Architecture, Mona El Mousfy, Preservation, Restoration, Sharjah Architecture Triennial

Sharjah Architecture Triennial aims to preserve “under-valued” buildings says Mona El Mousfy

The Sharjah Architecture Triennial is working to create awareness about the architectural value of structures built in Sharjah in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, with the aim of eventually preserving them, said architect Mona El Mousfy.

As advisor to the triennial, which will launch its inaugural edition in 2019, Mousfy explained that often, buildings from that era are seen as  less”valuable” which makes them more susceptible to demolition.

Awareness is being spearheaded through Sharjah Architecture Triennial’s  Instagram account, which highlights various buildings from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s as structures with historical and architectural value. The posts reveal information about the architects behind the various buildings , when they were built, as well as their history to help visitors identify and understand their significance.

“When we identify buildings with important historical and architectural value, we try to send red flags against its demolition. Because what happens here is that when a building is no longer structurally sound, the municipality makes the decision to demolish it, and up until now the architecture from the 60s, 70s and 80s was not considered very valuable,” she said, explaining that government initiatives have until recently  prioritised other types of architecture, such as the coral structures found in the Heart of Sharjah.

“So this will become a mechanism – maybe even a federal mechanism — where some of these buildings get preserved,” she added, explaining that the general attitude is now changing with similar awareness initiatives launching across other Emirates.

According to El Mousfy, the Sharjah Art Foundation has already done this with several buildings across the city, such as the Flying Saucer building that has been converted into an art space and a kindergarten in Kaalba, designed by Ja’afar Touqan and George Rayes.

“Why we value this architecture as opposed to some buildings from the 90s, for example, is because they were so sensitive to the region and the context,” El Mousfy said. “And what is amazing is that whether they were British or Jordanian or Lebanese, the sensibility was there and it is a very puzzling thing that it isn’t about nationality, it is the practice at the time.”

She explained that architects during that time period were practicing field research much more frequently, interacting directly with the people for whom they were designing.

“This is why research is so important. You would assume that you contextual sensibility would be more common among architects from the region but according to our research, this was a practice across the board and they applied, more or less, the same amount of cultural and contextual sensibility. It is not about nationality- it is an attitude.”

El Mousfy explained that this is being practiced much less in the field of architecture today due to the changes in the structures of architectural firms, time constraints, and commercially-driven clients.

“I know from a lot of  international practices that if the team in the UAE is flooded with work then projects can be passed on to the team in another country,” she said. “The structures in present practices make it difficult to be truly on the ground and to really understand and experience the city [for which it is designing].

“If you don’t have that experience of the city then it doesn’t seem like it makes such a big difference if you plug in another model that works anywhere into its urban context.”

Read designMENA’s full interview with Mona El Mousfy.