ABU DHABI // The influence of Arabic architecture on European buildings should not be underestimated, experts from Spain said at a talk in the capital.
As part of the first event in a series of collaborations with Universidad Europea de Madrid, Alhosn University gathered some of Spain’s foremost architects from both universities to discuss how Middle Eastern and Spanish architecture have learnt from each other.
Dr Miguel Jaime, assistant professor at Al Hosn University and visiting associate at Harvard University, outlined the topic in his talk “The Modernity of the Alhambra”.
“Modern design in the UAE and the world comes from western culture, but it came through western culture through the Arabs, as proof you see all the elements of modern architecture are inherent and found in Alhambra,” Dr Jaime said.
Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex built for the last Muslim emirs in Granada, was the harbinger of contemporary Spanish architecture as it contained several elements of contemporary design, according to Dr Jaime.
In particular, Dr Jaime discussed the sustained influence of Islamic architecture in Europe. He said it had re-emerged during the modern era at a time when Spanish academics and practitioners alike were attempting to re-evaluate how their cities should be built.
During the 1950s, Spanish architects were faced with the dilemma of either following the form of modern architecture that was uniformly practised or to risk anachronism by adhering to those advocating a return to historic architecture.
In 1952, a group of Spanish architects got together to produce a book called the Manfiesto de le Hambra.
The work was to be the manifesto of modern Spanish architecture, which aimed to combine a modern style while preserving what they called “special roots” inherently developed in Islamic-influenced Spain.
“They included pillars that they considered to be the main aspects of Spanish architecture that must be respected to be modern and at the same time Spanish. And until this day these features can be seen in some of the best pieces done by Spanish architects around the world,” Dr Jaime said.
On a more personal level, Dr Jaime said his understanding of the relationship between the East and West had been heightened in the two years he had been working in the UAE.
“There is a precedent in history, the famous painter Delacroix, when he visited the Middle East the first time, said that he thought he was going to meet history, but he was surprised because when he came here he said he met his history.
“This has happened to me, I am finding all these new links or renewing the links that have always been there between the two civilisations.”
Dr Jaime’s compatriots, visiting professors from Universidad Europea de Madrid, Dr Pedro Arroyo, Prof Jose Penelas and Prof Nestor Montenegro, focused their talks on building cities of the future, at times drawing comparisons between the rapid development spurred on by the Olympics and World Expo in Spain, and the UAE in the modern day.
Dr Arroyo said that the UAE is a lot like Barcelona was before the Olympic Games in 1992, modern architecture was taking time to develop and the city had to decide how exactly to strike a balance between what was needed and the city as it stood.
According to Dr Arroyo, the big mistake made during the Olympics was that the government was so enveloped in preparing the city for the Games that it compromised some of the character of Barcelona.
“Suddenly, just with that the city landscape changed and of course it brought about some interesting building and development but what is not so known is that it disfigured some public spaces,” Dr Arroyo said.
With Expo 2020 looming, Dr Arroyo urged the city of Dubai not to be fixated on the materialistic aspect of development because much can be lost from focusing on a project of short-term return.
“The good side is, you are providing for so many new spaces for things to happen, on the other hand it is so rapid that things are not given the proper thought needed for a full realisation of these places.”
According to Dr Arroyo, it is better to think about the life of the people in the city rather than just the image of the city. He urged urban planners in the UAE to do the same.