Sunday, 27 June 2010

Design as Reform

I wonder what makes a Manhattan based design studio like RUX think of entering a mosque design competition after designing a condom wrapper and a vodka bottle, and amazingly winning the competition.

The competition is called Design as Reform and is arranged by Traffic, a Dubai based art and design practice founded in 2007 which includes a store, gallery and studio. In the second edition of their competition, the focus was on design through the reapplication of existing Arab forms, preserving authenticity of the Arab culture in the age of mass production and exportation. The competition, open to both students and professionals, has been divided into four categories that address different aspects of the urban landscape of everyday Arab life, which consist of a mosque (architecture), majlis (interior design), a pattern (graphic design), and a public installation (experimental design).

The mosque winning entry has a very interesting idea behind it, although it is one of those unpractical ideas that can only work inside the imagination of a designer, and not real life. The idea is rather than designing a mosque as a building with doors and walls, the mosque here is an urban plaza. Designed as a "developer's tool", this public space orientated towards the qibla, would extend this "sense of community" towards the surrounding buildings. Although a romantic idea, as the category falls under architecture, I am afraid that it does not address key issues, most obvious is climatic considerations. The project also assumes that a mosque has the single function of serving as a space for praying, where in fact in most mosques, lectures are given, children are being educated in religion, and many mosques have adjacent halls for special occasions like weddings and funerals.

Most importantly, as the competition aims for preserving the authenticity of the Arabic culture, the idea of a public square is not really that common in the urban fabric of Arab cities. Public outdoors spaces, like a market for example, are usually narrow and shaded by surrounding buildings. I guess the main reason for ignoring these issues is the fact that the design strategy was to serve as a "developer's tool"!

The majlis entry was another interesting one, one which I thought was much more successful in addressing the theme of the competition. Designed by German interior designers 22 Quadrat, the project is called "white space" and combines a minimalistic aesthetic with references to the Islamic tradition of abstract art. The building provides separate divisions for men and women yet with the flexibility of being opened up.

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