The ongoing second season of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority’s (Shurooq) virtual architectural talk series, Sharjah Designscape, has been delighting global audiences with thought-provoking sessions on how designers around the world are rewriting the rules of architecture with fearless forms, dramatic designs, and intimate engagement with users of a space.

The six-part fortnightly virtual discussions, moderated by Najla Abdalla Aldah, Senior Architect at Shurooq, will conclude on February 2 featuring eminent UAE-based and international industry experts who are leading discussions on emerging ideas, concepts, and designs dominating a rich tapestry of spaces within Sharjah and globally, while also exploring the future outlook and transformation of this field around the world.

Five sessions held till date have highlighted architecture’s capacity to surprise by creating innovative and context-driven spaces through new approaches in the design of landscapes, places of worship, and temporary structures. Architects, designers, students, community planners, real estate developers and community members in the UAE and beyond also gained insight on the sustainable approach of modular architecture and the ambitious concepts and feats of engineering that mark the design of bridges today.

Merging functional with the spiritual

The second season of Shurooq’s virtual architectural talk series had commenced on November 24, 2020, with a discussion on the responsibility of designing functional sacred spaces. Boston-based Yasaman Esmaili, Founder of Studio Chahar, cited the example of a sustainably constructed project she undertook in Niger where, through intense discussions with the community and by combining secular and religious features, the mosque and its adjoining spaces were created into a lively culture and education hub for the entire village including men, women, and children.

She said: “Religious spaces are for everybody. In terms of design, we start by studying how the community views their religion and what are their needs for that religious space.”

Ziad Jamaleddine, Assistant Professor at Columbia GSAPP and co-founder and partner of L.E.F.T Architects based in Brooklyn and Beirut, opined that ascertaining a fixed concept of sacredness to the typologies that characterise a mosque such as the dome, minaret, and courtyards, for example, would also lead to fixing its architectural language. “The moment you unlock the two from each other, then you understand spirituality and sacredness as a spatial practice that has to be about the community and its needs – both worldly as well as spiritual. And then, the repertoire becomes much larger.”

Connecting people with civil infrastructure

In ‘Bridging the Gaps’ held on December 08 where the discussion centred on how bridges not merely facilitate connections but are also evolving into structural masterpieces, Bartlomiej Halaczek, Associate at UK-based Knight Architects, said that “architects must ask the more philosophical questions like: why do you need this bridge and who is it for? Quite often, answering these questions will change the appearance of the bridge because these have not been asked before.”

Cristiano Ceccato, Director of Zaha Hadid Architects – the architectural firm responsible for the fluid, sculptural waveform design of Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, said: “When you look at complex forms, you have to think of real collaboration between the engineer and the architects as you have to think of translating ideas from three-dimensional design into constructible form.”

“I am a big fan of collaboration because it gives you the possibility of confronting ideas that would otherwise remain sterile or misinformed,” he added, showcasing how the single-mast, asymmetric cable-stayed design of the Danjiang Bridge in Taiwan was conceived to provide uninterrupted views of the Tamsui River, famed for its spectacular sunsets.

Marijn Schenk, Co-founder of Netherlands-based Next Architects, emphasised his strong belief in creating structures “that strengthen people’s experience of the environment.” The Zalige bridge, built on the floodplains of an urban river park in Nijmegen and which remains partially submerged when the river’s water level rises making it inaccessible a few days a year, symbolically forges the connection the Dutch have with water, he said.

Empowering communities through accessible open spaces

It was the exceptional prehistoric and geological significance of Sharjah’s Buhais Geology Park that governed the design of both its unique interconnected pods and landscape, said Simon Fraser, Principal of British architectural firm Hopkins Architects, in the discussion on ‘Landscape Architecture’ held on December 22, 2020. Conscious of not disturbing the millions of years old fossils on the ground, the solution lay in celebrating its natural landscape by “not having any plants at all and using pre-fabricated buildings that sat above the ground as lightly as possible, and which were all built offsite.”

Citing the example of the Wild Play garden in Sydney, Australia, Rowan D’Arcy, Regional Studio Director, MENA, ASPECT Studios, highlighted the importance of ‘wild play’ in the backdrop of nature to provide children with a platform to explore, experiment, socialise, and learn through play.

Kamilia Zaal, owner and Lead Designer at Kamilia Landscape Design, whose design approach for KOA Canvas, a new residential community in Dubai, “reflected on the natural habitat and focused on indigenous plants that utlise less water overall” also agreed that “it is fundamental and essential to society that we actually connect people back to nature.”

The need for more opportunities to play for all ages and abilities led to the creation and reimagination of a large central play space at the UK’s Alma Estate, said Simon Fraser, Principal Hopkins Architects. He also pointed out the importance of “empowering people in deciding what they need from their immediate environment, as the more diverse the range of voices, the better the solution.”

The fourth architectural talk series on January 05 focused on ‘Designing after Temporary’ where speakers discussed how to design for past temporary stadiums, sports complexes, and arenas while on January 19, the session on ‘Modular Architecture’ explored how forward-thinking projects are offering an efficient and sustainable approach to building.

Upcoming session on ‘Materialising Architecture’ (February 02)

The final session of Shurooq’s second season of Sharjah Designscape will conclude on February 02, 2021, with ‘Materialising Architecture’ that focuses on future proof design and construction and how the world will move towards designing with materials and methods of the future. Aerogels, self-healing concrete, and nanomaterials are new building materials that both lowers costs and speeds up construction while also improving quality and safety.

The session will offer insights into the right approach and strategy to consider when choosing materials and shine light on the latest technologies and trends in the construction world including AI and VR, robotics, drones, 3D printing, and crowd-based collaborations, amongst others, offering attendees an insight into how to achieve a more sustainable and optimised construction ecosystem.

Source: National Network Communications- NNC