Monday, 30 April 2018 09:03

GCC Cultural Renaissance: The Construction Challenge

Written by Iain Wylie

Author - Iain Wylie, Design Manager, SNC Lavalin’s Faithful+Gould business


As the arts and cultural scene evolves in the GCC states, there’s room for a variety of facilities and a more community scene is emerging.

State-sponsored arts initiatives are a step towards a more public and international identity, alongside a strategic shift towards an economic model encompassing global tourism.

Iconic wins include the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Paris’ Louvre museum of art has lent its name to Abu Dhabi for 30 years, committing to artwork loans for 10, and supporting temporary exhibitions for 15.

In neighbouring Dubai, The Dubai Opera, designed by Atkins, has provided a new architectural reference point for the region, with a multi-functional auditorium making it one of the world’s most technically complex and state-of-the-art performance venues.

The import of big-name cultural brands has been described as the Bilbao effect – bringing together cultural investment and signature architecture to drive economic uplift via further investment, tourism and cultural energy. A branch of New York’s Guggenheim put Bilbao on the cultural map in 1997, and cities around the world are now looking to mirror that success.

But all countries and cities have their individual challenges. For the GCC, the need to attract an international audience contends with restrictions in terms of what can be shown in public spaces.

Enthusiasm for the big-brand approach can certainly be expected from a large expat population, nationals educated overseas, and tourists. The region already has strong examples of institutions which celebrate local culture and practice, re-articulating the meaning of Middle Eastern identity. The Dubai Museum, Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Center and Al Fahidi Fort are all longstanding attractions, as is Bahrain National Museum.

Saudi Arabia is keen to fulfil its arts and cultural aspirations - a 334km² cultural, sports and entertainment city is planned in Al Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh, with the phase one launch planned for 2022. And Makkah is to have a new heritage district with public parks, theatres, mosques and museums.

The Saudi Art Council, founded in 2013 by Princess Jawaher bint Majed bin Abdulaziz, holds an annual contemporary art event, 21,39, this year curated by London Tate Modern’s Vassilis Oikonomopoulos. Held in multiple locations across Jeddah, the exhibition showcases Saudi and international artists, and is an example of the growing importance of the arts.

In fact, interest in the curation of local and contemporary art can be seen throughout the GCC region, with studios and galleries springing up in backstreets, industrial zones and other seemingly unlikely places. A need for smaller, community-based arts facilities may see these emerging more frequently on masterplans. Artist studios, creative design spaces, music practice spaces and recording studios are clear possibilities, together with the associated infrastructure.

Making this a reality has its inevitable challenges, some sector-specific and others more general across the region. The availability of materials and labour is often a consideration, but there are specific technical demands (acoustics, fire engineering, or environmentally-controlled conditions for artworks for example) and the necessary expertise and material specifications are hard to find. The big-name projects fare better, while smaller less prestigious schemes contend with lack of these resources.

Skilled design management, project management and cost management (of both capital and life-cycle costs) will ensure the best chance of successful delivery of these projects. Clients need to know how to get best value, where they can make realistic savings, how to incorporate sustainability into a complicated design, and how to forecast the whole life costs of their building.

Faithful+Gould is ideally placed to support government and private sector clients with the built environment required for arts, cultural and heritage facilities. Our global portfolio comprises many notable projects, such as the King Abdul Aziz Centre for Knowledge & Culture, KSA; the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Athens, Greece; National September 11 Memorial & Museum, NYC, US; the Getty Center, LA, US; and, in the UK, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Centre, Imperial War Museum, and British Museum.