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Saturday , January 23 2021

LIGHT – The New Life of Nur

A photograph by Rizalde Cayanan, courtesy of DAI

Architects Nasser Abulhasan and Joaquin Perez Goicoechea, delivered an illuminating lecture ‘The New Life of Nur’ exploring the physical and metaphysical aspect of light in creating architectural spaces, at the Yarmouk Cultural Centre on Monday evening, as part of the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah’s 24th Cultural Season.

Dr Nasser Bader Abulhasan is Principal & Founding Partner, AGi architects, international architecture firm based in Madrid and Kuwait. His research addresses sustainable developments in arid climates and he focuses on the perception of light in buildings.

Architect Joaquin Perez Goicoechea is principal/partner, AGi architects. Urban design, planning, and interior and industrial design are areas of interest and he has completed several projects with these elements at the core.

In ‘The New Life of Nur’, Abulhasan and Perez, delve into the physical and metaphysical aspect of light. Even as light as a concept, is the core component of faith and spiritual illumination, as a result its application has been carried out in many different fields of art but especially in architecture.

“The two architects are trained at Harvard University and have participated as speakers at two professional symposiums at Yale and Harvard architectural schools. The symposiums challenged the increasing normalisation of homogenous environment through an exploration of the behaviour of light and its interaction with human perception. They also participated in panel discussions for designing for darkness showing how AGi architects designed their single family homes in a desert climate adopting their solutions to the local environment”, remarked DAI Steering Committee Chairman, Bader Al Baijan, while introducing the speakers.

Perez on the onset, shared that in their talk, they would not just shed light on their work but also disclose the way they think in addressing concerns of architecture and the living conditions of people. Thus, the talk looked at the the social and cultural framework of AGi’s practice.

“Since postmodernism hasn’t been a clear movement in the architectural panorama, i.e. people haven’t been able to take a strong position in favour or against this type of architecture, right now we are working in an open field – very fluid and highly influenced by commercial interests”, Perez informed.

He pointed out that as architects, they weren’t building structures for today but rather, for the future. “We are tracing the future. We are aware that whatever we do today, its impact in the future is extremely relevant.”

In this sense, he shared that the work is full of contradictions, “Today we have to negotiate with complex processes, excessive access to data, open systems, precarious environmental conditions, and practicing in different continents and cultures which makes our practice even more complex.” When faced with these contradictions, their response it to absorb the dualities involved.

AGi practices mainly in Spain and Kuwait, spaces that were practically transformed in the past century and led to big social changes, spurred on by the positive dynamics and enthusiasm of the older generation. While this transformation is a bit more visible in Kuwait, in Spain these changes marked a new urbanity and even some social dissatisfaction. “We cannot say that we have been very clever as architects and urban designers to address what was going on at the time.”

He pointed out that the underlying problem is that apart from certain architectural practices that have mastered research based design, design right now is centred on form and image that they regard as the new consumable commodity for the market.

“We have always struggled with this and have even lost certain commissions because we don’t believe that that is the way to practice. Our focus has been on how to experience a space and the structure of the design is based on that. In this sense, the continuous experimentation with Nur has influenced so much of our practice.”

He pointed out that Nur does not refer only to light but the many concepts embedded in it. He shared that light in each culture and religion has a central meaning. But Nur, to them, refers to physical and metaphysical aspects of light.

Perez showed relevant examples in writing and illumination where meaning was highlighted by light, and how the concept of Nur transformed our idea of time and space and impacted the daily lives of people. Nur led to extensive research in science, and explorations in art. In metal and ceramic work, Nur affected engravings that created in flat surface. When it comes to architecture, light is represented in Islamic architecture through Mirhabs among other devices.

The speakers expounded on four ideas of light with relevant examples from their work. In the first example, Abulhasan shared the example of Ali Mohammed Thunayan Al-Ghanim Clinic located in Sulaibhikhat Kuwait, where the structure was organised and spaces circulated around the perception of light. The building, viewed as a monolithic element allows for privacy and secutiry, with courtyards attached to the façade, the orientation and navigation defines understanding of the quality of light so structured.

The issue of structuring light is an important one. Abulhasan underscores with another example – La Ascensión del Señor”, a Parish Centre in Seville developed in an impoverished area with limited resources where the two primary elements in focus were the flooring that begins from the main entrance to welcome people through the project itself and the second, the roof which works as a means to focus light into various areas within the church. “We used Nur to structure the way people pray within this environment.”

In an architectural space, they relayed that Nur brings order and structure both physically and virtually. They shared how light has influenced their own work and their experiments with Nur over the past ten years that have led to the creation of dynamic spaces that reflect collective traditions.

Showing how light can bring depth, Perez supplied the example of the Nirvana Home in Messila, an extensive house, structured through seven courtyards. Repetition of social spaces is important here, as well as how to transform spaces by changing the materiality as well as how one perceives the space and move around it. The use of a mashrabiya fence alters the perception of the space drastically. Instead of being a monotonous element, it becomes part of an extra reading with layers of information provided. “It was very important to break the distinction between exterior and interior and bring in a continuation. We managed to do it through light and Nur.”

He also gave the example of Credit One office building, an automotive and logistics company. We wanted to represent the values of this company, and as it stands in the very compact plots of Al Rai, we needed to bring context and some light into the spaces. The building is structured around six skylights. “We wanted to talk about cars and display the cinematographical experience of driving represented on a static architectural element.” For this they introduced a blurred space, to create this feel and experience through small flashes of a sequence of things.

In the Three Gardens House, AGi stratified the external uses according to the period of the year and the hours of the day in which these activities could be developed, and accordingly designed three gardens – summer, winter and water. The water garden becomes the lantern of the project providing the necessary reflections and vitality that made up the core and soul of the house.

In the Secret House, the approach was completely different. The architects manipulated elements of Nur to create varying degrees of openness and privacy by playing with light and shadow to create intangible identifications and limits on the ground level, as well as intimacy for the family with full transparency on the upper floors.

Abulhasan then looked at light as a physical colour and colour being the cultural signifier and expressing certain codes within society. For Green Core, multi-family house on a single plot AGi developed six apartments with utmost privacy for the people living within the house. This was achieved by circulating the structure around the central courtyard with vertical elevators and stairs. They introduced a green mesh to borrow light from the central courtyard but still afforded maximum privacy for users living within. Green is a colour that presences nature, tranquillity in Islam and was thus relevant to the project, he noted.

In the Hisham A. Alsager Cardiac Center, a medical building, Abulhasan that in the design process, their aim was to remove any negative connotations associated with medical buildings and their repeated use, but build it up as a positive space, as a hub for social activity. This was accomplished by inviting access to the building and its public spaces through the use of bright colours while healing spaces use natural hues.

In the last section, Perez looked to the virtual and unknown aspects of light.

“In the future, we know that there will be a huge transformation in the virtual world. We know how things will change but we don’t know how we will perceive and live with these spaces.” He showed a video to demonstrate the power to transformation entire cities through light installations.

In conclusion, Abulhasan remarked, “Design is a complex set of parameters that will never lead to a singular. Parameters in the field of art, culture, sociology and anthropology, the sciences and other will always influence all types of design and execution of projects worldwide. The value of a well-rounded client, end-users, politicians, regulatory bodies, well-informed and active population is essential for a healthy and stimulating built environment that intends to last generations.”

By Cinatra Alvares

Arab Times Staff  

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