AUS College of Architecture, Art and Design promotes UAE culture

Former Mosque of Al Jazirah Al Hamra.

Muhammad Yusuf, feature film editor

Whether documenting traditional UAE craftsmanship for future generations, taking visitors back in time through virtual tours of local heritage sites, or establishing a first open source database in world exclusively for Arabic typography, the American University of Sharjah (AUS) is actively equipping the next generation to preserve the material cultural heritage of the UAE. The call to responsibly manage and celebrate the nation’s heritage is woven throughout the AUS College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) curriculum, home to the world’s top architecture and design programs. UAE, according to the QS World Subject Rankings 2022. The rankings represent the most diverse collection of institutions worldwide, with nearly 4,000 individual university programs assessed. Rankings are based on research quality and achievements, academic reputation, and employment of graduates.

A recent research collaboration with the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council (ICCC) allowed CAAD multimedia design students to document the craftsmanship of perfume making in the United Arab Emirates. The project explored the connection between perfume craftsmanship and Emirati identity, the diversity of ingredients used and the artisanal traditions of creating perfumes. The students also studied the meaning and value of perfume in the daily rituals of Emirati society, the variety of forms of incense burners as well as the origins of exotic ingredients. “Perfume has a special place in Emirati society and Irthi’s collaboration with AUS examines the craft of perfume making in a holistic way,” said Farah Nasri, Acting Head of Curatorial and Design at Irthi. “By exploring the underlying memories, identities and rituals traditionally associated with craftsmanship, the aim is to inspire future creative production. This important research paved the way for exploring a strategic direction for the economic sustainability of the UAE perfume market by introducing young designers to the stories and heritage of perfumery in the UAE.


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The research enabled teams of students to highlight current market gaps and develop design concepts to find ways to preserve culture and identity. A group completed a six-month internship in Irthi to focus more on the art of making dukhoon – a traditional black incense paste made from a mixture of oud oil and other fragrances that is burned for its fragrance – to further develop a product that is a perfect fit for the contemporary perfumery market.

Comprised of a group of AUS alumni, Irthi aims to strengthen the UAE’s design and craft industry by preserving craft skills and cultural heritage through initiatives that include the exchange , skills development, youth engagement, training and mentoring for budding designers, collaborations and artist residencies. An ongoing collaboration between Irthi and CAAD includes the Irthi Fellowship to CAAD as part of ICCC’s second cohort of its Design Labs initiative. AUS graduate Raghad Alali has been named an Irthi Research Fellow at CAAD, where she will participate in a project that examines traditional materials and their application in design.

The project involves conducting field studies that uncover the region’s unique history, redefining, reinterpreting and reimagining the future of UAE vernacular materials and craftsmanship, through design and materials experiments. .

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The heritage of the United Arab Emirates seen by an artist.

Alali will also examine how design can be an important driver in raising awareness for the preservation of craftsmanship, while also focusing on local issues such as heritage, environment, cultural identity and sustainability. Faysal Tabbarah, AUS alumnus and CAAD Associate Dean, said the college is committed to making meaningful contributions that ensure traditional craftsmanship and heritage inform and shape the way design is practiced and taught at AUS.

His own teaching and research has focused primarily on activating material and environmental practices from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to drive innovative contemporary design and construction solutions.

“While CAAD students have the opportunity to experiment with new techniques and materials using some of the most advanced design tools, we also encourage them to experiment with traditional materials, practices and techniques as a way to learn from and preserve the past, and bring that knowledge into the future,” Tabbarah said.

Over the past few years, CAAD faculty, students and alumni have provided a range of innovative solutions to the preservation of cultural heritage through multimedia design, visual communication, architecture and design. interior. AUS Associate Professor Zlatan Filipovic used multimedia and virtual reality technology to create and enhance an interactive experience of Ras Al Khaimah’s architectural heritage. “ReImagining the Past” integrates virtual and augmented reality and storytelling digital platforms to preserve the intangible and tangible cultural heritage of Al Jazirah Al Hamra, making it accessible to future generations.

Earlier this year, students of associate professors Hala Al-Ani and Riem Ibrahim showcased a series of new Arabic typography fonts at an exhibition in Qatar, with plans to launch “Huroof Central” – a new platform open source that focuses exclusively on experimental Arabic typography. . The platform aims to fill a major gap in current design programs. From an architecture and interior design perspective, CAAD alumni such as Ibrahim Ibrahim, Ammar Kalo and Rand AlDrei have also drawn inspiration from the UAE tradition by developing new materials, furniture craftsmanship and lighting design pieces that have been regionally and internationally recognized.

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