architecture, economics, urban

Reading Architecture

I had great honor and enjoyment of taking part in @bitesofarchitcture reading of “Cultural Conservation and Urban Appropriation” by Architect Mona El Mousfi. The subject of their discussion was Sharjah Art Foundation new spaces in the Heritage Area. Look forward to the new meet ups.

architecture, 照明, design, effects, friends, interview, lighting

Calling of Light

Michel Zayat

We met with Michel Zayat, a prominent architect and artist, in a cosy art nouveau interior of Cafe Belge in DIFC to talk about architecture and light. Michel lives and works in Dubai, UAE, has an exciting history in his home Damascus, Syria. There together with his wife and a friend of his life, Salma, they run a famous designer store Yabe and Yamo. He taught arts and architecture at Damascus University, worked in Rome, Italy. Geography of Zayat’s projects is as vast as the Middle East: from UAE to Jordan, and to Saudi Arabia, and spread onto Algeria, North Africa. Michel’s father, Elias Zayat, is one of the most famous Syrian artists, and our conversation veers to paintings.

Nikita Che: “Is there a parallel between a light on a canvas, and in the panes of a building?”

Michel Zayat: “A painting emits light. Masterfully schemed onto the canvas, it pours out and captures the observer. He is caught! He is inside the plot. Remember Caravaggio ‘Calling of St. Matthew?’ No visible source of light, yet it penetrates the room and spills beyond the canvas. A candle, a shade on a protagonist’s face, a window, all play their role in shining the light from the painting.

Calling of St. Mathew, Caravaggio

Calling of St. Mathew, Caravaggio

“These elaborate techniques may as well be used in 3D spaces. Habitually we are all about lighting fixtures when we talk about light in architecture. Though arsenal of an architect is as wide as an artist’s. Colour, daylight, geometry and orientation of the room, shadows, you name it! How to get maximum light in a classroom, and decrease heat and glare? Locate it in the North of a building. “It is a pity that many architects and their clients have lost the sense of a daylight. We forgot how to make use of it, and all we do is fighting it.”

NC: “Any good examples?”

MZ: “Index Tower in Dubai is probably one of the few.”

NC: “What makes good artificial light?”

MZ: “Imagine a castle. Its dungeon would be lit with torches fixed on the walls of a passage. Scars dimmed light, barely enough for a poor prisoner to find his surroundings. Now fly up high to the tower where a beautiful princess reads romances, an elaborate chandelier with hundreds of candles lights her pages. Light follows the function of a room, and often creates this very function. Few of us now live in castles, but can easily turn their living room in a disco. A good architect, conscious about lighting matters would always give a client an option to select between layers of light.”

NC: “What is the role of a luminaire in this?”

MZ: “The choice is always dictated by client’s experience, his background, knowledge, vision. Unfortunately often it becomes shopping for clothes, and individual taste comes on the foreground. Like one is choosing a shirt.”

NC: “Can a lighting designer help?”

MZ: “I have never properly worked with a lighting designer. The nature of your projects defines the necessity to employ a designer. A hospital needs lighting designer, a school, a museum does. Hotel lobbies, restaurants are spaces where architects intuition sets the light. Occasionally lighting suppliers come into the picture and offer their scheme. I would not call it a good thing at all. A supplier would bring commercial note into the selection.”

NC: “Have you designed your own luminaires?”

MZ: “I have! Creating a lighting fixture is a sculpture for me. Light then becomes a material, like steel, marble, mother pearl. One object is especially dear for me — Corn. It is from my childhood, when street merchants used to sell corn from an immense wide halleh dara, a shallow pot. Made of thick copper, and sanded and fumed from inside to rid off toxic corrosion, the pot was always heated by fire and kept the water hot. It took one large ball of copper and a patient craftsman with a hammer to make such a flat large object.

Zayat's Corn at Yabe and Yamo, Damascus

Zayat’s Corn at Yabe and Yamo, Damascus

“My Corns were not that thick and we painted them pink, white and black from inside. The idea was to bring light in memories. One day you will see them in Dubai.”

NC: “Which materials do you use?”

MZ: “My favorite trinity: wood, metal and plastic. Plastic is a modern boisterous antagonist of the former two. They have been around for centuries, and then came plastic and disrupted.”

NC: “What is the light source you used in your luminaires?”

MZ: “I love that simple bulb in the middle of the a fixture. It becomes a focal point. That bulb and a socket base, a machine that transforms the power of electricity into light. The bulb is a simple and genius invention.”

“A candle lights a room, a bulb lights a room, everything extra is non essential. Nothing could replace an incandescent lamp, and it is such a shame it is banned now. I ask myself: a generation that would grow without the bulb, which symbol would they use when a bright idea strikes them!?” (laughs)

architecture, 照明, design, energy, lighting

Architecture inside out

Centro de innovacion by Elemental

SANTIAGO, CHILE. Alejandro Aravena and his collaborators from Chilean architectural bureau Elemental reduced normal energy consumption of the building three times. Here is how. They had turned it inside out. When conventional structure would have its core inside, Elemental architects thought they should replace glazing with concrete walls, but have glazing directed inwards.

Natural light would still be pouring inside the building through a massive skylight and large openings in the outer core. This reverse solution helped to reduce the energy to fight the heat, but the glaring daylight also yielded.

This innovative idea serves well to the purpose of the building, an Innovation Centre of San Joaquín Cam­pus, Uni­ver­si­dad Católi­ca de Chile. There is always a tad bit of secrecy over any innovation. At first. Then it opens to all. Aravena’s Centre is the same: it opens to those who enter — transparent glazing and partitions facing sun lit atrium.


“We multiplied the meeting spaces throughout the whole height of the building using the triple height recessed windows as elevated squares,” say architects. Vertical circulation serves the spread of knowledge too. Think how much you could know moving up and down and seeing what is going on!

The fact that stuns us is that the Centre uses only 45kW per square meter per year. A normal glass shell — 120kW/m2/year! This  innovation definetely worth spreading to the Middle East.

Sources: image courtesy (exterior), (interior); text references

architecture, places, toronto, urban

ROM for Royal Ontario Museum


TORONTO, CANADA. ROM aka Lee-Chin Crystal designed by Daniel Libeskind in collaboration with the Toronto-based bureau Bregman + Hamann does not look like anything connected to natural history and world cultures! Well, the jagged geometry is kinda reminiscent of a gem stone as it is said to have been inspired of… but in its very deconstructive way.

Looks like the new structure of the museum has erupted from the ground and torn the bricked old building of the museum hosting the expositions before – and the interior continues to play with the contrasts and conflicts between the old and the new.

Inside, because of the complex geometry, there appeared quite a number of voids serving different purposes and further exploring the Old VS New topic: an atrium, a hall for ruminating and the most unique light well that we have ever seen!
With 25% of the aluminium-clad surface being glazed, there are floods of natural light in the exhibition halls. Slit-like windows, a signature Libeskind stylistics, are reiterated in the slits and rows of luminaires. Alice in the Land of Illusions, that’s how you catch yourself feeling from time to time yet you are not lost at all. Architectural magic? The lighting definitely navigates you throughout this delusive space. Paradoxically enough, lighting with its non-tangible nature is something you can hold on to here, in the surreal Royal Ontario Museum.
Originally Posted on by Vasilina Valo Aug 6 2010
architecture, dubai, lighting, places, urban

Can You Hear It Ticking?

Rolex1 Rolex2

DUBAI, UAE. Rolex tower undoubtedly stands out of the fence of tall buildings populated Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road. Not only its ruled geometry but effect on a daylight and moonlit landscape that impress.
Pass it at noon, and the zenith Sun twinkles you across the sequence of opaque and transparent glass panels. Stop by after sunset and hundreds of sparkles flow down a colossal coal.

Brilliantly engineered and performed, LED strips hidden in the panels of glass flash controlled by DMX protocol, as if connected to a meticulous watch mechanism. And it is the noise of the Sheikh Zayed, otherwise you would hear it ticking.
Originally posted on Aug 15 2010
architecture, places, saintpetersburg, urban

Light Well — Well?

Railway service center 1


Where else if not in the city famous for its White Nights (oh those nights… OK, this is another story 🙂 could we encounter the light well as it is and in such an abundance (we are in Russia, remember?). Solid concrete roof/ceiling with lots of wells dispersing light + big front edge window walls + big 🙂 screens displaying destinations and time table – they all constitute the lighting setting for the huge hall (see, Russian’s synonymic to “huge” and “big”).

Daylight helps in cutting down the energy consumtion and this is amazing ’cause in the 70’s (the time the building’s construction refers to) the energy cost was low in the Soviet Union… Thinking future – the architects of the past were good at it!

Railway service center 2

Originally posted by Vasilina Valo on Aug 6, 2009

architecture, paris, places, urban

Why the Trendiest Places Labelled Japanese? (Palais de Tokyo, Paris)

Palais de Tokyo 2

PALAIS DE TOKYO, Paris, France. One of the most hip places in Paris – if you ask me – is undeniably Palais de Tokyo. The Art Deco building of the Musée d’Art Moderne was derelict for more than a decade and reemerged in 2002 as a trendy stripped-down space for contemporary arts. The museum hosts no permanent collection, instead, dynamic temporary exhibits spread over a large, open space that’s reminiscent of a construction site, with a trailer for a ticket booth.

Palais de Tokyo 5

The new futuristic interior in the style of the seventies was designed by French architects Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal who selected rough and ready style (concrete floor, wall and roof). The unique layout and decoration of this large industrial-like yet chic space was the work of a combination of different artists that included Stéphane Maupain who designed the architecture along with the lighting in the shape of hanging UFO style lamps, Marcus Kreiss who designed the unusual seating with inscriptions – allowing to choose the one that suits your mood the best. For example, nervous breakdown or sex addict… and Yvan Fayard who designed the tables (the restaurant Tokyo Eat).

Palais de Tokyo 3

Palais de Tokyo also roofs the restaurant Tokyo Eat, the Library – one of the best bookshops concerning modern art in Paris (somehow reminding a warehouse), and the museum store BlackBlock.

Palais de Tokyo 4

The use of the daylight and decorative lighting is quite impressive and versatile…

Palais de Tokyo 6

PS: not sure it’s ethical but… I peeked in the toilet for monseniours also 🙂

Originally posted by Vasilina Valo on May 31 2009