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AUS designers and the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award legacy
For students of American University of Sharjah’s (AUS) College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD), the opportunity to design and build full-scale structures and see their work come to life is an essential part of their design education. For some students, this comes with great reward beyond the classroom.
In 2020, architecture students Laura AlDhahi, Sara Mohamed and Sahil Rattha Singh were the fourth AUS team to receive the prestigious Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award since its inauguration in 2013.
The award—presented by New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) and produced in collaboration with the NYUAD Art Gallery—was established to identify and nurture outstanding design talent in the UAE.
The winning installation, which was unveiled at NYUAD in April this year, is entitled Haweia, inspired by the Arabic word for “identity”. The piece reflects the three designers’ experience with cultural diversity in the United Arab Emirates and at AUS.
AlDhahi and Mohamed—now graduates—and fourth-year student Singh, received $10,000 to complete the project working under the mentorship of Associate Professor Jason Carlow at CAAD. The resulting work is a structure with a smooth facade of folded aluminum sheets, reflecting and framing different perspectives of the sky.
The design strives to intrigue the viewers from a distance with the contrasting interior and exterior environments. The exterior forms a sublime, smooth facade of folded aluminum sheets, while the interior reveals a complex reflective structure of surfaces and fins. It also serves as a contemplative lens to its visitors to reinforce the connection with their inner selves and identities. They discover different configurations of their reflections and “haweia” as they uncover the space by moving around and inside the piece.
The assembly process coupled with the pandemic proved to be an enriching learning experience for the three designers, who come from Egypt, Kuwait and India and worked remotely in different time zones. It pushed them to collectively produce rapid design solutions, and to think critically about the space and technical procedures.
“More than a hundred custom aluminum pieces were assembled in Abu Dhabi to create the multi-faceted layered expression that accentuates the central oculus. Each piece was bolted and attached to fit perfectly in its corresponding location to form four sectional quarters that were then attached together to complete the assembly of the full piece,” said AlDhahi.
The installation was later transported and carried by a number of forklifts and cranes, supported and buttressed at the back of a truck and transferred to its designated location where the base is then assembled on site.
UAE-based Mohamed traveled every week to Abu Dhabi to oversee the work. She said:” The artwork had such a unique design that the only way to approach it was through assembling it upside down, then flip it upright. There were multiple associated risks with that decision, like possible deformations, time and cost needed, and transportation difficulties. Flipping the installation was scheduled in the final days, and I was anxious about it until I saw it happening. That’s when I let out my long-held breath.”
Haweia has now come home to CAAD, to be appreciated by future CAAD students—and perhaps future winners of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award. It’s this sense of legacy that especially strikes a chord with Singh.
“It was the CAAD alumni who inspired me to take part in the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award competition when I was a first-year student. Now I want my work to do the same, and inspire other students, artists and designers and continue this legacy,” he said.
CAAD students are encouraged to submit their work for regional and international awards throughout their studies, giving them exposure to a wide range of opportunities, audiences and expert critique. As the team’s mentor, Associate Professor Jason Carlow reiterated the value of this experience.
“Being part of this team from the concept design to the final fabrication of the artwork has been a very rewarding experience for me. The team of artists proved their determination to the project in working remotely, across three different countries during the final development of the artwork. The award has given them a remarkable experience and has yielded a wonderful and thought-provoking sculpture,” he said.
For more information about the College of Architecture, Art and Design at American University of Sharjah, visit www.aus.edu/caad.