Many artists and architects can say they are attuned to the land – but few can say it as literally as the Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash, who has just been awarded the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, along with four other international architects. These are Dr Werner Sobek, Ersen Gursel, Rozana Montiel and Jorge Lobos.
In 2017 Khammash installed an exhibition in Amman’s Darat Al Funun site, which explored a discovery he made in the soil of Jordan and Palestine: the stones in the layer of flint just below the surface each have their own frequency. When these naturally shaped stones were struck, he found, they will each ring out in a particular tone, roughly equivalent to sounds on the western musical scale.
Khabbash is now being honoured for his relationship to nature in a different way: for the sustainable approach he has taken in his architectural practices. In projects such as the Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan, the country’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and the Wadi Al Mujib nature reserve, the architect has used forms inspired by nature and has created buildings with low or zero-carbon footprints.
The makings of a sustainable practice
Having set up his practice in the 1990s, Khabbash has become an established name in Jordan (he even designed the country’s currency). His work extends a sensitivity not just to nature as an abstract concept but to the particular landscape of the Levant: rocky, sandy-coloured buildings, details of stone etchings and carvings, and an effective use of shade and light. He uses locally sourced, natural materials and creates designs that work with the landscape they're in.
The Global Award for Sustainable Architecture has been bestowed by Unesco since 2011, and was founded in 2006 by the architect and scholar Jana Revedin.
The award's jury honours architects for their "groundbreaking approaches". In the case of 2019, the laureates were chosen "for their dedication to interdisciplinary scientific researches as well as artisanal and artistic approaches to architecture and the public, making them understandable, desirable and affordable to all."
Khammash commented on his win, saying the award should help him convince his clients of the importance of recognising sustainable approaches, reported Middle East Architect. He said: "The recognition from this prestigious award will help me change the mentality of clients, politicians and students, 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 speak further on the subject at the award's symposium, which is being held in Paris this May.