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Emerging Pedagogies: Beyond the Arab Domain to the World

Nader Tehrani reflects on the CSBE Student Award for Architectural Design, engaging in a broader discussion about the state of architecture.

The CSBE Architectural Design Competition offered the opportunity to convene a set of practitioners, academics and administrators to engage in a broader discussion about the state of architecture. While the occasion was more directly related to student submissions from a variety of Arab countries, it was also an occasion to look beyond the projects, to imagine an intellectual space that seems relevant for the academy and practice alike. In collaboration with the esteemed voices of Josep Lluis Mateo and Hani Imam Hussaini, not to mention the deft intellectual moderation of Mohammad al-Assad, not only did we set out to review the submissions, but also to frame arguments, detect emerging sensibilities and diagnose broader cultural shifts.

Behind the projects, there were what I like to call, shadows: pedagogies, ideologies and references that shed a different light on the nature of architectural work. Beyond reading a piece of architecture, we read lineages, debates and conversations that sometimes extended beyond the professors towards decades –sometimes centuries – of discursive platforms. While I was blind to many of the genealogies of tutelage, there was a clear sense of continuity and commitment in certain pedagogies that have characterized this event throughout the years. While Arab identity was posed as a question, what was remarkable was the degree to which questions of identity were forced into the background while more pressing questions of global concern came to the fore. With the Arab Spring still in the rear view mirror, there seemed to be a perspective that looked beyond the immediacy of the moment, as if to challenge the myopia of an architectural vision that sees no future beyond the immediate predicament.

For this reason, many students situated their projects in the realm of the geographic scale, adopting the environmental challenges that know no borders, whether cultural or physical. Projects such as the “Incubatrix” or the “Solid Waste Recycling Complex” both incorporated questions on what architecture can do about an environmental shift that cannot be measured by the scale of architecture in the conventional sense. While both projects were modest in size, each was invested in the landscape as its instrumental medium; strategies that emerge for topographical displacement, hydrological tactics, and horticultural specification all invoke a deliberate engagement with the artifice of the ground and the inevitability of its alteration.

A second category of project also emerges from the landscape, but instead looks at the cultural and natural landscape as part of the heritage of the various sites that are adopted for the research. The “Tale’t Al Qarya Caves” project not only looks at techniques of preservation, but develops a language of ‘carving’ to set the frame for the intervention; as such the drawing of poché derives a special rhetorical emphasis in this project as the thickness and depth of its invented spaces hark back to the very archaeological ruins they seek to frame. The “Desert Exploration Center” is clever –and even sly– in setting its relationship with the gorge wherein it is set; conceived as an entirely new intervention, the project is virtually carved out of the very gorge in which it is set. Located in a vertical chasm, the language of the excavations established a striated series of castings that build on the geological strata of the cliffside. In turn, the verticality of the project unleashes the idea of the vertical promenade, without which it cannot be activated. The “Adventure Center” offers a similar site, also in a gorge, and yet offers an architectural response that stands against the very natural landscape in which it is set. Conceived as a bridge, the project not only spans the gorge, but is also suspended from top down, deep within it, as if to radicalize its penetration. A sublime totemic tower, the structure is suspended from above deep into the gorge. At once in contrast to the site, this project is also an index of it, as if a hand were set into a glove with a space of tension in between.

A third Category of projects speaks of emerging cultural conditions, whether citing the Palestinian conflict or offering places of shelter for refugees. The “Disjunction of the Lemon Tree”, the “Al Baqaa Exile Memorial”, and the “Vertical Refugee Camp” both take on social and political realities that are palpable in their relationship to history and the evolving state of affairs. Yet all transcend the aspects of the argument by translating the issues into architectural terms: through formal, spatial and material conditions. The “Vertical Refugee Camp”, much like the “Stitching the Pockets” project in Amman invents a new typology of structure which not only houses programmes, but also serves as an urban device; as bridge, connector, and organizer of space, both interventions redefine the civic realm within the city. It is in this public realm that these projects find their voice. At the same time, projects such as the “Disjunction of the Lemon Tree”, the “Al Baqaa Exile Memorial”, and the “Animation Park” work with narrative and cinematography to register the temporal and experiential nature of the architectural medium. Composed as sequences, episodes and events, each project is set within the city, or landscape, as if to animate the very trajectory of the architectural promenade that brings life to the subject.
If the architectural project is thought to be a response to a particular set of problems and challenges, then for the most part these projects delay resolution in favor of the building up of questions, and the formulation of investigation methodologies. Varied in scale, medium and techniques of exploration, the projects pose specific questions to the very cultural contexts in which they are sited, and yet they seem to pose questions for the world at large. Questions of the environment and of social upheaval on the one hand, and predicaments of research within varied media as a space of speculation: they all invoke pedagogical possibilities that defy the finite terms of a project, and instead offer a thesis that may be cast onto different times, cultures and places.

26.Feb.2016 2669 views
Nader Tehrani

Nader Tehrani (London, 1963). For his contributions to architecture as an art, Nader Tehrani is the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ 2020 Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize. Nader Tehrani is Founding Principal of NADAAA, a practice dedicated to the advancement of design innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and an intensive dialogue with the construction industry. He is also Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union. Tehrani’s work has been recognized with notable awards, including the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture, the United States Artists Fellowship in Architecture and Design, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Architecture. He has also received the Harleston Parker Award and the Hobson Award. Throughout his career, Tehrani has received eighteen Progressive Architecture Awards as well as numerous national and international design awards. He served as the Frank O. Gehry International Visiting Chair in Architectural Design at the University of Toronto and the inaugural Paul Helmle Fellow at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He also recently served as the William A. Bernoudy Architect in Residence at the American Academy in Rome. His office, NADAAA, for the past seven years in a row, has ranked in the Top eleven design firms in Architect Magazine’s Top 50 Firms in the United States, ranking as First three years in a row. The work of NADAAA has been widely published and exhibited at various venues including the MoMA, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
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