American University of Dubai architecture student wins international design award

Somayeh Ghorbani was awarded a top prize for her rendering of a cultural centre that pays tribute to the emirates’ fishing and pearl diving history

Crossing of the Coast, by Somayeh Ghorbani. Courtesy Somayeh Ghorbani
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A student from the American University of Dubai’s architecture programme won gold at the 10th Annual International Design Awards in Los Angeles for her project honouring the Emirates' maritime heritage.

Somayeh Ghorbani, 33, was awarded first prize in the student architecture category for 'Crossing of the Coast,' a conceptual rendering of a modern, mixed-use cultural centre that pays tribute to the country's fishing and pearl diving history.

Ms Ghorbani researched and designed the project as part of her final year of undergraduate architectural studies at AUD.

She graduated last year. A jury of experts chose Ms Ghorbani’s design from more than 1,000 entries in one of five categories that were submitted by professional and student architects and designers from 52 countries.

“This annual competition recognises, honours and promotes legendary design visionaries and uncovers emerging talents in architecture, interior, product, graphic and fashion design on global level,” according to the IDA.

Crossing of the Coast, by Somayeh Ghorbani. Courtesy Somayeh Ghorbani

“The jury rewarded the best professional and emerging designers   for their achievements in terms of design, creativity, usability and innovation.”

Ms Ghorbani fears that the country's rich maritime history is a fading memory for residents and nationals alike.

“I was really interested in studying and highlighting the UAE culture and traditional professions, like fishermen, pearl divers and boat builders,” said Ms Ghorbani, who is Iranian-American.

“These traditional professions, which built the UAE foundation, are becoming forgotten. No one really is interested about these traditional professions anymore, especially the younger generation. They are more into technology, new things – not anymore interested about their own identity. To me, culture is very important because it represents your identity. If you lose your identity, basically you will lose yourself.”

Ms Ghorbani’s design envisions three triangular structures set on three separate levels above Dubai’s existing fish market along the creek. The structures are interconnected by a series of crisscrossing bridges that allow visitors to experience the outdoor fish market below from different perspectives.

Somayeh Ghorbani, architecture student. Courtesy Somayeh Ghorbani

“Basically I want to bring people back to the sea,” said Ms Ghorbani. “I studied the history of these people and where they used to work, and the location represents these people because back then, mainly they worked in the creek area. And then I want to show how these people used to travel in the sea. They used to travel in the sea in order to catch the pearls or fish, and bring the fish to the port. These bridges represent how they travelled from one location to another.”

The building would be home to a fishing and diving centre, seafood restaurants, maritime museum and crafting studio to attract visitors and promote public appreciation and understanding of the country’s traditions.

“The fish market that is now located in the Creek area, it’s very much disconnected, no one is interested to go there,” said Ms Ghorbani.

Crossing of the Coast is by Somayeh Ghorbani, a graduate of the American University of Dubai. She recently won gold in the Other Architectural Designs category at the at the 10th annual IDA Design Awards held in Los Angeles. Courtesy Somayeh Ghorbani

By forcing pedestrians to stroll across the bridges from one structure to another, Ms Ghorbani said visitors would experience a bit of history, both literally and figuratively.

“It represents how these traditional professions, back then, they travelled from one point to another point in order to catch fish or pearls,” she said. “I wanted people to see the fish market from different points of view – from the vertical and the horizontal. It makes it more interesting to see the whole atmosphere.”

This autumn, she will begin her master’s degree at Northeastern University in Boston.

“But I hope to come back to the UAE again and start working,” she said. “To me, the UAE is the best place for architecture. They take risks, and of course they have money, they care about architecture, they keep building and you see so many great architectural designs here. It’s the best place to grow.”


In the professional category, a number of UAE-based companies or projects were also awarded prizes.

They include:

Project: "DMMRC - Dubai Maritime Museum & Research Center "

Bronze  - Architecture Categories / Institutional

Bronze - Architecture Categories / Sustainable Living/Gree

Company: Studio Niko Kapa


Project: "Al Khor Private Hospital"

Gold - Architecture Categories / Other Architectural Designs

Designer(s): tangramGulf, United Arab Emirates


Project: "Residential Complex – City of Towers" (A residential complex in the UAE)

Bronze - Architecture Categories / Landscape

Silver - Architecture Categories / Urban Design

Company: B+H Architects

Designer(s): B+H Architects, Canada


Project: "Mosque of the Water in Abu Dhabi"

Gold - Architecture Categories / Conceptual

Gold - Architecture Categories / Landmarks, symbolic structures, memorials, public

Company: Studio Niko Kapa

Designer(s): Niko Kapa, United Arab Emirates

Source: IDA Awards