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Middle East Architecture - LEEDing Nowhere

BY: ROMI SEBASTIAN | Category: Issues | Submitted: 2010-07-14 17:39:46
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Article Summary: "In this very decade, the architecture in the Middle East if carefully observed is without any character. Being the tallest, biggest and longest does not give a personality to the architecture of a place..."

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In this very decade, the architecture in the Middle East if carefully observed is without any character. Cities are getting choked with a jungle - a jungle of concrete, steel and glass. Architecture here is needlessly influenced by concepts from predominantly the western world. One shall not forget that most of the iconic designs are developed by expatriates. One of the most difficult problems for expatriates in understanding the cities of the Middle East is their relative lack of public realm .

Globalisation has given respect for buildings that resemble objects, have match-box designs with unfortunate functional separations. Designs are built on the burden of unnecessary stylistic demands. There seems to be this inherent copy-paste mindset, among designers. This advocates methods of tweaking ideas from a one cultural context and illogically pasting them into another. As an architect, I often wonder why is there a perception that any element of existing heritage of the Middle east, be it cultural or spiritual - is always identified with the past, backwardness and poverty; while the image of 'development' or 'progress' is always borrowed from elsewhere? This process of disassociating with one's own heritage is a very harmful one.

Being the tallest, biggest and longest does not give a personality to the architecture of a place. In the past few years, the expatriate idea of building 'Green' has been bought in. These are just temporary trends set up for supportive marketing of related fields of construction activity. Sophisticated and expensive intelligent service systems are still marketed, sold and applied. Organisations such as the USGBC are still profiting out of its much advertised LEED rating system. The word 'Green' is certainly abused and misunderstood by most of the engineering empire. Green wants to embrace everything and everyone wants to embrace green. But when a definition becomes so overarching, it loses all significance. Architects now depend much on intelligent service systems to make up for their folly and neglect in basic building design.

It is unfortunate that these rating systems like LEED, BREAM; have converted architecture into an accounting exercise. This has completely digressed from what could have been a healthy exercise in producing truly good architecture. It is unfortunate, that we are missing an opportunity to produce good architecture, by allowing these accounting or statistical procedures to dominate our logical thinking and creativity.

Inappropriate implementation of add-on techniques has lead to cumbersome compensation and disorder. Advocating bicycle racks or trying to invest in a rain-water harvesting system in the Middle East is another perfect example. While it may fetch you extra points in the LEED rating- the whole initiative if analysed, is a wasteful one. Even implementing large scale solar driven technologies are risky due to the amount of atmospheric dust and harsh sunlight - both being predominant factors that reduce solar cell efficiency. The use of glass is still celebrated. There is no account of the money spent on the pointless additional cooling required and superflous cleaning of all the building's dust laid glass facades.

As architects, we have to convince Middle Eastern elites and ourselves that the optimistic concept of importing ideas of 'progress' will only kill the character of a place and its public realm. The future of architecture in the Middle East desperately lies in logical design, controlled urban growth and in the acceptance of one's own cultural roots. I am hopeful.

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Comments on this article: (1 comments so far)

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Very interesting article. What are the job prospects for an experienced architect from India in UAE, what is needed to come there. Do you know? .. Thanks Sulaiman 2010-07-15 06:18:23 222

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