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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Visiting the SA+D at AUS...

A jury at the SA+D at AUS...

The other week I had the privilege of visiting the School of Architecture and Design (SA+D) at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). I attended two end-of-the-term juries. The first day was with Professor Mehdi Sabet, whose class of about ten Interior Design students had designed a set of proposals for a new Fashion Institute in Istanbul. The second day I attended a final, fifth year, class with Professor George Katodrytis (who also was one of the keynote speakers at the 2007 conference, Sources of Architectural Form, organized by Kuwait's own Dr. Hussain Dashti). His class, of about seventeen students made various experimental research/ design proposals for various locales in the Middle-East.

The AUS campus. The SA+D building can be seen to the far left...

Regardless of how one feels about the stylings of the AUS Campus, which touches upon a orientalist rendition of PoMo, the campus itself is impressive - with its vast vistas of granite paving, water-fountains, and regulated rows of palm-trees filling the views between the delicately bulky buildings. The SA+D building, which can be seen in the image above to the left of the central fountain, peforms the role of a Venturian (Scott-Brownian) 'decorated shed' of sorts, with an ornate outer shell within which a surprisingly ascetic, almost raw, but fully functional, interior is contained.

Above and below - Further views of the AUS campus...


The facilities of the SA+D are the most comprehensive (and impressive) I've come across in the region, with a generous allocations of studio spaces, wrapped around a central atrium (see image below) where each student has his or her own desk space, access to well equipped computer studios and printing rooms, a well outfitted wood-workshop, a number of gallery spaces, and 'crit' rooms designed specifically for the purpose of design jurys. They are also about to put down a considerable investment into developing and updating their digital fabrication lab, something I found particularly interesting...

Above and below - The cental atrium of the SA+D building around which the students' desk spaces are wrapped...


During my two days of juries I came across a vast array of striking work - imaginative and implementable designs, as well as more conceptual and explorative conceptions, most of which were realized and presented in a truly accomplished, comprehensive and well executed fashion. It's always a good sign when, even after an extended day of reviews, one steps out into the cool evening air still excited, and almost impatient to continue the discussions and discourses triggered by the day's experiences...

Above - Gestural feedback provided by one of the visiting jurors at Professor Mehdi Sabet's class. Below - A captured moment during Professor George Katodrytis' final review (GK, wearing black, can be seen inspecting a prototype in the middle)...


Other architectural schools in the region have much to learn form the SA+D at AUS. The facilities, the staff, programmes and research collaborations conducted with other international institutions by the staff and students of SA+D show a level of commitment and dedication to the advancement, exploration and inquisitiveness to the discipline of architecture which I haven't, as of yet, come across in the Middle-East. Polemic approaches are encouraged, experimental paradigms promoted, whilst still making sure the students are aware of the architectural basics. The level and passion at which the various discourses are pursued at the SA+D is something quite unique, and something which distinguish it from its fellow regional institutions. It is already dictating and cultivating its own agenda rather than merely pursuing and trying to catch up with the rest of the world - it's become a leader rather than a follower, and that's something truly rare here...

A big thank you also to Dr. Gisela Loehlein, head of the AUS Development Office for, well, everything...

Above and below - Samples of AUS SA+D student work...



A drawing class sketching one of the campus buildings...

A 'walk-through' installation located by the back entrance to the SA+D building...

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