After being invited as a guest critic last time around, I was delighted to be part of the organising committee and become a tutor for this years’ RIBA GULF Chapter Student Summer Workshop which was run online alongside the Chapters’ Sustainable Development Series for the first time. Students and recent graduates from around the world came together to produce Eco-Lodge designs in the Sharjah desert, with sustainability as key design factor.
Hosted by the RIBA Gulf Chapter and bringing together leading designers, educators, and teams of students for a weekend of programmed events and the creative development proposals of an Eco-Lodge design with six guest pods in the foothills of the Al Hajjar Mountains at Al Buhais, in the central region of Sharjah, UAE.
The site is an area of exceptional geological and archaeological significance that originally was under the sea in prehistoric times, and whose rocky outcrops of today offer insights into the formation of ocean crusts and the nature and study of plate tectonics. Marine fossils from 65 million years ago have been discovered here, and todays’ mountain trails traverse across ancient burial grounds dating back to 125,000 years ago, spanning the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages and providing a wealth of understanding of human settlement through the ages in the area.
Over 70 participants from across the world joined and students were grouped together in teams of four or five and tutors from leading UAE Universities along with industry experts commenced with an introduction to the site, the design brief and advice on working together in teams to share research, ideas, and resources as they proceed to tackle all elements of the programme in the very tight timescales.
Then, a keynote presentation by Farah Naz, FCIBSE (AECOM), on sustainability and climatic responsive design in the UAE demonstrated key projects that have been realised to achieve a local, contextual response to the global challenges faced by designers today.
Armed with all this advice the teams then set off to collaborate and create as the tutors’ offered sessions of support as they moved from group to group.
At the end of the design session on Sunday evening, Jonathan Ashmore, RIBA (ANARCHITECT) delivered the closing keynote as he introduced his practices’ Al Faya Lodge in Sharjah showcasing the craft, detail and materiality introduced in the design to respond to a similar site and clients’ brief. Along with examples of how his practice deliver this very same design philosophy in very different scales and contexts.
The student teams then were then invited to present their thought processes, sustainable approach, and the development of their own proposals into conceptual designs.
On this very complicated site and in a variety of ways, the teams showcased how they were able to creatively establish a language of architecture that is contextual to the area whilst sympathetic to the integration and protection of the environment. Architecturally providing comfortable accommodation and spaces that offer user experiences that relate to the natural environment, utilise locally sustainable and/or recyclable construction materials in many different forms.
Enormous thanks to everyone who offered their time and expertise to take part in this weekend long journey, and to all the students who delivered considered, exciting, and varied responses to the programme. Hope to see you all next year!
Tags #ribagulfchapter, #studentsummerworkshop, #ecolodge, #sharjahdesert, #alhajjarmountains, #unitedarabemirates, #sustainabledesign,
This blog was created by Ms Sandra Woodall, FRIBA, FRSA, AoU and was first published by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the original is available at https://www.architecture.com