Taking a Lesson from Students
A LinkedIn Pulse entry about AUD’s Architecture Students
Taking a Lesson from Students
Phillip Jones
Principal / Managing Director MENA at B+H Architects
The Pulse - LinkedIn

Every architect I know loves to go back to design schools to see new ideas and reconnect with the inspirational energy students bring to their work. This passion was what made many of us fall in love with design as a profession.
Last week I was honored to act as a juror at the spring 2016 Senior Showcase where graduating students from the American University in Dubai’s School of Architecture, Art and Design displayed their thesis projects. Students devoted the past year to producing these projects as the culmination of five years of studies.
It took me a little over four hours to view all 52 of the students’ work. I arrived at the showcase at 5pm after my work and stayed until 9pm when the exhibition closed for the day, however the students had been their explaining their projects to jurors, their peers and members of the public since 9am that morning.
Despite their 12-hour day, I was overwhelmed by the energy, integrity and excitement each student presented their work with.
I want to thank every one of the AUD grads of 2016; you made me fall deeply in love all over again with our profession.
The most stunning thing about the projects was how they addressed significant and thought-provoking social issues while introducing compelling innovative concepts. To give you a taste, here are some of the structures students chose to create their concept around:
  • Rehabilitation center for abused children
  • Hospice for the terminally ill
  • Cancer research center
  • Art therapy center for trauma victims
  • An interpretive community center for human emotion
  • Retirement center to help people retiring find a new purpose for their next stage of life
  • A Centre of Arabic Poetry to rejuvenate the ancient art of public poetry within a souk-like setting
  • Centre for multi-faith understanding and contemplation
  • An interpretive center which allows visitors to understand the nature of the UAE and how it acts as a catalyst for the future of the Arab world
  • Centre for learning and research on dreams
  • Capital punishment center
What is incredible is the extent of depth of knowledge and research that each student undertook before they selected their project site and developed their final thesis design. In the course of our professional lives and commercial work, how many of us take the time to dive deep into research about what will enrich the lives of those who will occupy our designs long after we have drawn them?
Design matters and exists to improve the human condition.
There were three projects which stood out for me. The first was a residential project which was deliberately designed to make residents more active. This project struck me by the realization that we have all fallen into the trap of designing for ultimate convenience at the expense of considering that spatial arrangement can take alternative forms.
We can choose to design spaces to be less convenient in order to promote more activity and therefore make us healthier.  I, for one, would love to live in the 1,000 calorie residential unit to combat the hours of sedentary work I do at my desk writing this blog among other things.
The second standout project was so cutting edge I felt like a real dolt – I’m still not sure I fully understood how it was done. It was a central surveillance lab which involved the repair, maintenance and storage of encrypted data and would control the flight of drones which were envisioned to oversee the safety and security of the UAE.  With Orwellian overtones, the project invoked an uncomfortable feeling while simultaneously captivating me.  
What was most astounding however was the encryption work this young graduate had undertaken herself. Her entire 3D computer-generated model was encrypted into 2D code which could only revealed by an iPad decryption. Once decrypted, you could then view it on the iPad in real time from all angles as you walked around the 2D code. This is so new age! Architects now write code instead of sketching or drawing? Wow, perhaps I am ready for that retirement training center sooner rather than later!
Finally, the project which I found most heartwarming – and won first prize, was developed by a young architect who asked himself the following question: “What is it about the human interaction in the world’s great urban places which make them so amazing?” 
He studied the street performances of buskers and street artists and the spatial relation between pedestrian flow and the various degrees of personal space required for varying performances. He then applied this research into designing a sculptural performance bridge to link Old Deira with Bur Dubai. The flow of the form and thought that went into prescribing the final solution was sculptural art and architecture combined in perfect balance.
I want to thank every one of the AUD grads. You challenged me.
I want to thank every one of the AUD grads of 2016; you made me fall deeply in love all over again with our profession. You challenged me to research more, not accept the status quo and to rejuvenate my passion about forming spaces which are all about human scale and interaction.
Loving what you do will come through in the depth of research you undertake, the care with which you craft spaces and the overall energy you bring to each project. Together, all the elements confirm to me – and I hope to anyone else who may be wondering, that design matters and exists to improve the human condition.