By Muneerah Alrabe
An awe-inspiring collection of colossal rock formations, climbing rock formed bridges at sunset, and a bumpy four-hour 4-wheeler ride was the start of our excursions into the vast desert landscape of Wadi Rum. Our eventful day was followed by a mesmerizing fairy-tale walk along a candle lit pathway below the starlit Jordanian sky that led us into the passage of Petra. Finally, as the day was winding down, we gathered for a hearty Bedouin feast in the beautiful campground of The Rock – Petra Camp. This was only the start of the Architectural Association’s Visiting School (AAVS) 10 day workshop in Jordan titled Desert Ecologies.
The title, Desert Ecologies, was initially the main reason I was attracted to such a program. I stumbled upon a flyer while browsing through my Instagram feed, and out of curiosity sought out to investigate more information about it on the AA website. I found a whole section dedicated to AA Visiting Schools both worldwide and in the Middle East, and found that the AAVS Jordan program suited me best. Having recently graduated from college and moved back to Kuwait, September was approaching and I began to fall back into school mode, eager for the start of a semester that didn’t really exist anymore. The AAVS Jordan workshop was located so close to home, and it included explorations of Wadi Rum, Petra and Amman; an architectural design experience that fit perfectly into my schedule.
Reading the AAVS Jordan brief, I got excited once again – it was that feeling you get on the first day of school and you find out what class you are in. The agenda of the program was to intervene within the Jordanian Desert with the aid of computer generated modeling techniques and computational analysis software, a brief description that nonetheless grabbed my attention. I imagined all the different projects we might be working on, and how exciting it would be to intervene in an environment that you’ve lived in your entire life. I had no expectations of who else would be participating, except the fact that it would mostly be Jordanian students due to the location.
However, the reality of this experience was far more rewarding. After an extensive ten-day workshop in Amman, I’ve learned that in just ten days it’s possible to assemble a comprehensive conceptual proposal for an urban settlement within the Jordanian Desert. Having gotten so immersed in the ambience and excitement of what we were learning, naturally, I wished the experience could have lasted longer. Regardless, it is a start of something great. Ten days was enough time for a proposal, a general design concept, and a final model.
Those ten days were packed with comprehensive work sessions filled with quick how-to tutorials to help you understand the basic concept of how certain programs work. At an introductory level, we covered the basics to allow us to start a path in the parametric design field (generative modeling). Ten days will also teach you that it’s never about the computer program learned; it is about starting to imagine all the opportunities that the program can allow you to compute. Most importantly, to understand how they can be applied to help improve or develop your design. This was only made possible with the help of the tutors and a great team. My unit was lead by the founding directors, Ursula Frick and Thomas Grabner who came to tutor at AAVS Jordan from Austria. Not only were the tutors incredibly talented with their programs, they’ve written some of the most used software amongst architects today. They were a pleasure to work with and always packed their presentations with good energy to ensure we were learning everything we could within the given time. We called them the ‘magicians’. You’ll also learn that 10 days can quickly transform a group of strangers into one big family. Spending hours working with a diverse group of participants from all around the world helped build a strong bond between us. The participants of the Visiting School were a diverse group of people from Europe and the Middle East, ranging from sophomore college students to practicing professional architects and designers.
Participating in the AAVS Jordan workshop gave me the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Amman and the wonderful sites of Petra and Wadi Rum. It allowed for us, the participants from within the region, to start to engage in an architectural and urban discourse amongst ourselves and within the context. The workshop was a great opportunity for me to learn new skills and to work with an amazing group of people.
Riyad Joucka, an AA graduate and Architect who has taught at Visiting Schools across Europe and Asia and is now based in Hong Kong, directed AAVS Jordan. For more on AAVS Jordan, check them out on: Instagram @AAVSJordan, Facebook.com/AAVisitingSchoolJordan, and Tumblr www.aavsjordan.Tumblr.com