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Award-winning student design celebrates identity and cultural diversity
A team of students from the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) at American University of Sharjah (AUS) have been awarded The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2020 for their proposal of their installation entitled Haweia. The piece, which is to be constructed from reflective aluminum, is inspired by the Arabic word for “identity” and their experience of cultural diversity in the United Arab Emirates and at AUS.
Recent architecture graduates Sara Mohamed and Laura AlDhahi and third-year architecture student Sahil Rattha Singh worked under the mentorship of Associate Professor Jason Carlow. They are now the fourth CAAD team to have been honored with this prestigious award since it was inaugurated in 2013 under the Patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan.
The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award was established to nurture talent in the UAE and is presented by New York University Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) and produced in collaboration with the NYUAD Art Gallery. The award takes its name from the late artists Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Marie Denat, known professionally by their first names, who collaborated to create large-scale environmental artworks around the world until Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009. Christo continued to carry out their projects until he passed away this week, May 31.
The CAAD winners received $10,000 to complete their installation, which is expected to be unveiled at NYU Abu Dhabi in November 2020. The piece will comprise a smooth facade of folded aluminum sheets, reflecting and framing different perspectives of the sky.
The three students, who come from Egypt, Kuwait and India, hope their piece will create a unique experience for viewers and serve as a contemplative lens to reinforce the connection of the inner self and identity.
Class of 2020 graduate Laura AlDhahi, born and raised in Kuwait, said the diversity of the university and the Haweia design team played an important part in the design process. AUS has been recognized globally for its diversity and is ranked by Times Higher Education for having the highest percentage of international students of any university in the world.
“The cultural diversity within the group has influenced the creation of a unique balance of contrasting elements that celebrate individuality and thrive for oneness. It’s an honor to be part of this journey that will bring our design to life with the help of my group members and our mentor, Associate Professor Jason Carlow,” said AlDhahi.
“CAAD is the perfect place to deliver a comprehensive learning system and enhance dynamic skills through different media amidst a multicultural environment,” said AlDhahi.
Sahil Rattha Singh, originally from India, said he was a first-year student when he heard about The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award through the project of past winners CAAD alumni Salwa Al Khudairi and Nada AlMulla.
“I think CAAD has a great learning environment with supportive seniors and alumni that set the bar high, which really inspires and motivates the incoming students to push themselves and represent CAAD globally,” he said.
“Haweia chases a sense of timelessness through its multifaceted motif. It signifies the cultural divergence of one's identity through its contrasting spatial constructs. It is truly an honor to receive the prestigious Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award,” said Rattha.
Egyptian team member Sara Mohamed said she first heard about CAAD when she was in high school through various regional and international awards and competitions in which CAAD students regularly participate.
“As a recent CAAD graduate, I am leaving with a diverse set of visual, digital and physical skills. I participated in this award using a compilation of all the knowledge acquired in CAAD, from architectural design, to structural analysis, to material choices from the design-build experience, to making sustainable decisions based on net-zero design principles”, she said.
"The cultural diversity within our group and context was the major inspiration behind this project. The design’s reflective outside shell signifies the coherence of our context, yet the inside reflects its diversity. The piece celebrates all the different identities out there; it’s for everyone to observe, imagine and reflect,” she said.
“We feel fortunate for being brought together as a group by this concept, and for our mentor's guidance and help. We are very honored, and grateful for such an opportunity that will allow us to materialize our vision into built work,” she said.
Associate Professor Jason Carlow said the students were hailed by adjudicators for their resourcefulness and commitment to the project, despite the challenges of these unprecedented times.
“The student team has done a great job in designing a project that not only is formally and materially compelling but has a strong conceptual idea at its core,” said Carlow.
“The team has also been commendable in working together remotely while the university campus has been closed for the past months. They’ve been working with digital design and communication media to visualize and advance their design. They regularly present progress to the team at NYU and have been refining their project through online conversations with engineers and fabricators for feedback. Their ability to push the project forward under the current circumstances is a testament to their training and teamwork,” he said.
Following the exhibition of Haweia in November 2020, the students will receive a further $5,000 to fund future projects, study or work experience.
For more information about the College of Architecture, Art and Design at American University of Sharjah, visit www.aus.edu/caad.