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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kul 'am Wa Antum Bikhair - Gott Nytt År - Onnellista Uutta Vuotta - Happy New Year...


Happy New Year Everyone... May the coming year be a merry one, and tomorrow, may your morning after the night before be like the day before the night before...

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...

Friday, December 25, 2009

SAM Street Proposal - Let's Start by Bringing a Tram line to Kuwait...



Brief Note: This blog post has also previously been published on the Kuwait School Blog. But as it deals with matters relevant to this blog, I thought it also fitting to include it here... TM


Before the metro, before even the train line, we should introduce a tram-line to Kuwait. Not all of Al-Kuwait, but initially only a very select section of the city – SAM Street (Salem Al-Mubarak Street in Salmiya)...

A tram line would not only encourage, usually full-time, drivers to become (part-time) pedestrians by alleviating finding a parking spot, as it would be easy to park at one location and take the tram to another. It would also be a faster means of getting around as it would mostly be the sole occupant of the central, currently more or less unused, central island separating the lanes. Using this space would entail that some of the trees which reside in this space would need to be removed, but hopefully this could be achieved by simply relocating them to an adjacent pavement. Developing a tram line would also, as infrastructure projects go, be a undertaking that in scale wouldn't, economically nor effort wise, be too insurmountable a task and would provide both an initial incentive and test-ground to explore the value, the do's & don'ts, for similar or other alternative means of transport in Kuwait. It would also furnish SAM Street with a unique character that's distinct from any other locales in Kuwait and would befit and support it as a pedestrianized district. It could also easily be expanded or integrated into other complementary transport systems. Perhaps it's the type of catalyst the city needs to begin doing something instead of just talking (about doing something).

Above and below - Two mappings proposing the potential routes of the tram-line along SAM Street. Proposal A would mainly occupy the central island between the street's two lanes, whereas Proposal B snakes and loops around a bit more, providing a slightly less confrontational approach to both the street's pedestrian and vehicular traffic...

There's been some very constructive debates and proposals going on between this and the re:kuwait blog regarding how the implementation and detailing of Kuwait's urban plan could be improved. Much of it has focused on how to lessen our dependence on the car in everything we do in Kuwait.

A chart exploring the approximate speed a tram could advance along SAM Street. It also provides a suggestion for stops along the street...

I think some of the points made in recent re:kuwait posts by Barrak (click here and here to access these) regarding only concentrating on the development of SAM Street's narrower western end are valid ones, and the most viable place to begin such an endeavour. Supporting this, however, it can be argued that to simultaneously also keep in mind the surrounding and related areas down east from 'Old Salmiya', which currently is the more populous and active end of the street, needs to be considered, if only for the sake of balance. Connecting these two ends, through a tram or some other means, would strengthen the character of the area as a whole, and allow it to develop and hopefully thrive as a continuous collective rather than the set of separate piecemeal entities it presently reads as. Currently few people realize how close some of the key nodes are along SAM Street. Walking from the 4th Ring Road end to the little junction point plaza by the U-turns takes about five minutes; walking from there to the Al-Salam building end takes another five minutes; continuing onwards it's only a five minute walk to Marina Mall (a stretch of road which could be even shorter if crossing the Hamad Al-Mubarak Street junction was made easier). From the Marina Mall down to the next large intersection, Qatar Street, takes about five minutes, and again it's only about a five minute stroll down to the Al-Fanar Mall. The last stretch of SAM Street from the Al Fanar to AUK requires again only an approximately five minute amble. Placing tram stops at about these nodes and junctions would allow one to reach all of the key locations along SAM Street within a few minutes stroll...

An illustration showing some of the key nodes along SAM Street, and approximate walking distances/ times between them...

Non-Shopping to Happiness (Expanding the Remit of SAM Street)...


Brief Note: This blog post has previously been published on the Kuwait School Blog. But as it deals with matters relevant to this blog, I thought it also fitting to include it here... TM


Spending Money is not an Activity...


“...shopping should never be the main reason for coming into the city.”


These wise words were stated by the Danish architect and urbanist Jan Gehl who is credited with transforming Copenhagen into one of the most 'livable cities' and aiding in making its people amongst the happiest. Some of the greatest pleasures in visiting a new city is just meandering, walking around almost at random, making decisions on the spot and 'following ones nose' according to various interesting features that catch ones fancy – let (the corner of) one's eyes, ears, nose lead the way... 'Doing nothing' is a valid urban activity – chatting with friends, daydreaming, strolling, people watching... Shopping can be 'a' reason, but shouldn't necessarily be 'the' reason for visiting a city.


An analysis of existing and potential future locations for parking, something which would become relevant when transforming parts of SAM Street into a pedestrian zone...


Most mall designs in Kuwait seem to be based on the same business template – build a large shed filled with retail spaces, find one or two anchor tenants (think Sultan Centre and Debenhams at Souq Sherq, or Ikea and Carrefour at Avenues Mall), place them at each end of the design (or occasionally below, as in the 360 Mall), include plenty of parking, and 'Bob's your uncle' – things will take care of themselves... That's not the case anymore, as Kuwait has by now become 'out-malled' – the ratio between potential consumers and malls have reached, even for a shopper's haven like Kuwait, a point of supersaturation beyond which there simply aren't enough consumers to frequent them all. The result is, as can be witnessed by the row of more or less abandoned malls around the western end of SAM Street (Galleria 2000, Mariam Shopping Mall, Al Bustan, to mention a few)...


By re-designing this section of SAM Street the balance and intensity of the area would be changed - this would be needed to take into account in the development of the neighbourhood...


The formulae for an enterprising business cluster needs to expand and begin including a more enriched, multi-dimensional and varied recipe of urban elements into its design.


It also has to be emphasized, in response to a comment by 'Mark' who lives at SAM Street, left in response to earlier posts, that the aim with this exercise is not to necessarily demolishing the street's buildings, but to retain the qualities that make it special and unique in Kuwait - the scale, proportions, heights of its buildings and the varying width of the street (a version of 'Pimp-my-Street', if you will) only here applied with perhaps a bit more forethought, care, practicality and, hopefully, elegance and style... The idea is not to change the area, as it's exactly the inherent qualities of SAM Street which make it so appealing, but to, call it, 'update' it, to retain its idiosyncrasies whilst expanding its idiom.


Nooks & Crannies...


It's important that there are things to discover, things that surprise you, when walking about. A bit further down the road from the 'Old Salmiya' end of SAM Street, opposite the M&S store, there are a myriad alleyways filled with privately owned women's shoe-shops, jewellers, bakalas, clothing-shops and other bric-a-brac stores selling everything and anything that one might fancy. The casual richness and value of such places should not be underestimated. It is this type of a locale that should be emulated on some of the currently empty back lots adjacent to SAM Street. They should be made up of pedestrian alleyways with smallish shops, ranging in size from, say, 5 square meter kiosks up to 70 square meter workshop-shops – the idea being that it would built upon an encourage the development of SAM Street into a, as mentioned in some of the previous posts, 'creative neighbourhood', that, in conjunction with the proposed university/ design school (as discussed in a previous post - see link above), would allow for a whole support network for related activities to develop in this area. Small galleries specializing in displaying anything from experimental jewellery to performance spaces for theatre, dance, video art or any other more experimental public presentations. Small stores and stands displaying anything from mint & chili honey to various types of 'darabil' (cinnamon). Shops selling hand-made paper and hand-bound books. Coffee-shops with galleries in their back – galleries with workshops in their back – workshops with stores in their back – book stores with 'speak-easys' in the back... The place should include stores that exist only for a weekend, and shops which become permanent landmarks in their own right (think Collette in Paris, Rough Trade in London, or the Strand Book Store in New York). A place where new ideas can be tested, old ideas wilfully ignored, mediocre concepts improved, poor conceptions failed, and great endeavours expanded. SAM Street should be allowed to evolve into a real, multi-functional and inspirational, neighbourhood.


An illustration showing how an existing typology of 'alleyway' retail shops, located opposite the M&S store, could be appropriated and used as a template down East on some of the demolished plots adjacent to SAM Street in Old Salmiya...


Why not begin here with the, often talked about but seldom explained, revitalization of Kuwait as a cultural, social as well as commercial hub? Developing something multi-faceted such as this would benefit all stratum and paradigms of, both commercial and cultural, life in Kuwait. As nation building goes it's a minute step, but these types of endeavours need to be evolved one step at a time. It's a project that needs to be given time to bloom and prosper - gradual maturation and transformation of the SAM Street neighbourhood where worthy idiosyncrasies are allowed to thrive – unique things, regardless of purpose or context, are allowed to flourish and materialize...


The proposal takes advantage of the, already a while back, demolished plots adjacent to SAM Street to expand the remit of the urban brief, creating support areas in character aligned with the creation of Kuwait's first 'Creative Neighbourhood'...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

High-Brow, Low-Brow, No-Brow...


I received the included images from our partners in London, architects Paul Brady and Eng-Ling Ho. They were taken at the recent Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, which they attended, and seemed to much enjoy, with their two children. Looking at the photos, with their almost Kertesz like reflections/ distortions, reminded me about how art, any art, can inspire and stimulate us all regardless of age, background or education. This type of events, installations, interventions need to be accessible to everyone. Art, architecture and design should never only be for the artist, architects and designers, but (as they inevitably are) need to be something we're all exposed to. Simply their presence, even on a indirect or subliminal level, inspires us, provokes our curiosity and wonder. They introduce us to new paradigms of ideas, catalyse syncretic amalgamations, delight, disgust, surprise us. They provoke wonder at a myriad of subtle levels, ranging from mild/ fleeting curiosity to ones skin crawling and giving one goose-bumps. Art can, and should, affect one in a intuitive as well as empirical way (and can often do so simultaneously) - arouse us to both feel and think. Art should always provoke, raise questions, never be fully agreed on - it should avoid excessive consensus. Its role is universal - it can exist anywhere where decisions are made - yet it is also ethereal which, due to its presence on a more intuitive and ephemeral level, can easily be dismissed and its value down played. Nevertheless, its being cannot be dismissed as its ubiquity permeates everything we do. It's in our lives, our faiths, our lifestyles, our jobs, our daily activities and discourses. It's all at once high-brow and low-brow - no-brow, and that's the way it should be. It's existence and importance needs to be acknowledged though, as without recognition it dissipates, and our lives end up poorer without it...

All photos by the Bradys...


Monday, December 21, 2009

The World's First Underground City Plan...

A small section of the Helsinki Underground City Plan (Image from the World Design Capital 2012 Web page)...


Came across this post and found it intriguing enough to include here as a submission. Apparently Helsinki, the recently announced World Design Capital for 2012, is to have the world's first underground city plan. Most parts of the Finnish capital's centre can already be accessed through various underground links, and there are a surprising amount of venues and utilities, including the central bus station, which are located below street level. Apparently the city has already over 9 million square meters of underground spaces..! Click here for the original link...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Project Recap No. 10 - nous Gallery Sign (London)...



Last year we had an exhibition at the nous Gallery, a London based gallery that specializes in showing and promoting work exploring various more recent computing based architectural practices and theoretical strands. For the exhibition we were also asked to design a bespoke sign for the gallery using one of the techniques we've been investigating, which in this instance involved using the default marker, a 0.2 mm dot or circle (made in CAD), which usually indicates the starting point of a laser-cut, as an design feature in its own right. The interesting quality this miniscule hole has is that when it's cut out of a bit thicker material, here a 3 mm sheet of steel, the hole is proportionally so small to the naked eye that it almost seems to 'fade' into the material when viewed from even a slight oblique angle, and can only be noticed when seen from straight ahead with a light source in the background. Here this property was used, when multiplied over 3,300 times and shaped into letters, to spell out the gallery's name.

Thus, when one walks by the lit sign, the letters of its title seem to gradually appear and disappear, providing a passive/ analog effect through particular technological aspects specific to laser-cutting...



Four differently oblique views of the sign illustrating the gradual fading in & off of the sign's lettering...


Above and below - an example of a, if not the same, at least similar exercise using perforations, in this case on a slightly larger scale on the partition screens in our London office (design by Perparim Rama and Edward Finucane from our sister company the 4M group).



Friday, December 4, 2009

This Blog is 1 Year Old...


Today is this blog's first anniversary, and this is its 80th post... It's been an eventful year, and writing this blog has in many ways helped me to realize, work through, and clarify a number of ideas and projects that have been germinating already for a while before it was commenced. It's performed as a connective thread linking various chains of thought. Let's hope it will continue to do so in the future.

Happy birthday blog. It's been swell...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Favourite Buildings Visited - the Kiasma (Museum), Finland...


The Kiasma museum of contemporary art in Helsinki was designed by the American architect Steven Holl and opened in 1998. Located in central Helsinki, adjacent to Mannerheimintie, the main artery transversing through the Finnish capital, the museum has become a recognizable landmark in its own right in an area of the city that's already saturated with architectural reference points (Lasipalatsi, the Helsinki Central Railway Station, the Finnish Parliament Building, the Ateneum, to mention a few...).
The Kiasma, which includes a number of quite unconventional exhibition spaces that don't necessarily subscribe to the arguably more neutral, 'white box', phenomena so prevalent amongst other more recent museum or gallery developments, and the value of which is even today a hotly debated topic, was partly initiated by this somewhat convoluted, yet still charming and surprisingly tactile, museum of contemporary art.

The museums central concourse...

View from the reception...

One of the top level galleries...

A statue of Marskalk Mannerheim, the war time general and former Finnish president. The statue occupied a site adjacent to the museum already before its conception. It's location and relationship to the museum was a hotly debated topic during the museum's development and commencement as the Marskalk (Marshal) hold a very distinguished position in Finnish history and psyche...

An external view of (semi-hidden) loading docks...

A view of the museum's 'back' facade...