During a panel discussion that looked at reviving and reinterpreting heritage in the UAE at the fifth edition of designMENA Summit, one of the panelists, Ahmad Bukhash chief architect and founder of Archidentity, commented on the importance of focusing on the functional qualities of older buildings rather than their decorative motifs.
He explained that a lot of the local mentality is to immediately implement the aesthetic qualities and forms of heritage architecture such as wind towers onto newer buildings rather than focusing on the true “richness” of these structures which lie in their functionality. He added that at his firm, the aim is to look beyond the decoration and unmask the essential qualities of such buildings.
“We strip away all the motifs and bare it down to its essentials and we study the major components, such as natural light and ventilation, and how that can be used for new typologies,” he explained.
Bukhash added that looking at how successful structures were built in Dubai should inform architect’s approach to designing newer building.
“You will notice that everybody is talking about sustainability and energy saving, but we should be looking at how Dubai was in the past rather than how it will be in the future. If something doesn’t have a function it will not last which is what we should be focusing on rather than motif decorations,” he said.
He added that newer developments such as Citywalk appear to be the future direction in which architecture is heading in the country, but do they truly cater to the reality of the city?
“But what I always ask is, these projects work during the cooler months, but what happens to them during the summertime? You can see the effects in the high turn over of retail with retailers coming in and going out. So what is wrong that is happening here? I think as architects we need to work towards answering that question.
“How do we study buildings that we consider successful? We need to break them down to their essential components, establish a correct design direction, and enforce it with technology,” he continued.
“If you don’t get the design right from the initial stage, the technology will not help you later. If you are going to create a glass box and say technology will help in terms of solar gain, you have already messed up the scenario,” Bukhash explained.
He went on to compare two buildings which he deems as “successful”: the Dubai Municipality building and the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Jean Nouvel.
“I view the Dubai Municipality building as one of the most beautiful buildings that were built in Dubai. If you look at the recently opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, which as an architect I view as a successful building based on the way it gathers people together, and compare the two buildings, what do you get? You have an enclosure of the building, you have a raised platform, you have water flowing in the centre, and you have a micro-climate. That can be adapted through the Dubai Municipality building [as well].”
He added that the approach of learning from successful buildings and applying their components to newer buildings will result in a more cohesive architectural language that will better link the city.
“You have to be very pure in your approach,” he said. “People are afraid of bland facades but they need to understand that traditionally, this was a way of being respectful of one’s neighbours. Traditionally you would have a bland facade and the decoration would be on the inside. So it is almost like taking a typical typology and reversing it inside out.”
The panel was moderated by Cristiano Luchetti, associate professor at the College of Architecture, Art & Design at the American University of Sharjah.
Alongside Bukash, the panelists included Lulie Fisher, design director and founder at Lulie Fisher Design Studio; Maja Kozel, founder of Maja Kozel Design, and Anna Cornaro, associate professor of Architecture at the American University in Dubai, and founder of COdESIGN.
Look out for more coverage on the designMENA Summit in the upcoming days.