An architecture exhibition in Germany shows works by Rasem Badran, one of the most influential architects in the Arab world. Youssef Hijazi introduces the artist
"Nomen est Omen" goes the saying, and this is certainly true in the case of Rasem Badran (Rasem = the painter) who was practically born with a pencil and paintbrush in hand.
His father was the famous Palestinian calligrapher and graphic artist Jamal Badran (1909-1999), who restored the calligraphy and wall and ceiling paintings in Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock during the period from 1929 to 1969.
His son Rasem worked with him in his Jerusalem studio and later in Ramallah. The young Badran won his first award for painting when he was just twelve years old, in India.
After an airplane sparked his interest, he first wanted to become an aerospace engineer. While in Germany, however, the talented draftsman decided to study architecture instead, and received his degree in the early 1970s from the Technical University of Darmstadt.
He first worked in Germany (where he conceived the "Elementa 1972" housing system in Bonn), before returning to Ramallah the same year and just one year later moving to Amman and founding his architectural office "Dar Al-Omran" ["Das Bauhaus"]. Today, Badran is without doubt one of the most influential architects in the Arab world.
Badran himself conceived the exhibition for the ifa galleries in Berlin and Stuttgart and even designed the moveable dividing walls – models for which are also on display. The projects showcased represent a selection from Badran's life's work, forming a kind of retrospective of the career of this multitalented artist.
His artistic trajectory began with painting. At first his fellow humans were his main motif, later nature, and finally machines. The show exhibits his renderings of body parts – hands and faces – from his early years, then trees and landscapes as well as fantasy aircraft, and finally architectural and urban development projects that have been realized through the years. The items on view include beautiful sketches and watercolors, as well as models and photographs.
Building in Context
At the World Architecture Congress in Berlin in 2002, one of Badran's colleagues, who was competing to build the new Egyptian Museum in Egypt, asked Badran his opinion of his design.
Badran looked over the plans and advised his fellow architect to think of how history, the landscape and the sand had shaped the location; the architect should try to embed the building in this existing topography…
This remark might be taken to describe Badran's basic credo for planning and building. For this insightful and sensitive architect, embedding a building in its surroundings means to integrate the new into the given topography or urban structure, as well as into the historic and social structures.
One could call this approach "building in context." Badran sees the house as a node in the network of a city district, and the district likewise as a node in the mesh of the overall city.
Badran's designs are based on a triangle whose sides stand for Past – Present – Future. He studies the history of a place and imagines what future developments will be like in order to arrive at the right solution for the present. The social, cultural and ecological aspects of the location also flow into his work.
This approach is applied to both single-family homes (Villa Handal, Amman) and housing developments (Fuhais Housing, Jordan). At the same time, the poetry of his birthplace seems to permeate all of his work.
Cubes are a recurring form, piled on top of each other, staggered and nested. This strategy lends even massive buildings a certain modesty and helps them to better blend into their surroundings (State Mosque, Baghdad).
Linking the Traditional and the Modern
Badran incorporates connections between houses and the rooms within by means of carefully planned openings and lines of sight. Plateaus, stairways and the flow of the street create public and semi-public spaces and invite residents to linger.
The artist uses the movement of air and the course of the sun through the sky to their best advantage to create a healthy living environment (Wadi Bou Jmil Houses, Beirut).
Badran combines the traditional and modern with an ease that marks him as an authentic artist and outstanding contemporary Arab architect, with a gift for filling the places he designs with life and adding a new chapter to their history.
© Qantara.de 2005
Translation from German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida
Rasem Badran, born in 1945 in Jerusalem, studied architecture in Darmstadt in the 1960s, and lives and works today in Amman, Jordan. His buildings can be found in countries across the Arab world, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria and Lebanon. He has been recognized with many honors, including the "Aga Khan Award for Architecture."