‘Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness,” says the Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Architecture is a form of communication that connects people with their past, present and future. One of my favourite examples of architecture in Abu Dhabi is the Cedar Fountain beside Le Méridien hotel. It might not be luxurious compared to modern fountains, but to me, it’s a masterpiece.
The fountain was a gift from the Lebanese Embassy to the UAE Government. The reason I chose this structure out of all contemporary ones in the city is because it reminds me of many childhood events at this place. About 20 years ago, when the UAE was growing, the fountain was the cultural hub for people from all walks of life. I remember vividly people sitting at the edge of the fountain during weekends, enjoying time with their families.
Like people, architecture should tell a story, and modern architecture should play a significant role in shaping society. When I look at my country today, and gaze at the newest towers and giant buildings, I wonder if they say anything about the UAE’s culture, history or life. Will these buildings endure the harsh weather of this region? Or are they prepared to remain intact for an unknown future?
Recently, I visited the new Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Fujairah. Setting foot in the main entrance, as my bare feet touched the cold floor, I was reminded of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba in Spain. The exterior of the mosque is a replica of the Blue Mosque in Turkey. The interior, the colours, the decorations on the walls, and the overall designs teach you the beauty of past civilisations, and how their designs characterised cities for centuries to come. The way we design should reflect the way we live.
Another inspiring example of architecture is in the Spanish city Toledo. Toledo is known as the City of Three Cultures, where Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted for centuries. The buildings tell stories of their neighbourhoods.
When I explored the area, it felt like walking into an open museum. Such cities should be a beacon for contemporary architects to follow. Architecture should respond to changes a country undergoes.
The UAE needs to include more of its tradition and art in designs. Few of today’s designs give a visual representation of society. Most of our buildings talk money and luxury. Internationally, the UAE is known for its obsession with size. We have built some exquisite buildings that have given us status around the world. There’s nothing wrong with mixing traditional and modern designs, but we should add our past into our architecture, for it too speaks a thousand words.
Asmaa Al Hameli is a features writer for The National.
If you have a good story to tell or an interesting issue to debate, contact Melinda Healy on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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