Recently a major architecture competition has been calling for proposals to design a new park and event centre located near the city of Medina, Saudi Arabia. Amongst the thoughtful submissions, Gerber Architeckten’s sunken oasis was selected as one of the two winning proposals.
The Middle East has become synonymous with outlandish modern builds that make visiting some cities a hard visual experience at times, something that I always view as a bit of a shame considering the regions beautiful architectural heritage. This project however, and that of Thomas Heatherwick’s Al Fayah Park, seem to be taking the glitzy out and bringing the quality back into the region.
The Noble Quran Oasis contrasts it’s surrounding barren landscape by proposing a vegetated, sunken circular form. This shape is then subdivided by an irregular pattern of lines that create a number of interesting and engaging spaces for recreational activities, exhibition galleries and educational areas. These nonuniform spaces are then capped with the most spectacular of roofs, creating an impression of a medallion or faceted, gold trinket. It’s the aspect of the proposal that I enjoy the most, although I imagine it’s reflective properties could be quite blinding! I have visited the Middle East a number of times and can attest to the demands of the sun; a place like this that allows escape but doesn’t feel like you have stepped into an air conditioned bunker is surely a welcome addition to the cities landmarks.
As one of two winning proposals, I can only assume that from here the fight for top entry steps up a notch. The other winner is somehow absent from all of my searches, but if you’re keen to see third place, which I’ll be honest, I think I like even more, then click right here.
Put your hand up if you are in the mood for a getaway! I know I would quite happily hide away in some remote wilderness for a while! Well, if you have a few thousand euro to spare, then a week in the Portuguese countryside might just do the trick. Casa no Tempo, based in Alentejo, the South-Central part of Portugal, is looking mighty tempting. Peacefully rooted in vast grassy plains, dotted with oak and olive trees, it’s only an hour south of Lisbon. The house has been in the family for generations, and the current keepers of the home have been tasked to take good care of it by the will of their late grandfather. They have done so beautifully, with the help of Manuel Aires Mateus from renowned architecture studio Aires Matues, which is run by him and his brother Francisco.
The house is a starkly white, unassuming figure in the landscape. A swimming pool sits nearby—probably my favourite feature. Its brilliantly ingenious design comprises of a concrete block, the top angled in such as way as to give the pool depth on one end and create an irregular pseudo-shore line on the other. I think that pools can often look terrible and forcibly imposed upon their surroundings, but here is blends in perfectly. The interior of the house is just as simple, with clean white walls and sparse furnishings. Thick slabs of wood, locally made clay floor tiles and a few well-placed ceramics and books achieve the perfect balance between spaciousness and coziness. I love the receding fireplace in the lounge—another clever, minimalist feature.
Casa no Tempo is the perfect place to come to with a few books and sketchpads, leaving the suite of Apple products behind and focusing on being present. And if you get bored, you can go horse riding, fishing in the nearby lakes, or make trips out to local wildlife sanctuaries or restaurants suggested on their website. Be sure to check out a couple of stunning earlier collaborations with Manuel Aires Mateus, Cabanas no Rio and Casas na Areia. I’ll be here, dreaming on!
I come across many impressive examples on architecture online, but this is the first time that I have looked at photographs of a house and felt ready to move in and inhabit it, just like that. Really, NO Architecture’s Courtyard House is pretty much my perfect home. There’s light flooding through the huge glass walls, plenty of space with a circular flow and greenery all around. I don’t think that my presence would be too appreciated though—the home was built by NOA founding principal architect Andrew Haid for his parents. Building a home for your closest family members must be one of the most challenging and rewarding projects for an architect to undertake, I imagine.
The partially sunken building looks unassuming from the outside, the main part of the house being a simple rectangular form. The roof overhang forms a wrap-around shelter for a concrete extension, bringing the living space even more in touch with its surroundings. A small courtyard penetrates the structure and acts as the central core around which life revolves. I am in love with the idea of having an enclosed space like this at the centre of my home! Access is gained via a huge door opening out from the kitchen, making it perfect for a small herb and vege plot. Garden to plate in record time!
The house is essentially one large open space, spiraling around the courtyard, with small storage cores dotted around to contain closets, bathroom and toilet. Despite the lack of partitions the different living spaces within the home feel cozy and intimate. The carefully considered furnishings definitely contribute to its success, with several sitting areas and an uncommonly generous number of work spaces comfortably providing accommodation for visits from family and friends. Ah, what I would give for that double desk space, looking out onto a grove of trees!
NOA are based in New York and their other projects, which range from cultural centers and universities to residential homes, are worth checking out.
Photos: Iwan Baan
This incredible project is the most recent from the outstanding portfolio of architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick. If you don’t know Thomas Heatherwick but are into design, thoughtful and inquisitive processes and solutions, architecture or industrial design, then you better quickly click here to discover one of our times most influential designers.
Famous for his outstanding and multi award winning British Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010, and the Olympic Cauldron for the London 2012 Olympic Games, Al Fayah Park is the latest of his projects that already is adding to his esteemed reputation.
As a re-development project, Heatherwick’s design for Al Fayah Park solves one of the biggest issues when cultivating green spaces in the harsh Middle Eastern climate, evaporation of water by the intensity of the sun. Using the motif of dry cracked earth, Heatherwick has cleverly created a shelter for the parks plants and vegetation, and for the public visiting, all while minimizing water loss. It’s an incredibly ambitious project, and when I first saw it I did think, where else but the UAE! But, scale and cost aside, Heatherwick’s answer to the problem definitely shows a thought process that operates differently to most, and in the end will be a product that will not only add socially to the city, but also add to the catalogue of new inventive ways to link our urban areas to our environment. My favourite part of the project, his teams research finding that historically, farmers of the region would plant under palm trees to reduce water loss and provide shade for their crops. That was the kernel of the idea, and look where it’s taken them. It’s impressive stuff.
Thomas Heatherwick is pure genius. See more of his brilliant work here.