a major new cultural complex titled ‘jameel arts centre’ has opened to the public in the UAE ahead of dubai’s much-anticipated design week. the venue, which has been designed by UK-based firm serie architects, features ten gallery spaces, whose opening exhibitions include work by artists such as chiharu shiota. the project also includes the gulf’s first open-access arts library and resource centre, seven desert gardens, studio and events spaces, and a restaurant and shop.

 

to learn more about the project, designboom spoke with serie architects’ co-founder and principal, christopher lee. in addition to the new building, lee also discusses how he views the role of an architect in contemporary society and how he feels the profession has changed over the last decade. read more about the ambitious scheme, and the interview in full, below.


jameel arts centre, dubai has been designed by serie architects
image by rory gardiner (also main image)

 

 

serving as a new cultural hub for the region, jameel arts centre has been designed by serie architects as a 10,000-square-meter, three-storey, multi-disciplinary venue. developed by art jameel, an independent organization that supports arts, education and heritage in the middle east, the project is the first non-governmental contemporary arts institution of its kind in the gulf. the jameel library forms an important part of the project, with a bilingual collection of nearly 3,000 books, journals, catalogues, and theses.


the building’s opening coincided with dubai’s 2018 design week
image by rory gardiner

 

 

spread across five galleries, the inaugural group exhibition, ‘crude’, curated by murtaza vali, considers the complex theme of oil within both historic and contemporary contexts. meanwhile, ‘artist’s rooms’, an on-going collaborative series of exhibitions, has also opened with four solo shows by artists from the middle east and asia: maha malluh, lala rukh, chiharu shiota, and mounira al solh. a selection of large-scale installations and sculptural works, several newly commissioned, are on view on the centre’s roof terrace and within a series of permanent gardens designed by landscape architect anouk vogel. elsewhere, gallery 9 focuses on artist’s film and video, starting with a work by jumana manna.


the new institution has a close relationship with the site’s waterfront promenade
image by rory gardiner

 

 

the opening also marks the launch of jaddaf waterfront sculpture park, dubai’s first open-air art park, conceived by UAE-based ibda design and developed by dubai holding. the initial installation includes sculptures by helaine blumenfeld, talin hazbar and latifa saeed, mohammed ahmed ibrahim, david nash and slavs and tatars. a series of public events for the park kicks off with the middle eastern/asian premiere of WATERLICHT, an immersive light installation by daan roosegaarde.


the colonnades have been designed as a porous interface
image by simon whittle

 

 

designboom (DB): when did you begin working on the jameel arts centre, and what was your initial approach to its design?

 

christopher lee (CL): in late 2013, through an international invited competition. the concept is based on the lessons drawn from two sources, one involving the scale of a house and the other the scale of the city. if you look at the sha’abi houses, you’ll see that they were based on the accumulations of rooms around a courtyard. on a larger scale, the madinat is an accumulation of houses with courtyards. the architecture that we tried to create here for the jameel arts centre, thus is formed out of a series of rooms huddling around courtyards.


permanent gardens have been designed by landscape architect anouk vogel
image by simon whittle

 

 

DB: what aspects of your original proposal do you think appealed to the competition’s jury?

 

CL: the curatorial potential of the project’s organization, and the encounter of art and landscape as an integral experience.


the jameel library has a collection of nearly 3,000 books, journals, catalogues, and theses
image by mohamed somji, courtesy of art jameel

 

 

DB: has the design significantly changed from then until now?

 

CL: conceptually no, although the competition scheme was designed as a one-storey building sitting on a bigger site. with a smaller footprint, the current scheme is three storeys tall but it still possesses all the qualities of the first version.


chiharu shiota has installed ‘departure’ within one of the venue’s ‘artist’s rooms’
image by mohamed somji, courtesy of art jameel

 

 

DB: how big of a challenge has dubai’s climate been? how does the venue respond to these conditions?

 

CL: the composition of the masses is meant to create a degree of self shading to the courtyards, and allow cross ventilation for the rooms if required. the galleries however had to be climatically controlled due to the sensitive nature of the artworks.


another of the galleries is dedicated to the work of mounira al solh
image by mohamed somji, courtesy of art jameel

 

 

DB: the building contains a variety of functions. how are these spaces laid out as part of the complex?

 

CL: to a certain degree, galleries for contemporary art should be flexible to remain relevant for the future. however this does not literally mean that a building must have moveable parts. rather the spatial organization of the architecture should be able to accommodate a wide range of uses, and continue to evolve with the city it serves. so, we have deliberately designed a range of galleries and rooms — with different volumetric proportions — so that they can take on different types of artworks as well as trigger responses for specific installations. it will also arouse a range of experience as a person moves through these spaces.


‘crude’ is an exhibition curated by murtaza vali
image by mohamed somji, courtesy of art jameel

 

 

DB: what is the venue’s relationship with the waterfront?

 

CL: for us, it was important that the different spaces in the building relates to each other as well as to the extended site. with this in mind, the colonnades of the project is designed as a porous interface between the building and the waterfront promenade, inviting people to walk through it and it along it, even if they are not entering the building.


‘green house: interior yet exterior, manmade yet natural’ is a commissioned piece by shaikha al mazrou
image by mohamed somji, courtesy of art jameel

 

 

DB: is there a part of the design that you are particularly proud of?

 

CL: the overall composition and the experience of the spaces. the courtyards thus was very important for us. they are intended as enchanting gardens, that will tempt people to linger on in them, exchanging glances with other and perhaps initiate a conversation. the galleries are also overlaid in such a way that one could see several spaces in one glance — a garden and another room beyond — so that one is aware that one is among others, sharing and participating in the appreciation and making of art.


‘contrary life: a botanical light garden devoted to trees’ by ali farid and aseel alyaqoub
image by mohamed somji, courtesy of art jameel

 

 

DB: what do you feel is the primary role of an architect in today’s society?

 

CL: to create some sort of public good out of a pre-given design brief, especially in private projects. it can be as simple as a beautiful wall that everyone can enjoy as they walk pass every day, going about their daily lives or a porous colonnade that is inviting and accommodating. on another level, architects can really play a part in addressing climate change, and keeping to the 2 degrees target. to do this architects should really look at two aspects — net zero energy or low energy buildings, and achieving carbon neutral or close to that in construction.


the structure forms a 10,000-square-meter, three-storey, multi-disciplinary venue
image by simon whittle

 

 

DB: in 2011, you told us that you were optimistic about the future of architecture. do you still feel that way?

 

CL: I remain optimistic but there are also concerns. I’m more optimistic now about the awareness of what architecture can do for the environment, we now have the tools and knowledge to make that a reality, and more and more architects are beginning to realize that the issue of sustainability is not merely a technical fix or an add-on-gadgets to buildings.


the project is the first non-governmental contemporary arts institution of its kind in the gulf
image by simon whittle

 

 

CL (continued): my concern is the increasing isolationism that accompanies nationalist surges we see today. one can only imagine the damage it could do to architecture if the fantasies of a dominant mono-cultural sphere, based on an imagined glorious past, is to take hold. also the challenges that we face today — ecological, economy and technological — is global and cannot be solved on the national scale, there is no such thing as ecological sovereignty for instance. our efforts to bring energy consumption down in the UK for example will only work if other countries do the same.


the jaddaf waterfront sculpture park is dubai’s first open-air art park
image by rory gardiner

 

 

DB: how do you feel the profession has changed over the last seven years?

 

CL: I would say that social media is changing the way we consume and in turn produce architecture. the domain of traditional gate keepers of ‘good’ architecture — critics, studio instructors in schools of architecture, architectural theorist, editors of magazines — is giving way to platforms such as instagram, facebook, and pinterest. and if architecture has to communicate within seconds, in a 1080px by 1080px still image, then architects will be asked to produce instagramable architecture. it would be tragic if architecture is laundered of all its nuance and richness for ‘likes’.


jameel arts centre, dubai opened on november 10, 2018
image by rory gardiner

 

 

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