Almedina Youth House Competition: Learn more about the project site
The founder and managing director of Dewan Architects + Engineers, Mohamed Al Assam, provides more insight into this year’s Dewan Award.
The Dewan Award for Architecture, established in 2018 as part of Tamayouz Excellence Award’s programme of championing and celebrating the best of architecture, is an international award that focuses on proposing designs that respond to local challenges in Iraq. Named after and funded by Dewan Architects + Engineers, one of the leading architecture firms in the world, the award announces an annual theme for each cycle, and calls on participants to submit architectural ideas that respond to the theme.
For 2020, the theme of the Dewan Award for Architecture is ‘Youth House Complex in Sadr City’, a district of Baghdad. The competition asks participants to design a multi-activity youth complex and public plaza, creating a youthful cultural strip and a public platform that can host various cultural and social events.
Here, we speak with Mohamed Al Assam, the managing director of Dewan Award about this year’s theme, and why a youth house complex is important for Sadr City.
Why did you choose to locate the competition in Sadr City this year? Sadr City, also known as Al Thawra City, Almedina, or ‘the city’, suffers from major urban problems, such as high population density, inadequate services, and poor health and living conditions.
The objective of the original planning was to accommodate housing for low-income, displaced migrant families who moved here in big waves from rural areas, searching for better living conditions. Therefore, the original scheme did not take into consideration social structure, the spirit of the place or the potential for enormous growth in a relatively very short period of time. The planning approach featured repetitive housing and neighbourhood designs that were meant to quickly absorb the mass migrations, and what resulted were poorly kept areas, consisting of narrow and closed roads that connect to very modest public facilities.
Why is it important to design a youth house for the area? A youth house and an adjacent public plaza will welcome visitors and will serve as a platform to exchange ideas and aspirations, with the opportunity to unleash their creative ideas without restrictions.
60 percent of Iraq’s (including Almedina’s) population is aged between 15 and 35 years, while those between 15 and 24 years make up 20 percent of the country’s population. These individuals grew up during the period that followed the fall of Baghdad and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and make up a generation exhausted by chaos, war and the collapse of social structure, while also being confronted with the ways of life elsewhere via the Internet and social media. Almedina’s youth and their peers elsewhere in Iraq deserve much better than the status quo – especially when considering the country’s resources and the potential of its youth.
Part of this generation’s desires and demands can be achieved through contact and communication with others in an environment that fosters dialogue and creative activities. For this reason, the idea of a youth house and public plaza emerged. It is intended to be a creative incubator, where young Iraqis can maintain contact with one another, as well as with available resources, and nurture their creative energies.
Why incorporate a public plaza? How does the plaza change the project? The plaza is a public, free urban space that can be used by all people of Almedina, while considering its relation to the vibrant street market and other public buildings and spaces in the area. The integration of the plaza and the youth house with each other and their surrounding context will inspire a transformation of the urban scene of Almedina, and encourage new forms of human and public interactions. These new forms of public interactions will solidify the sense of social belonging to the place, creating a vibrant, safe and pleasant urban environment.
What are important elements the youth house should consider? The design of the youth house should consider a dialogue that encourages the users with multi-activity spaces, creating a youthful cultural strip and a public platform that can host various cultural and social events.
The project should encourage casual and improvised public and cultural events, as well as organised and planned gatherings within a safe and welcoming environment.
What are important things to know about the project site? The competition site is edged by a popular market called Souq Mredy, which is located in the centre of Almedina. The market extends about 1,500 meters along the 60 meters wide main road and is constantly expanding. The market is incredibly popular, and it sells various products including rare and, sometimes, prohibited goods.
The pop-up shops and stalls that fill the Mredy market have long been a major impediment to traffic in this central nerve of Almedina, and these shops have proliferated significantly since 2005, causing a complete blockage of the main street, which we suggest to turn into a pedestrian public space by diverting part of the motor traffic near our site to underground.
The competition site forms parts of sectors 34 and 43 of Almedina. The part in sector 34 is currently occupied with public buildings, including a post office, while the other part of the competition site that is in sector 43 is currently occupied with residential units, as well as shops, workshops, a mosque and a local health centre.
How would the youth house impact or change the urban environment of Sadr City? With the vision of designing an aesthetic, technically superior, urban, environmental and sustainable project, our ambition is to resonate with and influence future developments in Almedina.
The public plaza will be fully integrated with the youth house, making both spaces (the plaza and the grounds of youth house) complementary towards each other, particularly during festivals and public events, and designed to accommodate large public functions. Together, both will become an iconic landmark in Almedina, not by shape and form alone, but by function first and foremost.