Exclusive: Serie Architects reveals design concept behind Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
Located at the tip of Dubai’s Culture Village, overlooking the Dubai Creek, one of the emirate’s first not-for-profit contemporary art institutions, Jameel Arts Centre – opened to the public on 11 November 2018 – provides a human-scale, flexible space for regional exhibitions.
Designed by UK-based Serie Architects, under the lead of Christopher Lee, the centre was conceived as a series of boxes of varying dimensions, bound together by a one-storey high colonnade. An intimate place for experiencing and producing different forms of art, the building spans 10,000m2 overall, and consists of gallery spaces, an open-access research centre and library, dedicated events spaces, a roof terrace, an outdoor sculpture area and a cafe, restaurant and bookshop.
According to Lee, the design of the building drew from two places of inspiration: the UAE’s sha’abi housing typology and the traditional medina.
“The concept is based on two sources: one involves the scale of a house and the other the scale of a city. If you look at the sha’abi houses, you’ll see that they were based on the accumulations of rooms around a courtyard. On a larger scale, the medina is an accumulation of houses with courtyards. The architecture that we tried to create here for the Jameel Art Centre is thus formed out of a series of rooms huddling around courtyards.”
The centre’s design offers flexible and rich curatorial potential, from small intimate gallery spaces to house smaller works, to larger spaces that contain giant sculptures.
According to Lee, it’s important for an art and culture institution to maintain a certain degree of flexibility in order to remain relevant.
“This does not literally mean that the building should have moveable parts,” he said. “Rather, the spatial organisation of the architecture should be able to accommodate a wide range of uses, and continue to evolve with the city it serves.
“We have deliberately designed a range of galleries and rooms, with different volumetric proportions, so that they can take on different types of artworks, as well as trigger responses for specific installations. It will also arouse a range of experiences as a person moves through these spaces.”
It was important for the architects that the spaces relate to each other as well as to the extended site. Therefore, the colonnades of the project were designed as a porous interface between the building and the waterfront promenade, which encourages visitors to walk through, explore and perhaps interact with one another.
Public outdoor courtyards connect the exhibition spaces, which were designed by landscape architect Anouk Vogel. Inspired by the “botanical adventurers, who explored the world to find exotic plants to bring home”, the courtyards feature a collection of sculptural plants native to the world’s different deserts. Vegetal textures, subtle mineral hues and unexpected paving slabs provide each garden with a special character.
With the carpark located below ground, the centre makes use of two simple materials: aluminum cladding and concrete.
“We wanted to create a raw and delicate sensuality for the building,” said Lee, “and tried to express this in [the interaction between] these two materials. The cladding is also expressed as very thin semi-reflective plates, mirroring the surrounding environment in a hazy mirage. And the raw and unadorned concrete colonnade frames all the elements in the building — the galleries, courtyards and entrances.”
Lee added that the rawness and uneven character of the concrete is intended to absorb the wear and tear one would expect from an art centre.
“And this process of weathering in time will add the traces of use and ownership we feel is very important for a building,” he said.