From town to theatre

An ar­chi­tect who is known for his work in the Ara­bian Gulf, has won an award in the West. Muham­mad Yusuf has the de­tails

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - CONTENTS | FOCUS -

At the in­au­gu­ral Dezeen Awards an­nounced at a cer­e­mony in the Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don, re­cently, Matthew Maz­zotta was the re­cip­i­ent of the over­all Ar­chi­tec­ture Pro­ject of the Year prize for The Store front The­ater in Ne­braska, USA. Maz­zotta, a found­ing mem­ber of Cult u run­ners which has a con­nec­tion with the Mid­dle East, won with an unas­sum­ing pro­ject which brought com­mu­nity life back to an aban­doned Main Street in a ru­ral town in Ne­braska.

Cul­tu­run­ners is an in­de­pen­dent body which mo­bilises in­ter­na­tional artists to tell sto­ries and cre­ate art across phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal bor­ders; their first ma­jor pro­ject was a multi-year artists’ road-trip be­tween the United States and the Mid­dle East.

“This poetic and pow­er­ful pro­ject has gen­er­ated the most in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion and has got us the most ex­cited,” said the Dezeen Awards ar­chi­tec­ture master jury. “Ar­chi­tec­ture is for the com­mu­nity and this is the pro­ject that serves the com­mu­nity the most”.

The Store­front The­ater pro­vides the town of Lyons, Ne­braska, with a unique open-air event space, which can be hid­den away and dis­guised as part of the streetscape when not in use.

Since the venue was in­stalled, it has hosted events in­clud­ing movie screen­ings, video-game nights and mu­sic con­certs, all pro­grammed by the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Maz­zotta, an artist who trav­els around the world to work with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, was in­vited to Ne­braska by the De­part­ment of Ru­ral Af­fairs to work on a site-speciic art­work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the lo­cals. The re­sult was the 100-seat theatre, which lips down from a mod­est aban­doned free­stand­ing store­front in the small town.

Hy­draulic cylin­ders on ei­ther side push down the awning and

false frontage over the side­walk, re­veal­ing stepped seats. A screen can be wheeled in front by a trac­tor, then driven away again when nec­es­sary.

“Dur­ing the process of mak­ing the theatre, many com­mu­nity mem­bers re­vealed fond mem­o­ries of a on­cethriv­ing down­town and ex­pressed a strong de­sire to see down­town be­come the cen­tre of com­mu­nity life once again”, Maz­zotta said. Lo­cals do­nated money and vol­un­teered their time to help to con­struct the theatre.

The aim of pro­ject, at the in­ter­sec­tion of com­mu­nity and sus­tain­abil­ity in the built en­vi­ron­ment, is to help bring life back to down­town Lyons. With a pop­u­la­tion of 851, and like many other small towns in the US, its main street has suf­fered de­cline in re­cent years.

“What hap­pened in Lyons, Ne­braska, has hap­pened to com­mu­ni­ties through­out the world ”, Maz­zotta said, “Small Town Main Street has suf­fered as goods, ser­vices, en­ter­tain­ment — and the jobs that go with them — move away.

“Build­ings that once housed bowl­ing al­leys, bar­ber shops, the at res and restau­rants, also can no longer com­pete and have closed their doors. As a re­sult, the so­cial bonds and every­day ex­pe­ri­ences that these spa­ces once pro­vided have vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared”.

The Deze en judges con­cluded that “the Store front The­ater ad­dresses the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties of the chang­ing small town high street in a joy­ful, witty and com­mu­nal way. Whilst in it­self it’ s a small ar­chi­tec­ture ges­ture, it changes the char­ac­ter of the whole high street in a mean­ing­ful way. It proves that even a sim­ple fa­cade can be as im­pact­ful as a big and ex­pen­sive ar­chi­tec­tural ges­ture ”.

Maz­zotta has close links with the Mid­dle East, es­pe­cially to the Ara­bian Gulf re­gion. He worked on a com­mu­nity-speciic art pro­ject in the his­toric Al-Balad dis­trict of Jeddah that in­ves­ti­gated the im­pact of glob­al­i­sa­tion on it, pre­vi­ously the com­mer­cial hub of Jeddah.

Us­ing a mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proach, which in­cluded col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal res­i­dents, work­shops with stu­dents, lo­cal gov­ern­ment and lo­cal crafts peo­ple, Maz­zotta took the build­ings and al­ley­ways of the old city as the site for an art­work.

He led lo­cal stu­dents to al­low each of them to de­velop their own so­cially en­gaged pub­lic art pro­posal. Of his pro­ject, Maz­zotta said: “I am an artist that works with com­mu­ni­ties around the world. I am al­ways com­ing in as an out­sider, so I start by mak­ing spa­ces for lis­ten­ing – in this case in the com­mu­nity who live in the old town of Jeddah.

“The ba­sic premise be­hind this type of work is that the so­lu­tion is al­ready there; the artist just helps il­lu­mi­nates that path. I am most in­ter­ested in work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties that don’t have the re­sources to de­velop an art pro­ject that speaks about their sit­u­a­tion”.

The pro­ject was part of an ini­tia­tive by the King Ab­du­laziz Cen­ter for World Cul­ture, which seeks to fa­cil­i­tate authen­tic cul­tural ex­change be­tween the United States and Saudi Ara­bia through im­mer­sive and col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­jects. It was pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cul­tu­run­ners.

Dezeen is an on­line ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­ri­ors and de­sign and mag­a­zine based in Lon­don. Dezeen Awards, hosted by Dezeen, are de­signed to iden­tify the world’ s best ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­ri­ors and de­sign, as well as the stu­dios and in­di­vid­ual ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers pro­duc­ing the most out­stand­ing work.

The Dezeen Award Ar­chi­tec­ture master jury in­cluded Mex­i­can ar­chi­tect Michel Ro­jkind, As­sem­ble co-founder Paloma Stre­litz, De­sign Haus Lib­erty founder Dara Huang and ar­chi­tect Jur­gen Her­mann Mayer.

The Store­front The­ater.

Matthew Maz­zotta

Dezeen Awards 2018 win­ners in Lon­don cer­e­mony.

A glimpse of the Al-Balad pro­ject.

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