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Thursday, October 24, 2013

MFA Designer in Residence on CNN


A few screen-shots from CNN of our upcoming Designer in Residence to the VCUQ MFA Program, Ali Ganjavian, from the Madrid based, multi-disciplinary, design practice Studio Banana... He'll be joining us for a two week design module in January 2014... 

Looking forward to it... 



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hand-Made Mud-Bricks & Structure, Nizwa, Oman...


A few images of a project I did a few years back during a stint at the University of Nizwa in Oman with two of my then students, Ali and Khaled... 

The project began with a visit to Bahla Castle, roughly half an hour drive from Nizwa, where we observed first-hand the process of mud brick making. These lessons were applied in our ‘micro-mud-brick-making-factory’ we set up on campus, which included a barrel for mixing the mud slur; a spot where the mud and straw were mixed; a partially shaded raised platform on which the bricks were made by Ali and Khaled, the two participating students; and an adjacent raised platform for drying the bricks (and protect them from the occasional flash-floods).  Approximately seven-hundred, about 1/4 scale, mud bricks were made, using hand-made ‘mini’ molds, before we ran out of raw material. This process also included a number of experiments where the mud-slur was mixed with a set of dyes or other additives (usually used for changing the properties of concrete) to provide the bricks with additional strength and robustness. 

The bricks were consequently used to build a small structure in which we tested and used a variety of different mud-brick patterns and compositions. A segment of the structure was also covered by a screed coats of a slightly less viscous mud-slur that is still today used in vernacular architecture. 

For more images from the process and comparable structures please click here and here...



The roughly 1/4 scale molds used to make the mud bricks...

Khaled mixing the mud and straw...

Making the bricks...

Laying the bricks in rows for drying...

The making of the wall commences...

A screed coat of mud is added...

Above & Below: Details from the construction of the structure...


Image of the interior...

Above & Below: The semi completed structure...


Khaled and Ali's feet...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

National Museum of History & Art, Luxembourg...


A few (quick iPhone) photos of the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg, a place I've walked by a number of times during previous visits, but only recently had a chance to inspect in more detail (beyond their coffee-shop)... 

Interestingly, one enters the ten floor establishment on the fifth floor, which is located at the end of an extended ground level plinth. The five floors below the ground level are thus carved out of the rock that forms the defining foundations of this topographically challenging city (it has a huge, deep, valley that splits the city in two)... The top five floors are contained by the above monolith. The below ground level (basement?) floors are housed within a glass encased set of spaces, located within a stone funnel, of sorts, that reveals the various geological stratums of the city, as well as the adjacent catacombs that seem to snake around and below this ancient city. The intent is to begin ones walkabout at the bottom floor, and gradually make ones way upwards, from the more ancient levels of Luxembourg exhibited at the lowermost level towards more contemporary endeavors at the top. The final level, five floors above the ground level, exhibits contemporary and current works of art. 

For more 'formal' images of the building click here

The building was designed by Christian Bauer Associates, a Luxembourg based architectural practice. 









Tuesday, October 1, 2013

SAM (Salem Al Mubarak) Street Revisited, Kuwait...

The location of the, now former, Al Salam Complex. For more images of the building click here...

Came across a text about SAM St. (Salem Al Mubarak Street) in Kuwait whilst reviewing some, completely unrelated, material. The text below, which hasn't been included in full on this blog before, was originally published in the 'Men's Passion' magazine, a MENA version of GQ or Esquire, if you will... I've decided to include it unedited, regardless of a number of tweaks I'd like to have added during my re-reading of the text, which still makes some worthy points... 

The accompanying images are not the same as in the original piece, but an assembly collated from other, SAM Street related, submissions... 

Block typology...


Exploring and Expanding the Remit of SAM Street (a Proposal for a New Cultural District in Kuwait)… 


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 world’s most 'livable cities' and aiding, according to some recent studies, 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. 


Proposed tram line...

 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 Souk 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 Ahmed’s your uncle' – commercially 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 in and around Kuwait’s various towns and neighborhoods, a row of more or less abandoned malls and shopping districts...

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 which learns from its past whilst simultaneously delving and exploring new and exciting futures…  

Tram line route (proposal B)...


SAM Street…

To achieve this doesn’t necessarily mean one has to start over. There are shopping districts in Kuwait with an extended and established legacy of retail and commercial activities. One such area is the today somewhat defunct, but still inherently charming, eastern stretch of Salem Al-Mubarak Street, or SAM St. in short, located in ‘Old Salmiya’. This end of the street, which apparently used to be the ‘crème’ of Kuwait’s social and mercantile areas only a few decades back, still retains an unique quality of its own. It is, however, a street and district aching for a make-over. This certainly shouldn’t be interpreted as something calling for a demolishing-fest, but as an intervention that aims to retain the qualities that make this Kuwaiti street special and unique - the scale, proportions, heights of its buildings and the varying width of the street should be preserved. Just like a car or a historical building, a city-neighborhood needs regular check-ups and upgrades to keep it relevant and in working order. Any revision of SAM St. should be applied with a fair dose of TLC, and carried out with more forethought, care, practicality and, hopefully, elegance and style, than seems to be the case at the moment... The idea here in this, still hypothetical, proposal is not to change the area, as it's exactly these inherent qualities of SAM Street which make it so appealing, but to 'update' it, to retain its idiosyncrasies whilst expanding its distinctive idiom and bearing.  


Estimated speed of tram/ Proposed stops...


The included images show examples of both the research of SAM Street’s current condition, as well as an initial schematic proposal for what its reformation might entail. [for this submission the images are different from the ones included in the published article]
In essence what the proposal would involve is reconfiguring the neighborhood as a cultural hub where various ‘culturally inclined’ social and commercial endeavors could take place – it could be Kuwait’s first 'Creative Zone', if you wish… Here the street’s western end would house a new elite liberal arts university and design school, forming a part of the occasionally debated (but still not realized) expansion of higher-learning institutions mentioned in a few of the more recent master-planning proposals for the country’s capital. The other, eastern end, of this segment of SAM Street would predominantly be devoted to residential development. The stretch between these two ‘anchoring’ elements would be filled with various smaller commercial as well as 'blue-sky' interventions, such as galleries, workshops for smaller craft-based industries, performance places, design studios, coffee-shops, restaurants, what have you, as well as spots of green park areas. Here private enterprises and entrepreneurship would be promoted, individuality and self-expression encouraged – it would form an environment where the mingling of different ideas, various philosophies and social structures would be understood and endorsed. The whole area would also be pedestrianized (a car drop off zone would be provided) to encourage more face to face interaction. The area and its nearby districts would be accessed by a tram connecting one end (by the 4th Ring Road) to the other (by AUK) with a drop-off by key nodes along SAM street as well as a few points along the adjacent beach. 


Estimated duration of walking between nodes...


Living in a city needs to transcend beyond its commercial interest and allow its inhabitants to be exposed to a more enriched and multi-dimensional urban experience. This entails that how and where our experiences take place need to move out from the hermetic confines of an air conditioned mall and into the exterior realm where more differing variables are allowed to play are role. A place with a fluctuating temperature, where one can feel a breeze, an environment of diverse smells and textures – a place with seasons – are allowed to exist. Salem Al-Mubarak Street has the foundations – the history and the 'bones' -  to be such a place. Isn't it time we should do something about it..?!



Location of small 'in between' green/ pedestrian phase on SAM Street...

Example of one of the, assumedly original, live-work spaces (with a badgir) along the street...

Potential locations for the inevitable parking requirements...

Final distribution of functions along the street's western end...

A macro scale contextual mapping of the adjacent areas/ features/ impacts of SAM street's western end...


A view of the central node along the street's western tip...

A panoramic view of the street's transitional node...

For more images and thoughts about SAM street please click on the 'SAM STREET' label below...