Instant Expert: Everything You Need To Know About Contemporary Middle Eastern Architecture

03 November 2019
DUBAI, Architecture, UAE, Sharjah, Sharjah Art Foundation
Curator of Sharjah Architecture Triennial, Adrian Lahoud, tells GQ Middle East that architecture is accessible to all

The inaugural Sharjah Architecture Triennial takes place this weekend, November 9. If you think architecture is just for estate agents architects and people in trendy spectacles, think again.

Adrian Lahoud, curator of the Triennial and Dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, London thinks that “Architecture belongs to everyone, not just architects and experts,”

“Architecture does not just mean buildings by well-known architects. It manifests itself in the everyday experience of living with others, of working with others, of being with others.”

Read More: Six must see marvels of modern Middle Eastern architecture

The Sharjah Architecture Triennial

The Sharjah Architecture Triennial embodies this spirit of inclusiveness. Its theme, “Rights of Future Generations”, is “an invitation to rethink fundamental questions about architecture and its power to create and sustain alternative modes of existence”, and Lahoud hopes it will start a much-needed public debate.

“We need to see a political transformation in the way we conceive of Middle Eastern cities, so that rather than being sites for financial speculation and capital flight, they can thrive as multi-ethnic spaces of peaceful co-existence where rights to housing, transport and a clean environment can be enjoyed by all,” he says. “Architecture holds the key to achieving this, as it shapes our co-existence with others and our environment.”

For Lahoud, architecture shapes every activity you perform in a day. “By reading the architecture of a city, you can read its history, and the struggles for power that have played out over time through both exceptional and everyday actions,” he says. “These built environments are where we learn to co-exist (or not) with others. This history of Middle Eastern cities and their architecture is a manifestation of these struggles to make a population feel and experience certain things.”

You can learn a lot if you simply open your eyes and use your imagination. “The best way to learn is to pay attention to history and to spatial experiences of buildings,” says Lahoud. “To visit an old courtyard house in Sharjah, or an old central hall house in Beirut, or the Ottoman-Turkish houses of Istanbul, and imagine what it was like to live in them compared to the dwellings we live in today.”

Five Middle Eastern buildings you must see

Al Bidya Mosque in Fujairah, which is the oldest mosque in the UAE; Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon, to understand how important the Bekaa Valley was to the Eastern Roman Empire; Allahverdi Khan Bridge in Isfahan, Iran, a perfect act of architecture because it embodies and expresses social belonging in the act of crossing a river; Kuwait National Assembly by Jorn Utzon, a masterpiece by one of the greatest modern architects; and lastly the Palestinian Museum by Heneghan Peng, an astonishing example of integrating landscape forms – especially the historical terrace – with architecture in a building that abounds with spatial richness and dynamism.

The architectural projects to be aware of

Bee’ah Headquarters by Zaha Hadid in Sharjah, UAE. Bee’ah is the UAE's leading integrated environmental and waste management company, and this design strives for the highest standards of renewable energy and sustainable future targets. I would also highlight the Grand Museum of Egypt by Heneghan Peng, with a design concept that integrates the building with the surrounding pyramids.

Five up and coming architects to watch

L.E.FT Architects, Lina Ghotmeh Architects, Civil Architecture and X-Architects, all of which have an innovative, fresh and forward-thinking practices.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial runs from November 9, 2019 to February 8, 2020. sharjaharchitecture.org