Home in the Arab world

The private space is seldom a major topic for an international exhibition, especially one that focuses on the Arab world. ‘Home: Contemporary Architectural Interpretations of the Home in the Arab World’ has set out to do just this.

This intriguing exhibition, intimately curated at the Mosaic Rooms in London, explores the domestic architectural space in the context of the Middle East and North Africa and by doing so raises all sorts of intriguing ideas around Arab identity, and the sheer cultural diversity in the region.

Architects representing Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen investigate contemporary regional domestic architecture, new modes of social housing and what makes a home when you take it away from its geographical location.







Shahira Fahmy Architects, for instance, challenges the traditional boundaries of the interior and exterior of the Egyptian home. Her labyrinth space takes us on a little journey to explore a new type of domestic living that no longer reflects on the duality of private and public, instead merging the two spaces.

Kilo Architecture proposal focuses on the objects that inhabit the home rather than the structure itself. The Paris based firm’s artful collage presents ten key objects that define a sense of place and national identity for the Moroccan diaspora with images of ‘motherland’ reflecting on the white washed installation.

‘With the Arab world everyone starts talking about the courtyard, contradictions of tradition and modernity – we are tired of this conversation,’ partner Tarik Oualalou tells me at the exhibition. ‘We sometimes forget as architects that architecture is not just about buildings but the people who live in them.’

Oualalou is also part of the Moroccan diaspora. His research found that this group, no matter what age, tend to recreate a mini Morocco made of eight to ten of these key objects wherever they go. Funnily enough the majority of these objects are no longer made locally but in China, so in a sense it isn’t about artisan but the rituals.

‘What makes the home is the objects, the rituals, the software not the hardware,’ says Oualalou. ‘Recreating this sense of place is interesting from a political sense too. Moroccans always integrate but at the same time feel deeply Moroccan and keep a strong tie, and that tie is rooted in the home.’

In complete contrast, London-based architect AMBS has looked at ways of rebuilding communities in Iraq. The project looks at a non-site-specific low-cost housing scheme. The configuration of maisonettes creates natural courtyards designed to encourage the formation of neighbourhoods.

The scheme is highly sustainable too – soil from digging the foundations can be used by local people to create their own bricks and wind towers artfully integrated into the design will provide the essential energy.

‘In high-density living areas people identify with courtyards, children can play and it gives a sense of ownership and a way of creating communities,’ explains architect Marcos de Andres. The brightly coloured houses form clusters where there would be schools, shops and other facilities as a way of looking at rebuilding cities.

‘Bearing in mind this is cheap housing you can still make it cheerful, reliable, dynamic rather than boring or repetitive. It is a step forward to rebuilding the country,’ he notes.

Home is organised by London based Museum of Architecture. It forms part of London Festival of Architecture and will be on exhibit at the Mosaic Rooms until 7 July 2012.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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