Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad with Sandra Hiari
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This article is part of Exploring the Edge publication. Support for the publication of Exploring the Edge has been provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago.
View of entrance area located at the southern edge of the house.
The first two issues of Exploring the Edge presented a search for a genius loci within the context of Jordan. In neither case was this search expressed through the too-common emphasis of connecting to conceptions of a past heritage, which often ends up caricaturing and de-contextualizing the architectural heritage of a previous era. Instead, architects Sahel al-Hiyari and Hani Imam Hussaini examined current construction materials and practices predominant in Jordan. They worked with what may be identified as a ‘contemporary conventional semi-industrial vernacular,' but redefined and developed it into a higher level of architectural expression. Al-Hiyari worked with roughly and often poorly finished exposed concrete construction, and Hussaini worked with stone sheathing. Both are ubiquitous within the context of Jordan, with the former generally associated with lower-budget construction and the latter connected to higher-budget construction.
Khalid Nahhas, the founder and senior architect of Symbiosis Designs, has taken a very different approach. The forms of his buildings attempt to connect to the surrounding topography, and their colors establish links to the earth-tone hues of the relatively dry landscapes of this part of the world. His architecture, however, does not try to make even the slightest of nods to the forms, materials, or techniques prevalent in the buildings of Amman, whether past or present. Instead, he consciously emphasizes the introduction of new forms and techniques.
As with al-Hiyari and Hussaini, Nahhas is a product of two worlds. He spent his childhood in Dubai, and moved to Canada when he was eleven. He studied architecture at the University of British Columbia, and before that also completed a bachelor's degree in geographic and economic planning at the University of Victoria. He worked as an architect in Vancouver for about seven years before moving to Amman to establish an architectural practice there in 1997. His first major design in Amman was the Blue Fig Restaurant (figures 1a & 1b). The building, which was completed in 2000 and received the 2002 Dubai-based Cityscape Young Architect Award, became a sensation in the city upon its completion. Its abstracted reductionist geometric forms, large glazed panels, corrugated roof sheets, and earth-toned plastered surfaces, provide a striking contrast to the white limestone-covered buildings with their more conventional use of small punched in or strip openings that are characteristic of many parts of Amman. Nahhas's involvement in the project extended beyond the design of the building. He also was involved in the branding process for it. He therefore dealt with issues including the food the restaurant serves, the manner in which it is served, and the overall ambience of the establishment - from the digital images projected on its walls to the music played in it. It is as good an example of ‘total design' as one may come across. The Blue Fig Restaurant is a work that expressed a high sense of quality and attention to detail often missing in the local architectural scene.