Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Ford Focus turned into an orchestra

I am not really a fan of any of the American muscles, but after hearing what Ford is doing as a marketing strategy for their new Focus I have to say I am impressed.

Composer Craig Richey, sound designer Bill Milbrodt, and friends used a five-door Focus RS fresh from the factory floor, took it apart, then used the car's many parts to create 31 musical original instruments such as a Rear Suspension Spike Fiddle and Door Harp. Ford will then hand over the Motorcraft-edition instruments to a full-blown orchestra to lay the sound track for the next Focus commercial. The ad will be aired on ITV in Europe on Feb. 4.

Bahrain in 3D

Apparently Muharraqi Studios has finished working on a 3D full master plan of Bahrain in 2007, which is supposed to enable developers to Plug in the newest developments for the Future. I wonder if in 5 to 10 years time it would be accessible to anyone like Google Earth. I hope so that would really be fun.

Monday, 28 January 2008

The art of assemblage

This interesting post got me motivated about a subject that is linked to my project. The post is about recycled sculpture by British-born sculptor Tony Cragg. Made from materials found in household trash to construction refuse, the installations take the shape of graphic forms from afar. Up close, the graphic shapes transform into colorful and detailed pieces.

This got me thinking about the art of assemblage, which apparently have been traced back to the 1930s if not earlier. In an exhibition entitled, "The Art of Assemblage" in MOMA that served as a starting point for this style, William Seitz (the curator of the exhibition) defined assemblage as "the fitting together of parts and pieces". The exhibition showed work done by major European artists like Picasso and Braque as well as less known American artists. Its known to the French as Bricolage and have been described as "savage thought". Its seems that assemblage have always tended to be a political statement. Its mostly associated with industry, accelerated production, consumption and therefore destruction. Perhaps the fact that most of these installations are made of "found objects" and the poor condition in which these "found objects" tend to be automatically associate these concepts with this style.

Yet what intrigued me in Cragg's work is that I find some positiveness in his work. It seems to me that instead of criticizing and attacking the world for creating this junk as most assemblage artists do, the use of bright colors and the graphic forms he shaped allows us to embrace this junk and find beauty in it. Compare his work with this installation by Louise Nevelson. Its called Sky Cathedral, found in MOMA and measures roughly 3.5 x 3 meters.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

100th post

I was working on a new post when I noticed that I have reached my 100th post. So I decided to post something that's linked to that instead.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Pavilion in Sudan

While I was looking at the entries of the 2007 AR Awards for Emerging Architecture, I was really taken away by one particular project that was highly commended by the jury. Its a pavilion for prayer and meditation for all faiths in Sudan designed by Studio Tamassociati.

The intention of the Venice-based Italian architects was to "create an enclave that could be spiritually neutral, yet still evoke a sense of the numinous" in a region that is suffering from religious and ethnic strife. However, and I don't know if its just me or if this is a testimony to the architects success in achieving their goal, the simplicity of the pavilion evokes a feeling of going back in time when Islam was pure. Stripped from any geometric decorations or architectural features like domes and minarets that have been influenced by the political power struggles between Muslims and other religions. It really looks as if this was the kind of mosque that our Prophet Mohammad (SAW) was praying in, a vernacular building made of local materials formed as simple as possible without decorations.

This pavilion is part of a heart surgery centre in Khartoum. The exterior is dominated by a large reflecting pool, a powerful symbol of physical sustenance in sub-Saharan Africa, which also separates the pavilion from the hospital and wider world. The pavilion is a simple composition of two white cubes connected by a roof of loosely woven bamboo that gently diffuses the harshness of the sun’s glare. At the pavilion’s heart are two trees, a reminder of the transcendental power of nature.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Corten Style

A wonderful collection of urban furniture, designed by Marc Aurel and inspired by the furniture of the garden.

Hugo Boss

Project: Hugo Boss Industries building
Architect: Matteo Thun & Partners
Location: Coldrerio, Switzerland
Year Completed: 2006

There are 300 lucky people working in the new Hugo Boss Industries building in Coldererio. Not only do they enjoy freebies from one of the top designers, but they get to experience working in this award winning building as well.

The inner core of the building is made of glass, steel and concrete, composed in prefabricated elements. From the inner core emerges a suspended, enveloping structure made of planks of larch wood woven like a "fabric" or a "basket" as a metaphor for a clothes brand. An open plan office space and gallery surrounds a full height atrium which marks the focal point of the building. This sequence is intended to be a climate and comfort control device starting from the exterior woven wood, which acts like a filter against sunlight, to the internal soundproofing and lighting/natural ventilation systems.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

More news from Dubai

The biggest human-shaped building in the world

Inspiration for the tower: Traditional Arabic clothing

The biggest cross in the world according to some

Well... I am not sure if its good news but I've just heard about this proposal for the biggest concrete and glass human shaped building in the world. Of course such projects are only found in Dubai. The 35 storey, 140 meter, DH 500 million tower is called Burj Al Arabi, and is intended to be built near Jabal Ali Airport as a gesture for greeting arrivals and departures. According to this site, the project also received the backing of Islamic scholar, Ahmad Al Kubaisi. The UAE national had this to say about the project:

"Our Islamic and Arabic history is full of what we can be proud of but we do not make enough effort to reflect this in our real estate sector, as many developers race to copy foreign buildings which have nothing to do with our property heritage nor highlight our historic values. Burj Al Arabi is not intended to be the statute of a person, but symbolises a particular style of dress. It honours the religion, culture and language of the Arab people from a real estate perspective."

The project haven't been approved yet. I don't know the reason for that but my guess would be that it sure had a split decision about its representation of our heritage and historic values. I mean Burj Al Arab have been criticized because it resembled a cross and have been called the biggest Christian Cross in the world. Whether it was intended to be or not, I am sure the developers want to avoid such accusations in this project.

Although the proposal does have some fun features, such as the igal (the black circle at the top) is intended to be a rotating restaurant or a conference center, this is not what Islamic nor Arabic architecture is about. If the intention was to represent "heritage and historic values" through architecture, then depicting human beings is a big no no in Islamic architecture. Even though the architect intended to represent the dress as a symbol for culture, I am sure most people would have viewed the building as an abstract form of a human being. Besides considering the dress as a symbol of culture is very shallow. After all Islamic architecture and Islam always gave more importance to the interior rather than the exterior look. So representing our culture with how we look is not really the appropriate way.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The Architecture of Yemen

Here is an exhibition that I intend to go to about my dissertation. I just hope I find the time to go before its finished.

The exhibition explores the contribution made by master builders and inhabitants in the design process and the fabric and environment of Yemeni towns itself, which is increasingly under threat from commercial and corporate urban development.

The exhibition will contain specially commissioned models, original drawings and artwork.

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
Gallery 1
66 Portland Place

020 7580 5533

The Cybertecture of the iPad and Shuffle Towers

i-Pad Tower

Shuffle Tower

In a country which has the tallest tower in the world, the largest shopping mall, a rotating tower, a copy of the Eiffel Tower, another copy of the Leaning Tower of Pizza and many more pioneering projects... I am sure you have heard of the latest additions to that intriguing portfolio: the i-pod, sorry I meant i-pad tower and the shuffle tower.

The architect, James Law, is one of the key figures in Cybertecture projects. He was a director of internationally renown US architectural design firm, Gensler International, prior to setting up James Law Cybertecture International on the first day of the new century 2001. The firm works on architectural projects, infrastructure and city planning, business strategies and communication models along with other software applications. Among the many consulting teams and collaborations the firm had in different fields, James Law Cybertecture is consulting for the United Nations for the design of a virtual world archive designed to preserve World Heritage Sites. This way the firm "develops the core Cybertecture vision of the world, in which the now and future world is designed and created inspired in a symbiotic balance between space and technology."

One may wonder where would a term such as Cybertecture emerge from. Wolf Hilbertz, a German architect, was an assistant professor in the US when he wrote his book "Toward Cybertecture", which laid the foundations for the discipline in the early 70s. It went out of fashion like other movements at the time, but we see it now making a massive comeback. I remember during my first year we had a project where we had to design a clothing item -a shirt, a hat or anything- that would resemble an architect or building. And now I do see the link between fashion design and architecture; after all both are part of our daily lives, influenced by our behaviour, and perhaps most importantly our ever changing taste for aesthetics.

Cybertecture is not CAD. Its not "colorful renderings on black backgrounds, gradually painting a dark and endless space in our minds that seems to represent the virtual reality." If the "virtual reality" was to be represented, it would be anything but a endless black space. "Moreover, cybertecture is not necessarily the re-invention of architectural languages to express instability and movement. A tilted column is no more cybernated than a straight one." Cybertecture is basically architecture that integrates virtual activities into physical spaces.

Cybertects would be creating places that need to be full of information and communication. This means that connection points is what Cybertecture is concerned with. Connections that link people and machines separated by time and space. Cybertecture is therefore responsible for realizing these connections in the physical and virtual form.

Going back to the i-pad and the shuffle towers in Dubai. What really intrigued me where the concepts behind the designs. I mean for a place like Dubai that's becoming a major hub in the world, such concepts of cybertecture is what makes Dubai what it is. Its a point of connection between people, businesses, and industries from the East and West. The shuffle tower is a mixed used development consisting of residential, commercial and office blocks; a great way to give meaning to the term shuffle besides shuffling music. Many may think that the i-pad tower is called that because of the tower shape. However, it goes beyond that. Its supposed to change our lives just like i-pods changed the life of music. The idea behind it is to fulfill the dream of living in the future; the experience of integration between technology and space, creating unlimited boundaries for young people who know how to get the most out of the technology they use and therefore their life.

Monday, 14 January 2008

The Kaaba

Found some good background information and diagrams about Kaaba, even I as a Muslim didn't know all these things so I thought I should share it.

-The Kaaba is the holiest place for Muslims, its the qibla "direction" where Muslims face while praying and where Islamic rituals like pilgrimage take place.

-Its called "Al-Kaaba Al-Mosharafa" meaning "The dignified Kaaba", "Al-Bait Al-Haram" meaning "The holy house", and "Al-Bait Al-Ateeq" meaning "The primordial house".

-The name "Kaaba" is derived from "moka'ab" which is the arabic word for "cube".

-Kaaba is a cubic masonry structure built from granite that is brought from the hills near Mecca.

-The structure is supported by 3 columns that run in the center.

-A marble base called "Shaazarwaan" extends outwards by about a foot and a half.

-The dimensions of the Kaaba from the tip of the Shaazarwaan is roughly 11.5m by 13m.

-The four corners of the Kaaba roughly directs towards the four points of the compass.

-The Kaaba is covered by a "kiswah" which is a black silk curtain decorated with gold calligraphy.

-The Kaaba have been damaged and reconstructed several times, but the shape remained the same.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Conservation Areas in Bahrain

I've just been to Arad Fort lately and the visit got me thinking about some series issues in planning in Bahrain that are worth studying.

A "conservation area" is an area with a special architectural or historic interest. They range from natural spaces such as a park or a beach to urban centers of cities and towns. The goal of such areas is not limited to preserving specific buildings in it, it is intended to preserve and enhance the features of the whole neighborhood area including roads and street furniture.In the UK, the concept of conservation areas began in 1967 and there are around 8000 conservation areas today. Local authorities (which would be the equivalent to municipalities in Bahrain) have the power to designate those areas. They also have controls over demolition, development and greenery. This means that conservation areas are not forbidden from development and by no means are they supposed to be inhabitable for the sake of protecting the area. But controlled development will enhance and improve the area and at the same time preserve its architectural or historic significance thus achieving an equilibrium.

In addition to "conservation areas", there are "listed buildings" which are buildings that shows architectural characteristics which belong to a significant historical period. Even though they come in different categories depending on their value, the local authorities hove control over any change in all listed buildings even if they are privately owned. Any alteration, extension or demolition must be approved by the local authority after ensuring that the changes will not affect the significance of the building. There are some bridges and monuments that are listed as well as buildings, and the list contains around 400,000 entries.

Conservation areas and listed buildings are important planning regulations that are highly regarded in the UK, and visiting Arad Castle made me think how could people who are so attached to their history and cultural traditions allow historic areas and buildings to get destroyed to make way for new developments.

Perhaps a good example of that is the Financial Harbour which completely erased any trace of what used to be one of the main ports in Bahrain also called "El Fortha". Even though the port was gone long before the Financial Harbour came, I would have thought that retracing the original port, enhancing it and creating a landmark out of it that would celebrate and embrace its history could have been a great project. Don't get me wrong I am not totally against the Financial Harbour and do acquire some taste to it. But I think there could have been another option of creating a landmark which is both financially beneficial and culturally significant at the same time.

From what I heard, and I admit that I do lack knowledge in this issue, regulations that were very similar to the concepts of conservation areas do exist. Currently there are three conservation areas which are Tubli Bay, Hawar Islands, and Al-Areen Wildlife park. In addition there is Qal'at al-Bahrain which is included in UNESCO World Heritage List. However, conservation areas should not be limited to natural spaces and archaeological sites but also include old neighborhoods (ferjan) along with other significant sites that have special cultural characteristics. There are individual efforts to preserve some houses but I don't see a clear plan to bring all those important projects together. Besides I remember when the governor of Muharraq (the city which has most traditional houses in Bahrain) wanted to stop building new towers in old Muharraq Neighborhoods to preserve its traditional characteristic, people accused him that he doesn't want Muharraq to be developed like other cities. I guess the idea of being the center of the universe is an idea established in a lot of people's head. Thus they show disregard to the neighborhood and environment and go on doing whatever they want without thinking for a second about the effect and consequences their actions have on others.

I remember this scene in one of the best Arabic TV series that I saw which was Bab Al Hara 2. In this scene there was this man who wanted to build a room in his house for his newly wedded son. He wanted the room to be separate from the house and accessible from the street, so he decided to build a new door. The new door was going to be in front of his neighbor's door. The neighbor is an extremely conservative man and strongly objected on building a new door in front of his. He said that he has many young girls and he doesn't want a stranger accidentally seeing one of his daughters without the hijab or wearing inappropriate clothes, and for this very reason he bought the house because there were no doors or windows in from of his. The man took it personally and was insulted by the neighbor's actions, after all he is an honorable man who respects his neighbors' privacy and so is his son. Yet the neighbor insisted that no door should be built in front of his, and so they got into a fight. After others mediating between the two, the man decided not to build the door respecting his neighbor's wishes even though it is his home and he is free to do whatever he wants with it.

Even though the situation was an extreme one, my point is that neighbors should always consider the consequences of their actions on their neighbors. I doubt that such values would be as common in our society today. I leave you with this picture of Arad Fort, now I have nothing personally against the guy who owns the villa or whatever it is on the left, but the area around the fort should be a conservation area to protect and preserve the view of the fort. I think there should be a continuous line of palm trees and greenery surrounding the fort to isolate it from any modern development, thus creating a sense of going back in time when visiting the site.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Bahrain National Museum

Aerial View

Meeting space in front of the museum

Side view

View of the back

View of the entrance

View of the entrance from inside

Project: Bahrain National Museum
Architect: KHRAS Arkitekter (today known as KHR Arkitekter AS)
Year Completed: 1988
Location: Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain

An idea of a Civic Center was initiated when an old museum in Muharraq could no longer accommodate the growing collection of precious artifacts that are being discovered. A Danish architecture firm was appointed to design the proposal and the Museum complex was the first phase of this civic center which also included a congress complex, a library, a planetarium and an aquarium. The center was not realised due to economics, but almost 20 years later we begin to see the second phase in motion with the construction of a public library and a design proposal by Zaha Hadid for a new Museum for contemporary Arts.

The Danish architects didn't want to fall into shallow translations of architectural features. Instead they used reinterpretation of local culture as a design mechanism to achieve a mixture of Islamic/Western influence. The result is a stunning landmark that grasps the essence of Bahraini traditional values and present it in a modern contemporary building.

The main elements that make up the design strategy are the following:

1- Location
Bahrain literary means 2 seas, where fresh land water meats the sea. Its no coincidence that the museum, is located in a coast along the intersection of 2 highways that connect 2 cities; Muharraq the old Capital of Bahrain and Manama the present Capital of Bahrain. This way the sea, the land, and the fresh water pools express the meaning of Bahrain.

2- Water
The museum complex is surrounded by a water pool which signifies the importance of the water in an island where people earned most of their living from the sea. Its also a dramatic enhancement to reflect the museum and create a gathering place.

3- Simple Facades
The simple facades of the museum is a translation of the plain facades of old Bahraini houses that can be found even today in Muharraq and Manama as well. In these houses decorations can be found only windows, doors and in parapets.

4- Courtyard
Houses in Bahrain traditionally were courtyard houses, ranging from 1 up to 4 courtyards with varying functions. There are both environmental and cultural reasons behind this system which can be found in most Arabic countries. This feature is clearly evident in the meeting space in front of the museum in addition to other private courtyards in the museum complex.

5- Geometry
Geometry is clearly evident in the massing of the museum and the patterns of the facade stones. This concept is employed because it is rooted in Islamic Architecture and plays a significant role in Arabic spacial pattern.

6- Introspection
This concept is perhaps the most essential principle of Islamic Architecture which can be found in private houses or public buildings. Self-effacing exteriors are very common in mosques, houses, schools... etc. High attention to detail and decoration of the interior is much more important than exterior facade decoration. "One must look inward behind the surface, where Islamic architecture unfolds in a wealth of varied and often surprising spatial sequences, a sophisticated control of strong daylight and ornamentation that is always subordinate to the primary spatial expression."

Contemporary Art in Bahrain

Dr. Ahmad Baqer

Kamal Abdulla Ali

Husain Fateel

The last time I've been to an art exhibition in Bahrain was 5 years ago; it was a student exhibition when I was at school. I didn't have the enthusiasm and interest about art back then and I guess that's why I never admired Bahraini artists other than Abdulla Al-Muharaqi, a famous Bahraini cartoonist who is also a painter. However I've just been to the 34th Annual Fine Arts Exhibition in Bahrain Museum which opened at 26 December 2007. And I have to say I am really impressed. The exhibition opened my eyes to the great talent in Bahraini artists and the incredible potential of art and culture in Bahrain.

You might notice that there is something common in all 3 pictures I posted. There was a huge variety in the subjects and styles of paintings which made the exhibition more interesting. There were human portraits, urban scenery, landscape, calligraphy, sculpture drawn or built in different abstract styles. What caught my attention and really impressed me were those paintings that contained Islamic or Arabic subjects expressed in different abstract styles. Although I do admire realist art and the ability of artists to draw objects to the tiniest detail in outstanding accuracy, I am not very fond of this style because I always sense there is a lack of feeling in the painting. The painting will only touch viewers if the scene is familiar and the genius in those paintings is in selecting the perfect scene rather than the process of drawing. However in expressionism, artists distort reality according to their feelings; drawing technique, brush strokes, medium and many other factors open the gate to interpretation and interaction with any viewer and that's where the beauty in abstract art lies.

After leaving the exhibition it got me thinking of the lack of attention on culture in Bahrain. With the huge wave of residential towers, office buildings, and other recreational and commercial projects under construction; cultural projects like theatres and museums are less than a handful. There were some design proposals in the exhibition that might see the light, the most significant is the Museum of Contemporary Art by Zuha Hadid. But it would be great to finance a great deal of cultural projects in addition to the commercial and tourist attractions to bring back Bahrain as a leading Gulf State.