Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Rima Alsammarae wrote in Middle East Architect of 17 April 2019 that:

According to Jordanian architect and founder of award-winning London-based practice OAOA, Omar Al Omari, architecture in the GCC has “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development across the region.

‘Architecture lost its direction’ in GCC, says Jordanian architect Omar Al Omari

“If I can generalise and group the buildings into three categories, the overwhelming majority aim to maximise area with very low construction cost and no allowance for design,” he added. “So the buildings end up bulky, repetitive and lacking character.

Omar Al Omari, founder and director of OAOA

“Some attempt to give a local flavour and the successful ones are commendable. However, if the traditional elements are applied incorrectly, such as outside of their intended scale, function and context, then they tend to appear pastiche and ‘decorative’. Other buildings are contemporary, with a few good and forward-thinking examples, such as the Four Seasons in Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain National Theatre.”

Omari added that, particularly in Bahrain, traditional buildings demonstrate the country’s strong cultural routes and its rich history as a pearling harbour. Built from mud and coral and featuring distinct vernacular architecture, many of these examples are preserved in Muharraq, the country’s old capital, he said.

OAOA’s design for Big Box, a new office project to be constructed in Bahrain by 2021

The comments came as part of a larger conversation regarding OAOA’s new office project in Bahrain, Big Box, which is located within a wider masterplan designed for high density high-rises, while still underdeveloped and exposed to a busy main highway intersection. His client’s commercial desire to have a building that “stood out” from other buildings in the area presented a creative challenge for OAOA.

Big Box consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated by the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic fritted curtain wall.

“It all depends on the context,” Omari said. “Here, there were no existing buildings of historical importance that we would overshadow, and we weren’t disrespectful to any neighbours, so it felt suitable and, if the architecture is well thought-out and serves a purpose, good design adds value.”

Big Box is expected to be completed by 2021, and an in-depth review of the project will be featured in Middle East Architect’s May issue.

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Life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, now normal

Life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, now normal

As blast walls come down, Baghdad life edges towards normality

ByMaher Nazeh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – With the blast walls finally gone, some 16 years after the U.S.-led invasion, life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is starting to look like any normal bustling city.

A general view of cars at the Al-Shurja Market in Baghdad, Iraq April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Families and friends hang out in cafes and shopping malls, people hold birthday parties in public and traders ply their wares from roadside stalls.

Saif Ahmed, an owner of a cafe in the upscale district of Zayyona in eastern Baghdad, said the removal of miles of the concrete walls from the streets had encouraged families to visit malls and cafes and stay until late into the night.

“Baghdad is looking different now, for the better. Families are staying until after midnight in markets, restaurants and cafes. I feel so happy to see Baghdad life is returning to normal,” he said.

The walls, put up a year after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, served to protect the city from years of sectarian civil war and the fight against Islamic State militants. Iraq declared victory over the group in late 2017.

Senior military commanders say there have been no attacks by insurgents for more than a year.


“Baghdad is enjoying considerable security. We managed to keep terrorists away from the capital,” said Lieutenant General Jaleel al-Rubaie, commander of the Baghdad Operations Command.

Soon after he came to power late last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered the removal of the towering walls to signal the improvement in security – letting light back into long obscured parts of the city.

For Hutham al-Ansary, who lost her husband in the violence in 2004, the feeling that Baghdad is finally safe brings tears of happiness.

“Baghdad is beautiful, despite all tragedies, with this improved security and peace. I still have a bitter feeling about the past but today is better than yesterday,” said Ansary, a women’s rights activist, with her two daughters at one of Baghdad’s parks.

Many people are now more comfortable about spending time outdoors.

“I’m happy that finally I can celebrate my son’s birthday in a public garden, something we were not brave enough to do fearing bombs,” Sally Adnan, a Health Ministry employee, said at Abu Nawas Gardens by the Tigris river.


“Life in Baghdad is more interesting now,” said Adnan, who was wounded in a car bomb in 2008.

“The wounds on my face are part of Iraq’s history. I’m keeping them to show my sons when they grow up,” she said.

Reporting by Maher Nazeh; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Alison Williams

Reuters Statndards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Social Media’s giant platforms current impact on the MENA’s youth

Social Media’s giant platforms current impact on the MENA’s youth

A review-analysis of the Social Media’s giant platforms current impact on the MENA’s youth by Damian Radcliffe and Payton Bruni was posted on Journalism.co.uk yesterday 15 April 2019.

The most recent manifestation of their widespread use could be assessed as resulting in amongst many things, the calm and easy dethroning of two of North Africa’s long-endured head of states. Their current and discrete assignments appear to be concerned with the complete disposal of the out-dated support systems. One thing is sure in that without these Social Media’s deep penetrations in the region, none of this youthful regeneration could be obtained or at least at such low price.

What is the most popular channel in Saudi Arabia and how many young people still use Facebook? Here are some key facts about one of the most youthful regions on the planet

Social media in the Middle East: five trends journalists need to know about

By: Damian Radcliffe and Payton Bruni

darcey-beau-1265447-unsplash.jpg

Credit: Photo by Darcey Beau on Unsplash

This article is authored by Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers professor of journalism at the University of Oregon and Payton Bruni, a journalism student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, who is also minoring in Arabic Studies.

The Middle East is a large, diverse, region. The fact that one-third of the population is below the age of 15 years, and a further one in five of the population is aged 15-24 years old, means that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is one of the most youthful regions on the planet.

Since the Arab Spring, there has been increased interest in the role that media, and in particular social media, plays in the region. Our recent report, State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 explored this topic in depth. Here we outline the implications our research has for journalists.

News consumption for Arab youth is social media-led

“Like their peers in the West, young Arabs today are digital natives,” said Sunil John, founder and CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, which produces the annual Arab youth survey.

“Young Arabs are now getting their news first on social media, not television. This year, our survey reveals almost two thirds (63 per cent) of young Arabs say they look first to Facebook and Twitter for news. Three years ago, that was just a quarter.”

YouTube is huge. And growing

The number of YouTube channels in MENA has risen by 160 per cent in the past three years. More than 200 YouTube channels in the region have over one million subscribers. Over 30,000 channels have more than 10,000 subscribers.

In 2017, the 16 nation Arab youth survey also reported that YouTube is viewed daily by half of young Arabs.

To encourage further growth of the network, Google opened a YouTube Space at Dubai’s Studio City in March 2018, the tenth such hub to be opened by YouTube around the globe.

According to Arabian Business, content creators with more than 10,000 YouTube subscribers enjoy “free access to audio, visual and editing equipment, as well as training programmes, workshops and courses. Those with more than 1,000 subscribers will have access to workshops and events hosted at the space.”

In most countries, Facebook has yet to falter

The social network now has 164 million active monthly users in the Arab world. This is up from 56 million Facebook users just five years earlier.

Interestingly, in contrast to many other markets, 61 per cent of Arab youth say they use Facebook more frequently than a year ago, suggesting the network is still growing.

Egypt, the most populous nation in the region with a population of over 100 million, remains the biggest national market for Facebook in the region, with 24 million daily users and nearly 37 million monthly mobile users.

Saudi Arabia is a social media pioneer

“In 2018, YouTube upstaged long-time leader Facebook to become the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” reported Global Media Insight, a Dubai based digital interactive agency.

Data shared by the agency showed YouTube has 23.62 million active users, in the country, with Facebook coming in second with 21.95 million users.

Alongside this, although there are about 12 million daily users of Snapchat in the Gulf region (an area comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) a staggering 9 million of these are in Saudi Arabia (compared to 1 million in UAE).

A complicated relationship with platforms

Despite YouTube’s wide popularity in the MENA region, the company faced some pushback in the past year, after the network was accused of removing online evidence of Syrian chemical attacks.

Meanwhile, YouTube suspended accounts belonging to Syria’s public international news organisation (SANA,) the Ministry of Defence, and the Syrian Presidency “after a report claimed the channels were violating US sanctions and generating revenue from ads,” Al Jazeera reported.

More generally, social networks have a complicated relationship with the region, with service blocks, or the banning of certain features (such as video calling) being relatively common place, and both news organisations and individuals, can fall foul of greater levels of government oversight.

Derogatory posts have resulted in deportations of residents from UAE, while in 2018, the Egyptian government passed legislation categorising social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, thereby exposing them to monitoring by the authorities.

To find out more, download the full study State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 from the University of Oregon Scholars’ Bank, or view it online via ScribdSlideShareResearchGate and Academia.Edu.

Surviving climate change means transforming both economics and design

Surviving climate change means transforming both economics and design

Joanna Boehnert, Loughborough University

What could be more important than sustaining habitable living conditions on Earth? Climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems demand changes on an order of magnitude well beyond the trajectory of business-as-usual. And yet, despite accumulative social and technological innovation, environmental problems are accelerating far more quickly than sustainable solutions.

The design industry is one of many industries mobilising to address environmental imperatives. While sustainability-oriented designers are working towards change from many angles, addressing climate change and other environmental problems on this scale demands much more dramatic transformations in economic ideas, structures and systems that enable – or disable – sustainable design.

Put simply, designers cannot design sustainable future ways of living on scale without a shift in economic priorities. Human impacts on planetary processes in the Anthropocene require new types of ecologically engaged design and economics if the necessary technological, social and political transitions are to take place.

World making design

Design is crucial to this debate because it is key to the creation of future ways of living. Designers make new ideas, products, services and spaces desirable to future users. With the shape of a font, a brand, the styling of a product, the look and feel of a service, the touch of a garment, the sensation of being in a particular building, designers serve the interests of customers (generally, those with disposal income). They do so according the logic and modes of governance generated by what is valued by economic structures. Design is the practice that makes capitalism so appealing.

Designers make new products, services and spaces that shape future ways of living – and can use their skills to create sustainable options. But there is a dilemma here. The market rarely prioritises interests that do not pay the bills or otherwise bring capital to the table.

Design sits at the intersection of economic value and social values. Design transforms what economic systems value into new ways of living – which in turn produce certain types of social values. This work is generated by priorities in the design industry, driven by economic imperatives.

The cycle of cultural production.
© EcoLabs 2018, Author provided

Blind spots in conventional economics

Traditional neoclassical economics was developed in an era when all knowledge systems essentially ignored ecological concerns. In conventional economics, value – which is created by generating profit and accumulating capital for owners and investors – is systematically extracted from the systems in which economic systems are embedded: the social and the ecological systems.

Contemporary economic systems reproduce this tradition by rewarding individuals and companies for using (and often exploiting) resources to generate profit, regardless of the ecological or social consequences. The extractive and exploitative dynamics of capitalist economics generate economies locked into accelerating climate change, species extinction and other severe environmental and social problems. This economic system continues to produce ever greater degrees of crises as planetary boundaries are breached in ever more extreme ways.

Planetary boundaries.
Ecolabs, Tzortzis Rallis and Lazaros Kakoulidis, 2017, Author provided

But there are economic alternatives. Heterodox economic theory (such as ecological, feminist and Marxist economics) challenges the assumptions of mainstream economics. It has shown how neoclassical and neoliberal economics produce unsustainable economies that consistently devalue the natural world, women’s work and the labour of other groups historically denied equal access to capital.

For example, the Iceberg Model depicts a feminist economic framework where non-market activities, including the unpaid labour that buttresses capitalist economics, are made explicit.

The Iceberg Model.
Bianca Elzenbaumer/Brave New Alps, 2018, Author provided

The challenges of the Anthropocene demand that we overcome the exploitative and anti-ecological biases in neoclassical and neoliberal economics. One popular alternative is Kate Raworth’s Donut Economics. This would prioritise both social justice and environmental sustainability to create a safe operating space for humanity. Unlike conventional economics, heterodox economics takes the ecological context and planetary boundaries into account – while also addressing the interests of historically disadvantaged populations.

Ecological economics and design

The design industry, like most industries, is governed by economic ideas, structures and systems. Economic systems determine priorities in design studios and design education – including whether or not designers can focus on sustainable solutions.

And so economic factors govern whether designers can direct their energies towards making sustainable ways of living possible – or not. Few of us are employed to do tasks that make it possible to respond responsibly to environmental circumstances because the current political economy is not oriented towards prioritising the preservation of life on this planet.

When the priorities of an individual designer who is oriented towards sustainability conflict with those of the design industry, which is often governed by an economic system oriented towards profit, the designer finds it hard to make a living. If sustainable solutions will not generate profits, they will not succeed in this economic system (without either government intervention or charitable support). The design industry does not systemically prioritise the needs of the environment within this economic system because the way value is generated in contemporary economics depends on the systemic dismissal of ecological priorities.

Designing the future.
Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock.com

New design economies

Addressing this dilemma is a severe challenge. It is now evident that the economic system must be designed to reflect priorities and values associated with preserving habitable conditions on the planet. Climate change and other severe environmental threats require dramatic shifts in economic priorities. The fields of economics and design must be redirected so that economic services, structures and systems will support socially distributive and environmentally regenerative design.

Humankind already has the knowledge to make sustainable and socially just ways of living on this planet possible. What we do not yet have is the ability to make these transitions possible in the current political context. New types of design and economics could be a basis for systemic transitions.

Key to this transition is ecologically literate education in both design and economics. Both fields must be radically transformed to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene. With critical, ecologically-engaged design and economic education, new redirected design economies could facilitate sustainable transitions and make another world not only possible – but desirable.


Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.The Conversation

Joanna Boehnert, Lecturer in Design, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Renewables will dominate world’s energy needs, says global body

Renewables will dominate world’s energy needs, says global body

By Joshua S Hill, on 11 April 2019

Renewable energy could become the dominant source of energy across the world, provide up to 86% of global power demand under a scenario in which deeper electrification means that electricity’s share of final energy consumption jumps from its current levels of 20% to 50% by 2050.

A new report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), this week at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue and entitled Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, charts a pathway to accelerating the transformation of the global energy mix to  meet climate objectives, create jobs and foster economic growth.

IRENA says stepping away from reliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas is key to this transformation, and electrification delivers the best pathway. This includes the move to more electric vehicles and to using electricity for heating and cooling, which can be supplied by wind and solar.

IRENA says that under this scenario, energy-related CO2 emissions would decline 70% below today’s levels – of which, 75% can be achieved through renewable energy and electrification technologies.

Renewable energy sources would provide the bulk of global power demand, under such a scenario, with as much as 86% of demand, driven by as many as 1 billion electric vehicles and electrified heating & cooling, as well as the emergence of renewable hydrogen.

Under such a plan, then, renewable energy could supply two-thirds of final energy consumption.

“The race to secure a climate safe future has entered a decisive phase,” said newly-installed IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “Renewable energy is the most effective and readily-available solution for reversing the trend of rising CO2 emissions. A combination of renewable energy with a deeper electrification can achieve 75 per cent of the energy-related emissions reduction needed.”

The pathway laid out by IRENA would also have significant economic benefits, saving the global economy between $65 trillion and $160 trillion – or, put another way, between $3 and $7 per each $1 spent on the energy transition – helping the economy to grow by 2.5% in 2050.

“The shift towards renewables makes economic sense,” La Camera continued. “By mid-century, the global economy would be larger, and jobs created in the energy sector would boost global employment by 0.2 per cent.

“Policies to promote a just, fair and inclusive transition could maximise the benefits for different countries, regions and communities. This would also accelerate the achievement of affordable and universal energy access. The global energy transformation goes beyond a transformation of the energy sector. It is a transformation of our economies and societies.”

Unfortunately, at the same time as it lays out a pathway forward, the IRENA report also warns that current action is lagging well behind what is necessary.

The authors write that, “Despite clear evidence of human-caused climate change, support for the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the prevalence of clean, economical and sustainable energy options, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have increased 1.3% annually, on average, over the last five years.”

Their conclusion? “The gap between observed emissions and the reductions that are needed to meet internationally agreed climate objectives is widening.”

“The energy transformation is gaining momentum, but it must accelerate even faster,” concluded La Camera. “The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the review of national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement are milestones for raising the level of ambition.

“Urgent action on the ground at all levels is vital, in particular unlocking the investments needed to further strengthen the momentum of this energy transformation. Speed and forward-looking leadership will be critical – the world in 2050 depends on the energy decisions we take today.”

The authors of the report urge national policymakers to focus on zero-carbon long-term strategies as well as boosting and harnessing systemic innovation such as fostering smarter energy systems through digitalisation and coupling end-use sectors – particularly the transport and heating & cooling sectors – with greater electrification.

The report also found that, while additional investments needed is $15 trillion by 2050, this is nevertheless 40% down compared to IRENA’s previous analysis “due in large part to rapidly falling renewable energy costs as well as opportunities to electrify transport and other end uses.”

Source: renewables.seenews.com

Global Award for Sustainable Architecture

Global Award for Sustainable Architecture

Rima Alsammarae report on Middle East Architect of 9 April 2019 that “Jordanian architect and artist Ammar Khammash is a 2019 laureate of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, along with four other architects including Dr Werner Sobek, Ersen Gursel, Rozana Montiel and Jorge Lobos.” 

Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash wins Global Award for Sustainable Architecture

Jordanian architects, Ammar Khammash, Sustainable architecture, Architecture awards, Architects from the Middle East, Architects from Jordan

Created by architect and scholar Jana Revedin in 2006, the international award recognises five architects each year who have contributed to sustainable development and created innovative and participatory approaches to meet societal needs. 

Royal Academy for Nature Conservation in Jabal Ajloun, Jordan by Khammash Architects

According to the award’s website, Khammash was recognised for his dedication to interdisciplinary scientific research, as well as his artisanal and artistic approaches to architecture.

Khammash’s projects include the Wild Jordan Center, the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation, the Darat Al Funun workspace and the Columbia University Middle East Research Center in Amman, as well as the Church of the Apostles in Madaba. His approach involves the use of locally-sourced, natural materials to achieve context-relevant designs. 

The Middle East Modern Art Space in New Badr, Amman by Khammash Architects

“It appears that there is a growing international trend to put architecture back on the track of social and environmental responsibilities, and away from being a hostage of powerful visual output that publishes well in the media,” he said. “Our philosophy and methodology of approach is entirely based on the role of architecture in solving problems, finding creative ways to co-exist with the larger context, which includes society and nature.”

Currently finalising two ecolodges in Jordan (one in Yarmouk Reserve and the other on the hot spring of Al Himmeh in Mukhaibeh), Khammash and his team are also working on a number of competitions in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He noted that the award will help him further his approach and convince clients who see things differently.

Heedan Visitors Center by Khammash Architects

“The recognition from this prestigious award will help me change the mentality of clients, politicians and students,” he said, “ensuring that architecture retains some degree of modesty and symbiotic relationship to people and nature, instead of overwhelming, overpowering and outsmarting the very reason we need to build for.”

Khammash will be speaking at the award’s symposium, to be held in Paris in May.

Ammar Khammash talks on CNN’s program “Inside the Middle East” about Feynan Eco-Lodge, designed by Khammash Architects, and which is one of the first Eco-Lodges in Jordan and the Middle East.
Watch the interview: Inside the Middle East