“Beauty should be the problem-solving principle in Architecture,” says award-winning Saudi architect Shahad Alazzaz. “Whenever I interact with a project, I try to strongly embrace efficiency, scale, art and fashion.” This simple but profound design philosophy rang very true at the Sa’af installation at the Abwab exhibition’s Eastern Provinces of Saudi Arabia pavilion at this year’s Dubai Design Week.
Inspired by the traditional Saudi art of palm-frond weaving, the installation, constructed by Shahad’s firm Azaz Architects, and supported by the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra), took the shape of a massive suspended structure that incorporated four types of ‘woven’ structures, each painstakingly based on actual techniques used by traditional weavers. To understand and implement these processes, Shahad and her team actually travelled to the Eastern Provinces of the Kingdom, particularly to Al Ahsa, where they interacted with craftspeople, especially women.
Her thought behind it was “the idea of restoring culture and empowering one of Saudi’s most popular crafts through architecture,” she says. “The main challenge was that the design could only be executed with the allocation of the weavers. So we identified some families and individuals in Al Ahsa to work with us in producing the pavilion’s exterior skin.”
Belying its technical difficulty, the installation carries a natural grace and textural flair that invites participation and interaction, perhaps the loftiest goal for any architect. Shahad agrees, saying, “The ultimate success to any architect is to see his or her design survive the construction challenges and open its doors to visitors.”
She also notes that the Kingdom has made massive efforts to foster its cultural and design scenes. “The creative industry has been gaining more attention in Saudi Arabia over the past few years, and both design initiatives and global events have been present in the Kingdom’s major cities,” she notes. “These help in bringing the latest trends into the country and creating a large society of creative thinkers who will help improve the aesthetics of our cities.”
Being at the forefront of this new wave of creatives empowered by the Kingdom, Shahad is in a prime position to note the winds of change, particularly in the region’s creative palate. “I’ve seen increased awareness in the need of preserving cultures, especially in the Middle East,” she says. “Using local materials and repurposing art and craft to deliver a strong message on identity and traditions will be something vitally considered in the upcoming trends in design.”
Photography by Adel Rashid
Images Courtesy of Shahad Alazzaz