The Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design 2019 Twelfth Cycle
The jury assessed the 151 graduation projects that had qualified for submission to the 2019 Omrania | CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design. The projects address a wide variety of themes that we consider pertinent, worthwhile, and pressing, not only in the Arab world, but also globally. These themes relate to issues including poverty, conflict, displacement, environmental degradation, urban sprawl, the spread of mass tourism, as well as identity and heritage.
As a general assessment of the submitted projects, we have noticed an adequate mastery of presentation techniques, which are primarily - and not surprisingly - fully reliant on digital technologies. These computer-based presentations, however, very often overwhelm the design rather than inform it. Moreover, the three-dimensional views of the designs as presented in the submissions are frequently random in nature, and are not conceived in a manner that would help the viewer understand the project in a clearer and more comprehensive manner. The presentation drawings we have come across often belong more to the category of marketing images rather than ones that aim at elucidating the designs they represent. In general, these drawings are divorced from the works of architecture and urbanism they are supposed to represent; they accordingly end up being a distraction, if not an escape, from the design itself.
In addition, many of the submissions seem to be designed primarily, if not exclusively, as plans that are then extruded, instead of being developed through an all-embracing design process that simultaneously addresses surfaces, spaces, and forms.
Many of the presentations we viewed are overwhelmed with text, and such text has ended up obscuring the meaning of the design rather than elucidating it. As a result, such texts accompanying the projects miss a valuable opportunity to clarify and define the accompanying visuals.
We also feel that the submitted projects generally do not show an awareness of the wide variety of rich and instructive solutions being globally developed for the various themes they address. The students instead seem to limit their prototypes to local or, at best, regional examples. The projects moreover could have shown a deeper understanding of the potentials, and also limitations, regarding the degree to which architectural and urban design can make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Furthermore, we have noticed that some of the solutions proposed are often disconnected from pertinent research and context, in contrast to the three selected winning entries (see below), which show consideration to context, innovative approaches to programs, as well as research and depth of thought into the work presented. The three selected projects also do not try to impose architecture for the sake of architecture (whether in terms of scale, form, or program) but use architecture as a tool to address and enhance the daily lives of inhabitants at a relevant scale and level of consideration, and devoid of architectural idiosyncrasies.
We also feel that the user - for whom the design after all is intended - is often missing in those designs, which in addition are generally imposing and distracting in their scale. The same applies to the physical context of these projects, which is frequently left unaddressed. In addition, very little, if any, attention and care is given to issues such as craftsmanship, selection of materials, and landscaping.
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We nonetheless have identified three projects that we believe express a commendable level of design excellence, and are consequently deserving of this Award. We have selected these three projects as equal winners that are to equally share the Award’s prize money. All three projects show laudable efforts at developing well-thought-out high-quality spaces. Although they rely on digital tools of presentation, in none of them do those digital tools determine or overwhelm the design. All three are highly contextual, and are intimately rooted in their time as well as in their cultural, geographic, and spatial contexts.
This project addresses a wide variety of issues including desertification, agriculture in arid climates, and youth employment. Its plan shows a genuine understanding of how buildings are put together, both functionally and structurally. It is clearly explained and avoids arbitrariness. The overall design of the project shows an understanding of how buildings are made, and its elements of construction are very plausible. One feels an awareness and appreciation, for example, of how brick may be used. In the final result, the form derives from the building’s functions and its materials.
In many designs that one comes across, bio-mimicry is often literal. Here, it is conceptual, as well as functional and convincing, rather than being merely an excuse for form making. The project in fact draws meaningful lessons from biological phenomena including complexity, resilience, intelligence, stigmergy, growth, and adaptation.
Rethinking the Tampouy Neighborhood, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso:
We found this urban-scale project, which aims at upgrading and redeveloping a district in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to be appropriate in size, scale, and type of intervention. It avoids overstatement. Its presentation is clear and easy to follow, and it deals with generic aspects of daily urban life that need to be continuously, cautiously, and meticulously addressed by those in charge of the city. These include mobility, trade, zoning, and the provision of infrastructure networks, among others.
We are particularly appreciative of how the design gives considerable attention and care to shade and shelter, issues that often are ignored by planners and architects in many urban contexts, and that are of considerable significance during the hot arid season in Burkina Faso.
This is a project that does not in any way attempt to overwhelm. It is a skillful and mature work, and presents a successful model for urban intervention in the rapidly-growing, uncontrolled, and unregulated environments that are defining the urban centers of the developing world.
X-Cavating the Future of Sidon:
We found this urban-scale project to be bold and consistent, but still understated. It involves a level of creative speculation, but that is nonetheless substantiated.
The drawings communicate a ‘forensic’ quality to them. We read the project as an excavation of the deep layers of human activities that have taken place in this historical city over millennia, with an emphasis on the vocation of fishing as a defining economic, social, and cultural force in the city. The project explores it and looks into how to best preserve it as it faces various existential challenges including pollution, climate change, and urban sprawl.
We have been impressed by the inversion of the natural instinct to build above the ground, but to create habitable spaces that are based on digging deep within the ground.
The project’s presentation is highly conceptual, but still effective in its clarity and simplicity. We are also intrigued by the fact that, with the exception of the two overall site plans and a plan of a warehouse that the presentation features, it communicates design interventions exclusively through vertical sections.
October 16, 2019