The architects building the Arab future

Two events at RIBA debate the use of public spaces in changing Middle Eastern cities
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Makeshift playground in Amman, Jordan

1 / 14 Makeshift playground in Amman, Jordan

2 / 14

Masjid Al-Haram, the largest mosque in the world (2010), Mecca, Saudi Arabia

3 / 14 Masjid Al-Haram, the largest mosque in the world (2010), Mecca, Saudi Arabia

X-Architects, Xeritown street view, Dubai, UAE

4 / 14 X-Architects, Xeritown street view, Dubai, UAE

X-Architects, Xeritown promenade aerial view, Dubai, UAE

5 / 14 X-Architects, Xeritown promenade aerial view, Dubai, UAE

X-Architects, Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

6 / 14 X-Architects, Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Shahira H Fahmy Architects, Block 36 Westown, Cairo, Egypt

7 / 14 Shahira H Fahmy Architects, Block 36 Westown, Cairo, Egypt

Mossessian & Partners, Al Barahat (Place Heart of Doha), Doha, Qatar

8 / 14 Mossessian & Partners, Al Barahat (Place Heart of Doha), Doha, Qatar

Mossessian & Partners, Al Barahat (Place Heart of Doha), Doha, Qatar

9 / 14 Mossessian & Partners, Al Barahat (Place Heart of Doha), Doha, Qatar

Mossessian & Partners, Al Barahat (Place Heart of Doha), Doha, Qatar

10 / 14 Mossessian & Partners, Al Barahat (Place Heart of Doha), Doha, Qatar

Mossessian & Partners, Place Lalla Yeddouna, Fez, Morocco

11 / 14 Mossessian & Partners, Place Lalla Yeddouna, Fez, Morocco

X-Architects, Al Nasseem Masterplan, Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE

12 / 14 X-Architects, Al Nasseem Masterplan, Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE

X-Architects, Al Nasseem Souk, Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE

13 / 14 X-Architects, Al Nasseem Souk, Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE

X-Architects, Al Nasseem Central Plaza, Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE

14 / 14 X-Architects, Al Nasseem Central Plaza, Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE


Forthcoming talks at the RIBA will address the changing typologies of civic space in Arab cities and attempt to define their evolving nature. Produced by architecture collaborative, Nous and part of Shubbak, the London Mayor’s festival of Middle Eastern and North African culture (until 24 July), the talks bring together architects designing in the region, academics and journalists, to forecast and reflect on a rapidly changing environment, in an often politically charged context.   

Two of the invited speakers, architects Shahira H. Fahmy and Michel Mossessian, are acutely aware of the need to create new approaches to design in the public domain. Egypt-based Fahmy will discuss the significance of the Cairo popular uprisings for architects and urban planners, as they consider public spaces. For her the events of Tahrir Square revealed politics as the “driver in space” and she maintains that “urban activities gain greater urgency when we assess the power struggles within society and relationship between the state and people”. She feels that Tahrir Square has been effectively reclaimed by the people of Cairo, demonstrated by the fact that the day after the revolution everyone wanted to clean it. 

Michel Mossessian, based in London with an increasing portfolio of projects in the Middle East, is also keen for a dialogue about the potent connection between public space and political freedom. His answer is in creating an “urban room, a democratic public space that negotiates between public and private functions”. Architects are in his view beginning to put people back at the centre of urban development. His proposals for Doha's main square at the centre of the Msheireb project, Al Barahat, and the Place Lalla Yeddouna, a neighbourhood in the Medina of Fez, both reflect his desire to design public spaces for the people.

Many of these proposals are fresh off the drawing board and potentially herald a shift in the way developers approach public space in the Middle East. Mossessian maintains that the key thing is to "…respect the spaces between the buildings, since this is where the action happens and are the perfect starting point for regenerating the life of a city." 

The discussions are part of the month long Shubbak festival, which examines the issues affecting the private and public realms of the traditional Arab Islamic city and looks at how gated housing plots and shopping malls, coupled with the use of new technologies and materials, have impacted place-making in an ancient world as it embraces unprecedented change.  

Exhibitions and workshops throughout the festival explore factors shaping public and civic spaces in the region, including rapid economic change, recent political events, and the internet. Architectural photographers Iwan Baan and Charlie Koolhaas will be among participants, as well as Google, the citizen journalism website Demotix, and Foster & Partners.

 

Rachel Borchard is a member of Black Country Atelier


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