Editor's Letter, Comment, Architecture in the Middle East, Conservation architecture

Comment: More architects are working for the greater good

This time last year, I wrote my editor’s letter about the need for better architecture throughout the Middle East. It was an appeal to architects working in the region to create contextual architecture that applied more than just superficial elements, like geometric patterns, to communicate a project's locality – it was a plea, of sorts, for more nuanced, sensitive architectural designs.

In December, we held our sixth edition of the designMENA Summit, which featured two panel discussions, a presentation by dpa lighting and two keynote lectures. During the second panel discussion, Duncan Denley, managing director at desert INK, was frank with the audience.

“As architects, I think all of us have sometimes developed spaces or buildings for our own ego, or for the client’s ego,” he said, “rather than for the people who are actually going to use it.”

I’m not sure why the Middle East is so vulnerable to this – is it a consequence of the cultural predilection for fast architecture? We could probably analyse it for hours, but either way, it occurs at an alarming frequency from Palestine to the UAE.

I will admit that when I wrote my editor’s letter last year, I was largely considering the look and feel of new buildings, and their relative unmemorable-ness. I wasn’t considering the lack of socially-responsible architecture in the Middle East – that came later.

But during the past few months, as we prepared Middle East Architect’s annual power list, we made it a point to ask architects what initiatives they partook in and what projects, if any, were they working on that aimed to solve urban issues in conflict areas of the region – from Iraq to Syria to Palestine. How are they contributing to reconstruction efforts, we wondered. And what about countries that have poor, ineffective governments with urban and social crises… are more architects willing to assume more political roles?

We left it up to network of architects in the Middle East to answer these questions for us, and it seemed, overwhelmingly, that more and more architects were taking it upon themselves to focus on conservation architecture, for example. Others are keen to get involved with Syria’s reconstruction – from large firms to independent architects.

What does this mean? It means we’re getting better architecture – and we’re proud to be the front-row witnesses.