MEA Talks: Ahmed Abdulrahman Bukhash says Emirati architects can learn from the Japanese Metabolism movement
“If you look at the architectural development of Japan, you will see that a lot of the things that the Japanese have gone through are similar to what Emiratis have gone through,” said Ahmed Abdulrahman Bukhash, founder of Dubai-based architecture practice Archidentity and director of masterplanning at Dubai Creative Clusters Authority, a government entity that oversees many of the emirate’s large-scale developments.
“Look at the origins of the Metabolism movement. It was a post-modernist movement that started in Japan in the 1960s that wanted to discard traditional architecture and create a new typology. Later on, it developed into more regional-based modern architecture that is similar to our own post-modernist architecture,” he added.
Citing renowned architects from the Middle East like Iraqi architect Mohamed Saleh Makiya and buildings like the Dubai municipality building and the Dubai World Trade Centre (both built in 1979), Bukhash finds the most impactful architecture in the region to be that which is context-driven and based on Islamic principles, yet abstracted and simplified. While the country has seen an abundance of “international style of buildings”, a successful typology would blend elements of modern architecture with local building principles, he said.
“The same thing can be said about Japanese architecture. At one stage, Japanese architects wanted to discard their traditional architecture and replace it with international architecture styles,” he said. “It took an expat to reinterpret that and show them that international architecture movements can actually be developed with a local sensibility. Now, they have their own contemporary architecture, which has become commonplace practice for architects in Japan.”
Part of a growing group of Emirati architects, which includes Ahmed Al-Ali from X Architects and Hamad Khoory from Loci, Bukhash is currently looking at ways of rethinking traditional architecture that makes sense for Dubai’s local context and incorporates modernist principles. Having completed a number of residential projects over the last five years with his firm, Bukhash has found himself questioning factors like having a place in the home that faces the Qibla to make praying for Muslim residents a little simpler or removing balconies from homes, since courtyards are preferred among certain populations.
“I believe if you can get the residential typology right, you can adapt that to any type of other typology,” he said, “such as office buildings or cultural projects. [You need to get] that principle right, which unfortunately, we still haven’t perfected at this stage. If you visit the residential areas in Dubai, you will find ‘Greek-Roman’ typologies of architecture next to very modern buildings. Both are following trends, and timeless architecture should not be about following trends.
“Timeless architecture is context-driven. For example, balconies? No one uses them in the local context. And you still have a lot of glazing or decorative elements on the outside of buildings, but if you look at the traditional houses in the older Al Fahidi area, they are very bland on the outside, and on the inside they’re the reverse – the extravagance and elegance is on the inside. We follow similar principles at Archidentity. We believe that the direction that architecture in the UAE should be headed towards is a more timeless, contextual architecture.”
While at Archidentity, Bukhash is working on a number of residential and hospitality projects, like townhouses in Jumeirah, private villas and a three-star hotel, his role in the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority allows him to review new master developments launched by Dubai Holding and Meraas, from the Dubai Creek Harbour project to the Last Exits along Sheikh Zayed Road located between the emirates.
“My hope is to connect every single cluster in Dubai, creating a unified framework,” Bukhash said. “At the time of the country’s boom, different master developers were established in order to allow for the parallel development of the city at a high rate, which was very successful. I think now, though, it’s time to link them all together. And the development of public transportation and the metro is a good stepping stone in order to encourage a walkable city.
“That’s my passion – to create context-driven architecture as well as context-driven masterplans, so whenever you do a shading analysis, it’s not a matter of simply illustrating diagrams, but looking at the actual place and using technology to study how people move. And then looking at how to make it comfortable to walk between different clusters of the city.”
According to Bukhash, this is now possible with the Dubai Canal Extension, which allows pedestrians to navigate the emirate from “Old Dubai to New Dubai”.
What should happen around that development, he added, and how people connect to it, whether through bicycle networks or more pedestrian pathways is the next stage, and that is what he tries to encourage through his reviews of masterplan proposals. He also wants to ensure that there are enough community facilities for people to gather, including schools, mosques and cultural hubs.
And while Bukhash has his eyes set on moving Dubai’s architectural fabric forward, he’s realistic about the challenges that face the industry, listing time restraints at the top.
“The government has given us all the tools we need in order to develop this new type of architecture, but we’re always strained on time. No one takes the time to think about how to move forward in a new, innovative way, and to take that risk and launch a prototype that encapsulates that,” he said. “In Japan, every single architect is interpreting their culture in a new way, and each project has its own beauty in terms of converging built form with open spaces that have been reserved exclusively for the public… There are a lot of Emirati architects creating architecture, and they have been well recognised; however, I think there could be many more, and I think there could be more support from clientele to allow us to produce architecture and give us that trust.
“That would be the next stage – that would help create this new prototype that resolves various issues facing Dubai’s urban fabric,” he added. “The good thing about working with Dubai Creative Clusters Authority is that you get exposed to all types of projects from various master developers, who are keen on pursuing such innovative approaches.”