Shar­jah’s ar­chi­tect ad­vi­sor re­flects on his ca­reer

Middle East Architect - - FRONT PAGE - Writ­ten by Rima Alsammarae Im­ages cour­tesy of Lester Apuntar & Peter Jack­son

Ar­chi­tect ad­vi­sor in His High­ness the Ruler’s Of­fice, Shar­jah, British ar­chi­tect Peter Jack­son first came to the UAE in Jan­uary 1972 for a fam­ily visit, as well as to gain work ex­pe­ri­ence. It was the mid­dle of Jack­son’s prac­ti­cal train­ing year, but he hadn’t fully com­mit­ted to a ca­reer in ar­chi­tec­ture and was seek­ing a new per­spec­tive.

Upon ar­riv­ing, he met Tony Lodge, res­i­dent part­ner of John R. Har­ris Ar­chi­tects, who was su­per­vis­ing the con­struc­tion of Rashid Hospi­tal, the first mod­ern hospi­tal in the UAE. Lodge, ac­cord­ing to Jack­son, was in need of some as­sis­tance with a num­ber of smaller projects.

Har­ris’ prac­tice is largely re­spon­si­ble for lay­ing the foun­da­tion of mod­ern Dubai with its first ur­ban plan in 1960, fol­lowed by an up­dated mas­ter­plan in 1971. It also de­signed the orig­i­nal Dubai World Trade Cen­tre, which, for many years, stood as the tallest build­ing in the Mid­dle East, and was re­cently listed for pro­tec­tion as a his­toric build­ing by Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

“Tony was out here on his own,” said Jack­son. “I re­mem­ber de­sign­ing a house in Shi­raz, a porch for the multi-de­nom­i­na­tional church in Dubai, and two branches for the Na­tional Bank of Dubai — all sorts of things that Tony didn’t have time for be­cause he was re­spon­si­ble for Rashid Hospi­tal. The night be­fore I left to go back to Eng­land, Tony in­tro­duced me to John Har­ris, who told me that when I grad­u­ated, I could have a job with him. So af­ter univer­sity, I went straight to work with him in Lon­don.

“Har­ris had an ex­cel­lent hospi­tal de­sign sec­tion. It was very con­tem­po­rary func­tion­al­ism, which went out of fash­ion by the 1980s, but at the time, I think they were re­ally try­ing to be sen­si­tive to lo­cal cul­ture, with­out be­ing pa­tro­n­is­ing. They were iden­ti­fy­ing rel­e­vant ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments and mo­tifs and in­ter­pret­ing these within very mod­ern build­ings. One build­ing I al­ways re­ally en­joyed was their Grind­lays Bank just out­side the old city wall of Mus­cat. It’s no longer a Grind­lays Bank, but it’s still stand­ing fairly in­tact. Their Na­tional Bank of Dubai head­quar­ters fac­ing the Dubai Creek was also very good.”

Af­ter a few years of work­ing be­tween Lon­don, Dubai and Mus­cat, Jack­son wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in an­other part of the world; one that did not “pos­sess the priv­i­lege of oil”, he said.

Soon af­ter a col­league in­tro­duced him to Ron Kirby of Mont­gomerie Old­field Kirby (MOK) in Lusaka, Zam­bia, Jack­son packed his bags and re­lo­cated. De­spite go­ing on a twoyear con­tract, with the in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing to the Gulf, Jack­son would go on to work in Africa for 27 years, ini­tially in Zam­bia, then set­tling in Zim­babwe, with projects in Mozam­bique and Botswana. Un­der Kirby, he learned im­por­tant

de­sign val­ues, he said, and ap­plied skills that have re­mained rel­e­vant for the rest of his ca­reer, such as how to de­liver qual­ity build­ings while work­ing with se­verely lim­ited bud­gets and a short­age of skills and ma­te­ri­als.

In Harare, Jack­son jointly es­tab­lished his own prac­tice, Ar­chi­tects Part­ner­ship, with much of his early work tend­ing to the needs of de­vel­op­ment in ru­ral ar­eas.

“We were very in­ter­ested in re­set­tle­ment work,” he said. “Af­ter in­de­pen­dence, Zim­babwe’s ru­ral ar­eas lacked ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture, and the pri­or­ity of the new gov­ern­ment was to re­dress the colo­nial im­bal­ance through the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and new dis­trict plan­ning, in­clud­ing hous­ing, mar­kets, bus shel­ters, pub­lic toi­lets and mar­kets.

“We cre­ated a spe­cial mod­u­lar sys­tem for com­po­nents to build lo­cal mar­kets. We of­fered a va­ri­ety of fa­cil­i­ties depend­ing on the pri­or­i­ties of each lo­cal au­thor­ity, and from these they could choose. From a sam­ple group of key dis­trict coun­cils, we were able to of­fer a sig­nif­i­cant va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent mar­ket cen­tres, tai­lored to lo­cal needs. I think there must have been more than 40 growth points that we worked on.”

Ar­chi­tects Part­ner­ship also de­liv­ered trades train­ing-type projects in Zim­babwe for ex-com­bat­ant men and women who had missed out on much of their sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing the war of lib­er­a­tion, and who now needed to learn ba­sic skills. These projects were usu­ally un­der­taken through fi­nance from in­ter­na­tional NGOs.

“Farm­ers were tra­di­tion­ally good at build­ing with­out ar­chi­tects,” Jack­son said. “They had their own ver­nac­u­lar, and

ar­chi­tects can learn from that. I al­ways had an in­ter­est in ar­chi­tec­ture with­out ar­chi­tects, which is why I was fas­ci­nated by the wind­tower houses in the UAE.”

Through­out his ca­reer, Jack­son has writ­ten a num­ber of books that con­trib­ute to the on­go­ing un­der­stand­ing of ver­nac­u­lar and his­toric build­ings. His first pub­li­ca­tion, with Dr Anne Coles, was on the wind­tower houses in Dubai’s old area, Al Bastikiya. A study us­ing the home of the Bukhash fam­ily as an ex­am­ple, the 1975 pub­li­ca­tion was the first doc­u­men­ta­tion of a fad­ing build­ing tra­di­tion in the UAE. In 2007, this would be con­sid­er­ably ex­panded into an im­por­tant book, ‘Wind­tower’.

Later, in 1986, he wrote ‘His­toric Build­ings of Harare’, which ex­plained their ar­chi­tec­tural im­por­tance in the iden­tity of the post-colo­nial city, and of­fered plan­ning strate­gies to make their sur­vival eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

Af­ter po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tur­moil took its toll on Zim­babwe, Jack­son re­turned to the UAE. The coun­try had changed — it was the early 2000s, and af­ter 30 years, many ex­pa­tri­ate ar­chi­tec­ture firms had found a foot­ing and were now lo­cally based. Jack­son found him­self miss­ing the com­mu­nity fo­cus of much of his work in Africa, but af­ter be­ing in­vited to join Brian John­son at God­win Austen John­son (GAJ), his pro­fes­sional en­thu­si­asm rekin­dled.

While work­ing with GAJ on the con­ver­sion of his­toric build­ings in Al Mu­rai­jah for the new Her­itage Mu­seum, Jack-

son dis­cov­ered plans for Shar­jah’s cor­niche to be ex­panded into a ma­jor through-high­way, which would have iso­lated the his­toric core of the city from the creek. He cre­ated a pre­sen­ta­tion of al­ter­na­tive plan­ning strate­gies for Shar­jah Mu­se­ums Depart­ment, which was then taken to a higher level.

“I’ve had a very rich ar­chi­tec­tural ca­reer in terms of place, clients, projects and ex­pe­ri­ence. I’ve worked with some very tal­ented ar­chi­tects, and I wanted to con­tinue that un­til one day, I might re­tire. It was re­ally spe­cial to be of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to work with Shar­jah Gov­ern­ment,” he said.

“Through Shar­jah Mu­se­ums, I was of­fered a job as an ad­vi­sor. My ini­tial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were pri­mar­ily to look af­ter mu­se­ums and her­itage. Over the years, though, they’ve broad­ened and shifted and have been dif­fer­ent at var­i­ous times. I was very in­volved with es­tab­lish­ing a His­toric Build­ings Unit, with spe­cial­ist ar­chi­tects and con­ser­va­tion­ists. At the present time though, my work is pre­dom­i­nately en­vi­ron­men­tal, al­though I still work with the mu­se­ums and ar­chae­ol­ogy.”

As ar­chi­tect ad­vi­sor, Jack­son is tasked with un­der­tak­ing some of the projects that His High­ness Dr Sheikh Sul­tan bin Muham­mad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Shar­jah, wants de­vel­oped. He ef­fec­tively works as both a de­sign and project man­ager, de­vel­op­ing briefs and find­ing and as­sign­ing ap­pro­pri­ate con­sul­tants. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he also de­signs projects.

Two projects he’s re­cently been re­spon­si­ble for in­clude the Shar­jah Is­lamic Botanic Gar­den and Al He­faiyah Moun­tain Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter. He is cur­rently over­see­ing an­other project near the Kalba man­groves, the Shar­jah Sa­fari Park, which cov­ers 17km2 in the cen­tral re­gion and fo­cuses on African wildlife con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity.

Since re­turn­ing, Jack­son has marked his pres­ence in the UAE through his role in the es­tab­lish­ment of both the RIBA Gulf Chap­ter and the English Chap­ter of the UAE Ar­chi­tec­tural Her­itage So­ci­ety, which was founded by Emi­rati ar­chi­tect Rashad Bukhash, who, as a teenager, as­sisted Jack­son with his 1974 wind­tower sur­vey.

While trans­port, roads and pedes­trian mo­bil­ity are Jack­son’s tril­ogy of chal­lenges fac­ing the UAE’s ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, he is es­pe­cially con­cerned with the na­tional phe­nom­e­non of low-den­sity ur­ban ex­pan­sion into the desert.

“Shar­jah has ex­tremely beau­ti­ful and var­ied desert land­scapes,” he said, “which are rapidly be­ing eaten up by ur­ban de­vel­op­ment.

“The dunes are be­ing flat­tened and grid­ded with roads and ser­vices for very low den­sity sub­urbs. There won’t be any desert left in 30 years if we con­tinue at this rate. The nat­u­ral desert of­fers a ma­jor fu­ture re­source for ur­ban dwellers, for their well­be­ing, for re­cre­ation, as well as for tourism. We need to con­sider how to bet­ter utilise and den­sify our ex­ist­ing cities and new sub­urbs, and to care­fully con­serve our shrink­ing wilder­ness ar­eas.”

Al He­faiyah Moun­tain Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre, in Shar­jah

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