The Rifat Chadirji Prize for 2019, for the design of a new art museum in Sharjah, has gone to Rolando Rodriguez Leal and Natalia Wrzask from Aidia Studio in Mexico City. The winners will receive the Rifat Chadirji Prize Statuette, designed by celebrated Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi, plus $5,000 and an all-expenses trip to the award ceremony in Amman.
This year the prize, an annual thematic award named after the prolific Iraqi architect and academic Dr Rifat Chadirji and part of the Tamayouz Excellence Award programme, was held in partnership with Barjeel Art Foundation.
The brief was to design a modern Arab art museum to house Barjeel Art Foundation’s extensive art collection. There’s no guarantee that the winning design will actually be built, though the site is earmarked and funding is reportedly in place.
Perhaps surprisingly for a proposal from Mexico, the design does seem an elegant response to the brief in terms of both social and climatic environment. The judges certainly commended the Aidia project’s “beautifully thought-through analysis” that “very cleverly interprets regional architectural, social and vernacular expressions”.
The citation goes on: “The roof, made of wood and based on a traditional Emirati weaving structure, generates a contemporary motif that naturally filters daylight and creates surprisingly high – and beautiful – semi-public spaces and landscapes, such as the sculpture route and walkway.
“The woven quality of the roof further allows the walls to be dynamic, as shade patterns created by the sun’s changing position during the day dances across them. The walls therefore become a festive skin.
“Also, while the tower appears introverted, a corner boundary wall that is half-height opens the building to the surrounding context. This offers an element of respect and makes the building less intimidating.
“The contemporary reinterpretation and form of the original barjeel is also very successful. The design has a very consistent choice of materials in which the raw stone of the base has a strong connection with the landscape structure – it almost looks like a quarry where the spaces have been carved out. The light, transparent wooden structure gives the whole project a light-footed refinement. Behind the choice of materials there is also a well-thought-out installation concept.”
Given the Sharjah connection, and the need to reflect both the local cultural heritage and the (often tricky) environmental conditions, it’s perhaps surprising that only three of the 20 shortlisted submissions came from the UAE (all from Dubai studios) and none made it to the awards. Maybe the composition of the jury had something to do with it – as you can see below there’s a definite European bias, and no representation from Sharjah or Barjeel.
Second place went to Solid (Nader Moro and Sameh Zayed), a Cairo studio which used the Barjeel art collection as the starting point for development of a spatial concept with two layers – space for events and roof gardens above, the exhibition areas below. “This results in a design that is rich in spatial experiences,” concluded the jury.
“The observation of the present fragmentation in the collection inspires an approach to the museum as a collection of fragments” so that there’s a definite relationship between the landscape and the building.
“This connection exists literally in the sense that the public domain as a continuous space is interwoven with the complex, as well as figuratively in terms of morphology by linking up with the characteristic structure of the urban context.”
Another Cairo-based design, from Mohamed Hassan Elgendy, took the third spot. This one perhaps represents the clearest sense of community and context: “the simplicity of the cube and plaza below creates a calm reflective space embedded in the geology and culture.
“As a cultural plaza with a central public space, the design offers an attractive and inviting area for meetings, community building, temporary events and performances. This intervention under the raised volume of the museum is a strong statement, and the sloping ground level takes on the character of an amphitheatre. The patios further act as lightwells, and bring daylight into the lower domain. Through these patios, a glimpse of the exhibition space can be seen from below – a wonderful contrast to the hermetically sealed outer façade of the lifted box, and a powerful and beautiful field of tension.”
A third Egyptian submission, from Cell Studio, took the People’s Choice Award. The six Honourable Mentions went to proposals from Turkey, Indonesia, Tehran, the States, and Egypt again (twice).
The Tamayouz jury, which met in October 2019 at Coventry University in the UK, consisted of:
- Stephen Austin, head of School of Energy, Construction and Environment at Coventry University (the academic partner of Tamayouz) UK
- Dr Rasem Badran, founder of Dar Al-Omran Jordan
- Dia Azzawi, Iraqi artist UK
- Claudia Linders, dean of architecture and urbanism at Fontys Academy Netherlands
- Fernando Olba, Fernando Olba Arquitectura + Urbanismo Spain
- Mandy Franz, MICA Architects UK
- Nahed Jawad, Nahed Jawad Design UK
- Philip Michael Wolfson, Wolfson Design UK