DesignMENA Summit

designMENA Summit: How to make the Middle East a centre for culture

Ambitious plans to make the region a centre for world culture were on the agenda at the designMENA Summit.

Ahmed Khadier of Pragma Architects, Philip Jones of B+H Architects, Shaun Killa of Killa Architectural Design, Kevin McLachlan of Godwin Austen Johnson and David Daniels of SSH were all part of the discussion panel.

Killa, who is the designer for the new Dubai Museum of the Future, opened up the debate saying: “There are quite few examples in the region, from Qatar to Abu Dhabi to Dubai where museums are starting to become a greater part of the cultural mix, which is really lacking in the Middle East. “

Shaun Killa.

Jones asked the panel if members felt that the ownership of design from the clients’ perspective is very high.

McLachlan answered: “I think there is a sense of discovery for them as well. It is a journey for them and we are there to aid that, to help them achieve these cultural iconic places that expand everyone’s view of Dubai.”

Dubai Creek is set to be transformed and GAJ has been appointed as design consultants for the Jewel of the Creek project.

The panel then looked at the wider picture.

Khadier said: “There is definitely an increased interest in buildings for the arts and culture. You can see it with emergence of the art scene in Al Quoz area and Dubai Design District. I don’t think that art or culture is necessarily limited to museums and can be conveyed through a growth in culture awareness in the local community.

“We are currently involved in the pilot project of a public library that is dedicated to arts and design, which is part of the initiative by Dubai Arts and Culture Authority and supported by HH Sheikha Latifa to revamp all the public libraries in Dubai.”

How a museum can bring an identity to an urban environment was next on the agenda.

Jones said: “When we were first doing the design of Dubai Marina, we have being advised by [Mohamed Alabbar], the chairman of Emaar Properties that the key driver should be to encourage more people to stay longer in Dubai. The whole concept of master planning was to create a living community that would be highly enjoyable.”

Philip Jones.

He then pointed to the growth of pedestrian-orientated areas in Dubai, as well as the cultural importance of the older part of the city and the traditional architecture which still exists in other areas of the Middle East, such as Oman.

But Jones then added: “One of the biggest challenges we have as a profession is that we are kind of silent ourselves as master planners. We have got to get over that threshold, so that we as architects actually think of urban spaces that our buildings create.”

Killa broadened out the point saying: “We know why lot of Middle East, after having the development surge of so many office and residential buildings, the spaces between the buildings have been forgotten.”

David Daniels

Daniels pointed out a positive: “In Kuwait we have just finished six theatres and seven museums and when we stich that into the wider context, it becomes a destination. One thing that we realised was that culture isn’t just about the culture anymore and in a wider context of community, it is a reason to be in that specific area.”

The panel agreed that the development of theme parks, museums and art and cultural facilities draw people into the region and the more of these attractions there are the longer they will stay – turning a one or two day visit into a four or five day stay.

Kevin McLachlan, Shaun Killa and Philip Jones.

Killa emphasised that the region has a highly innovative culture.

McLachlan said: “I like Dubai, if it continues to build on different cultures, there is a fantastic fabric to the city and it goes back to a lot of Arabic cities such as Muscat, Kuwait City or Doha. Deira has that sense of energy.”

Khadier concluded that the region is witnessing a shift in aesthetic trends with clients less interested in a building as an object and icon, but with a notion of a building as a public space.

Ahmed Khadier.

A greater degree of local participation in urbanism would also greatly enhance the region, said the panel.

Jones looked to the future, saying: “I hope in 20 years that at least 50% of a panel [such as this] is Emirati.”