addition noticed an emphasis on processes and procedures in developing designs that seem to be an outcome of developing diagram bubbles into functions, and eventually into a structure. It is as if different individual spaces are glued together to create the final outcome. As a result, a "conveyor belt" mass production factory approach dominates.
There accordingly is not enough questioning of what architecture can or should do to address various social, economic, and political themes. In other words, there is not enough questioning of what is the contemporary nature of architecture.
We expect that all this is related to the generally inflexible structure of academic systems in universities in the Arab world. Accordingly, even with the incredibly large number of schools of architecture in the Arab world, so many of them are producing similar products, and almost none (with a handful of exceptions) are trying to distinguish themselves and to establish a sense of specificity in relation to the others. Such specificity or distinction may be achieved by focusing, for example, on specific subjects and themes, whether it is technology, landscaping, or low-income housing; or it may be achieved through emphasizing specific pedagogies such as integrating open studios or mentoring and apprenticeship in their programs.
All in all, we have come across great potential among the submissions in terms of talent and skills. We however feel that such talent and skills have not always been adequately guided, developed, or realized.
The jury selected four equal winning projects and five honorable mentions.
The four winning projects are the following (arranged alphabetically):
Ain Ghazal Interpretation Center and Archaeological Shelter:
One of the challenges of designing interventions in archaeological sites is how to provide an experience for the visitor that does not diminish the experience of visiting the archaeological remains themselves, and also how to provide interventions that complement existing spatial settings. This project for the Neolithic settlement at the Ain Ghazal archaeological site near Amman utilizes a series of lightweight structures that incorporate undulating roofs to cover the archaeological remains. There is an economy in how the site is addressed, and a careful precision in how its topography and different features such as the placement of the entrance are dealt with. As a result, the architecture becomes a device that allows for viewing the site in new ways. It provides a celebration of the vertical cutting of the earth, with careful judgment given to each section.
The architecture also tries to be silent and understated, an issue that is of special importance in archaeological sites, which are defined by their fragility. The intervention in the site is characterized by both elegance and a lightness of touch.
We, however, would have liked to see more reversibility since one is never sure what these sites might yield as further excavations take place. We also found some of the features of the design components, such as the high beams, plywood mesh, and metal panels, to be 'noisy' and harsh within the surrounding landscape.
In addition, it would have been beneficial to have used section drawings more extensively. These would have been more informative in explaining the relationship between the site and the interventions, and also the relationship between the old and the new.
Almost Natural - Architecture of Preservation:
This project, which is not connected to a specific site, is based on the process of trying to understand the relationship between the role of creating spaces through digging into the earth, and of creating architecture as building. It is an investigation of the relation between the regular and the irregular. It is partly cave architecture, i.e. a result of carving and of creating space, and partly the result of extrusion, i.e. creating form.
This project is more concerned with new ways of generating architecture than with responding to a particular program or function. The author's investigations are primarily methodological in nature and explore the potential interrelationship between what is below ground and what can exist above ground. The project therefore relies on the concept of datum, the ground as the horizon that separates the realms of excavation, and that of construction. Using the concept of extrusion, the project attempts to establish a connection between these two realms.
The drawings of this project are very evocative and help present a vibrant aura or mood for the whole building. This is further supported by the project's commitment to depicting both the interior and exterior character of the proposed building with all its colors and textures. We found the drawings and the presentation to be beautiful. It is one of the few projects submitted for the Award that shows consistency in its drawings.
The strength of the project lies in its search for an architecture, and in its use of drawings as a means of both articulating and achieving that goal.
A Product of Nature
This project along the Ibrahim River in Lebanon is placed on top of the landscape. It stands above it, and is seen in opposition to it, as opposed to being embedded in nature. It provides a detailed investigation of how it is to be made, put together, and occupied. It is an attempt at rethinking the relationship between architecture and site. Unlike the general convention of architecture, which is grounded, this project attempts to achieve a revitalization of the relationship between the user, the 'building', and the site by proposing an adaptive architecture that is also responsive to water. The user of the project becomes directly affected and attuned by the specificity of its surroundings.
This kinetic structure provides a link to the avant-garde work of the 1960s Archigram group, but it is not trying to be a 'plug' that would be inserted into a given setting. We appreciate its reversibility since it can be dismantled with relative ease. This is a welcome feature in case the structure poses a threat to the landscape and needs to be dismantled.
We, however, also found the project to be highly singular in that it seems to address the needs and feelings of one person at a time. This raises the question of what could be the potential for this kind of responsive architecture when applied to more than one person, and how would such a structure serve a community when more than one is constructed. In other words, what are the consequences of repetition of this type of project, particularly within such a natural setting?
The section provided for the structure is helpful, but it does not provide much information about the materials used for it. In addition, more could have been done in terms of describing the interior. We moreover feel that there could have been an investigation of the economic nature of constructing such a project. Rather than using widely differing components, it could have incorporated a higher level of standardization. In addition, more information is needed regarding the structure's relationship to the water.
Finally, the structure seems a bit 'flimsy,' and the main three-dimensional image provided is not very convincing in terms of helping us understand the project's structural integrity.
Square One: Urban Library and Learning Center
This project addresses an important issue relating to the future urban development of Amman, which is how to deal with its distinct sloping topography by constructing structures that provide alternate forms of public space. Amman is a city that not only lacks an adequate supply of public space, but also lacks any meaningful articulation of its in-between spaces. This project is a serious attempt at addressing these issues. It houses the functions of a traditional library, digital library, and learning center on multiple floors, and provides external access for these functions to terraces. The project consequently is linked as a piece of urban infrastructure to the various levels of the surrounding network of buildings and streets. It accordingly operates as a public facility and a public space.
The project has a zero "spatial footprint" in that it is a visual corridor that does not subtract from the landscape and does not result in any visual obstructions. It conserves the site's original topographic slope while giving the city an alternative use of the space.
We however do feel that the project should have shown a more serious level of investigation of the interior section, which is almost completely missing. In fact, there is little articulation of the interior and of how the interior benefits from its access to light and to outdoor space. There also is little information about the relationships between its internal components of traditional library, digital library, and learning center.
In fact, the interior has a monotonous feel to it. It has the potential to be as amazing a space as the exterior terraces, but it unfortunately does not benefit from the site's topography.
In addition, the project seems to abruptly face the adjacent busy thoroughfare, and does not address the important issue of the relationship between site and street, or even how people may be able to cross that thoroughfare from the site.
Moreover, the relationship with some segments of the site's bedrock might have been preserved in order to include more greenery. The project accordingly only has one "skin," even though it could have had a "double skin" that incorporates tree cover, which would have provided for a richer exterior space that incorporates shade, color, and vertical - but non-obstructive - articulation.
Honorable mentions (arranged alphabetically):
Adaptive Foundation | Structure:
Unlike the remaining projects, this one consists of a video rather than drawings. Both the jury and the competition organizers decided to accept this unorthodox project presentation for consideration for this Award cycle. The movement of the sand is the instigator for this project. By making a robot, the project creates a parallelism between architecture and the movement of the sand, and attempts to conceive an architecture that is not stationary, but that is defined by movement and time. This idea of a moving architecture is something we do see in oil rigs and in buildings that float on water. All in all, the conception of a changing site and architecture shows creativity and talent.
It would have been valuable to include more detail on one aspect of this project. This would give a more systematic understanding of this conceptual idea in architecture. Also, too much emphasis is given on the robotics part, but no attention is given to its specific application to architecture.
This is a project that could have benefited from switching media to architectural drawings in order to investigate the architectural space.
This artificial island in Kuwait is at once a mega-structure, an outdoor shaded place, a landscape, and an indoor space that provides access to subterranean levels where marine life can be viewed. It is an ensemble of elements that simultaneously provide sculptural elements and shading. The shaded place is a good addition to the design, and makes sense in Kuwait's climate.
The project, which seems to rely on parametric tools for architectural design, provides little explanation regarding the logic of its forms as well as the specific characteristics of its indoor and outdoor spaces. Moreover, although the overall renderings are visually enticing, the section drawings in contrast seem rudimentary.
Baptism Site Ecotourism and Interpretation Center:
This project provides very strong excavation plans, and the jury appreciates the subtlety of the plans and the emphasis on light and materials.
The shaping of space, however, does not carry through into the section drawings. In addition, the relation of the plans to the topography is not given enough care. The plans and sections are inconsistent as they give different messages. Also, more care should have been given to the design of the openings in the ground.
Beirut Opera House:
This project provides a careful attempt at creating a significant urban monument in the context of an important archaeological site, and at reclaiming the site as a public space. The design uses a non-rectangular form that reflects its complex interior. In doing so, it provides a contrast to the grid of blocks that the rest of the city exhibits. The interiors provide a sense of promenade within the building, and platforms from which one may observe the surrounding urban panorama.
There however is a little attempt to describe the materials and construction techniques that are to be used for the project. Moreover, the relationship between the project and the ground-line is not well considered.
The National Center for Autism Rehabilitation and Treatment:
The jury is appreciative of the talent demonstrated in the use of a site-plan model, which shows a decent articulation of the relationship between the form and its site. The fluidity and dynamism of the model, however, is not reflected in the section. The project moreover would have benefited from more conceptual editing. The design expresses a sense of speed and motion, but it is not clear at all how the building would successfully serve the function of a treatment center for autism. The jury in fact finds it hard to be fully convinced by the project's programmatic compatibility.
September 24, 2016