Among its residents, the legibility of architectural character of any place is varied. We pose a set of 10 questions to people working in the field and long term residents of the region. The purpose behind this is to understand the variety of thoughts and opinions of people involved in building as well as using these spaces. It also aims to discern what people find alluring about spaces and the priority given to sustainability.
Our next response is from Imad Syed.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Imad Syed. 25 year-old male, Architect working in Dubai since one year.
Currently, what according to you is the architectural image of the U.A.E.?
From what I have seen so far, Dubai it seems to be very tourism-oriented. Sometimes I find most of the technology-based architecture quite pretentious, because in many cases aesthetic value and show of wealth is prioritized over functionality. In terms of planning of residences, however, I have noticed a pattern among the nationals, as per which they still are reluctant to let go of their traditional style of residences, for example the decorative moldings and arches, the Islamic patterns in the mashrabiyas, the symmetric planning, domes and so on.
What place do you think vernacular concepts have in architecture in the U.A.E. today?
Mostly in tourism, when heritage becomes a display to visitors from all over the world, so that people can see an essence of where UAE began, since tourism is one of the most relevant revenue generating sectors. Also in the older market regions where people with trade from earlier times keep the inherited business running are reluctant to undergo changes.
What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to designing/building for environmental sustainability in the U.A.E.?
Climate control, if you ask me, considering we are to overlook the highly unsustainable attraction elements built in the name of tourism. The conditions lean towards extreme, so finding a balance could be challenging. There are several ways of filtering hot air and retaining the cooler air, but during the peak of summer, this “cooler air” is just not cool enough.
We seem to be in an era of ‘iconic developments’ in the U.A.E. How do you think this trend has influenced the developing skylines of cities in the country?
Oh, we are? If we are talking about developing ‘world wonders’ and so on, there is a certain bit of influence on the big investors, but authorities seem to be tactical in their permissions in a bid to ensure that these ‘icons’ do not lose their focus, unless the proposals are potentially larger ‘icons’. I don’t know about the place for heritage in these kinds of buildings, because technologically advanced buildings and tall structures don’t exactly have historic bearings.
What are some of the traditional/cultural aspects of community and urban spaces that are lacking in public spaces like malls?
See for instance, we have so any American chains of restaurants and cafes such as Starbucks and McDonald’s flanking the perimeters of these malls, with outdoor seating. How about Emirati cuisine and tea places with “Majlis” arrangement of seating with traditional Andalusian/Islamic interior works by high-profile investors, so that the high-profile tourists can also get an essence of traditional Emirati lifestyle? Surely, they don’t come from USA to UAE to eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger, right?
What are your thoughts about the relationship between the past and present in terms of built environment?
I believe I am still too inexperienced in terms of the analysis of architecture and spatial principles of U.A.E. to actually answer that question. But like I said, some linkage or transition seems to be missing, from vernacular structures to technology laden towers.
Do you know any buildings that exemplify local building techniques/practices?
I happen to like the Ghubaiba Metro Station very much; it is one of the few places that make me feel like I am in Arabia.
What is your idea of sustainable development in the context of the U.A.E.?
Honestly, let’s talk about sustainability in UAE. When they decide that an ice rink in the middle of the desert is not the most sustainable idea ever. The day we prioritize aspects such as functionality, practicality and architectural language (be it in the form of features, elements or techniques of construction) over mindless aesthetics or show of wealth, I’ll prepare myself for this question.
Favorite building/space/area in the U.A.E.
I’m yet to explore U.A.E., but off the top of my mind, Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai Creek, Al Mamzar, Al Qasba, Al Buhaira Corniche, Abu Dhabi Corniche, Manaarat Al Sadiyat, Burj Al Arab.