Hopkins Architects’ Simon Fraser spoke exclusively to Downtown Design about how a shift in the approach to design can scaffold the communities of tomorrow.
A place of exceptional prehistoric and geological significance, the Jebel Buhais archaeological site is located within the Al Madam plain 30 miles south-east of the UAE Emirate of Sharjah. The former prehistoric sea bed offers an abundance of marine fossils from over 65 million years ago and ancient burial sites from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages.
Set in this extra-terrestrial looking landscape and with the spectacular mountain range for a backdrop, Hopkins Architects have recently completed the Buhais Geology Park Interpretive Centre.
‘Rarely is an architect offered the opportunity to design a building for such a beautifully barren landscape with so much geological and cultural significance’ says Simon Fraser, principal at Hopkins Architects.
Hopkins appreciation and understanding of the exceptional context is evident in their ‘light touch’ approach.
Inspired by the form of the sea urchin fossils found there, the project is a cluster of interconnected, circular pods in reinforced concrete. These bronze-coloured steel clad blocks that house exhibition halls, viewing decks and a theater were conceived from passive design principles to minimise the operational energy demand and a construction process that minimises disruption to the existing fauna, geology and terrain.
Rare as the project is, it also part of a new generation of regional projects signalling a value shift in architecture and design in the Middle East.
‘Architectural design should both address the immediate requirements of the project and be mindful of its future adaptability and flexibility’ says Fraser. ‘Whilst work continues on a wide range of sectors and scales; cultural, commercial, residential, hospitality, healthcare, education and master planning, there is an increasing focus on sustainability, well-being, quality and value.’
Hopkin’s Dubai office is engaged in projects in the UAE, wider Middle East and Asia. The practise’s architectural, environmental and social convictions reflect in their approach – placemaking rather than mere project construction, where their proposals integrate into their context and those who interact with them with sensitivity, offering long-term solutions to community building.
To counter phenomenon of migrating neighborhoods, modularity becomes key in ensuring that developments planned today can meet the demands of the future. To meet the future, today’s design decisions need to be viewed from the lens of their eventual environmental impact.
Currently working on the legacy planning of a major new development in Dubai, which will transform it into a self-sustaining, vibrant and innovative mixed-use district, Simon is acutely aware of the responsibilities faced by his profession. ‘Unquestioningly, the impact of climate change and how we address it is the key concern of the design industry,’ he says. ‘Architects and their clients have a central role in driving the changes necessary to transform the construction industry and deliver solutions.’