Architecture, Concrete, Dubai, OMA, Rem Koolaas, Sharjah

Overusing air conditioning and keeping people inside is not the solution for harsh weather says Koolhaas

Designing with a view to maximising the use of outdoor space should be an important part of architectural visions for the UAE, says Rem Koolhaas who provided an open-air lecture in front of his first building in the city, an exhibition space called Concrete, which opens its huge rotating doors to the outside.

Koolhaas praised the increased emphasis placed on connectivity and use of open spaces within the city.

He also added that outsiders and those living in the city should overcome the idea that most of the year, Dubai’s outdoors is a “hellish place” and overusing air conditioning and keeping people indoors is the solution.

Using the example of a shopping mall OMA proposed for Dubai, the plan was to incorporate a series of courtyards that could each have different qualities.

“Underlying every single project in Dubai was a hatred for air conditioning and the recognition that in large parts of the Arab world, although the summers are very hot, a large part of the year are exceptionally pleasant to live in so there was a push for the rehabilitation for outdoor space,” Koolhaas said.

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 The architect also said a new approach should be taken to preserving buildings from the past.

“There was a concern for Dubai and it’s constant transformation where the danger was and still is, that every part of old Dubai or authentic Dubai or poor Dubai, could eventually be replaced by modern architecture, and that would not be good for the full spectrum of experiences the city needs,” Koolhaas explained.

One of the projects the architect cited was an effort “to save Satwa” by diving it into zones of old and new, which the firm proposed 10 years ago.

He added that the team didn’t want to instill a European approach of saving “all or nothing” but save it in parts.

“We could experiment in Dubai to save parts or to create new situations where there would be an alternation between an old substance and newer zones where modernity could occur. So you would have at all times a relationship between old and new. I think this was a viable and interesting effort,” Koolhaas said.

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He also used as an example a project he had designed for Sharjah, which allows a fishing village to exist within the space occupied by a new museum.

“We were asked to consider a museum that could be a combination of different museums- placed on the former fishing village on the sea. Rather than scrape the fishing village, we left it to exist inside the museum and with pattern and forms, simply create a collection of endless rooms that could be used by different entities and that also created a collective of combinations of galleries, museums, studios, schools in a single, larger form to impose identity to create a clarity that this could be a new district.”

Koolhaas said that working in Dubai forced the office to face the “relevance” of their work in the region and to reinvent their views on urbanism.

“Dubai, on ourselves, was a self-criticism and interrogation whether the work and the mentality and ideology that we present in architecture were relevant in this place. We had to see the test of our own relevance in a context that was entirely new and was made from scratch,” he said.