By Mehvish Razvi
“One man's trash is another man's treasure.” Using this as the basis of their project, a group of students at American University of Sharjah (AUS) used reclaimed materials from a landfill to create works of art. The idea was for the students to create a "practically free" project by combining sweat equity and reclaimed materials and accomplishing all aspects of the delivery themselves.
The project, which was part of the “design/build” studio course that interior design students took this Spring semester, was in part, to showcase the many opportunities available in recycling waste materials and turning them into mini masterpieces.
Using reclaimed materials from the Bee’ah landfill in Sharjah, the 14 interior design students worked creatively to design the Reclaimed Wall, which can now be seen next to the Dean’s Office in the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD).
Design/build is a growing educational approach to teach design where students are presented with real-life experience in dealing with clients, budgets, schedules, collaboration, planning, material use and actual fabrication.
According to the students involved in the project, their approach navigated the blurred horizon between what they expected and what they thought was possible. The resulting design was a wall made of reclaimed wood from Bee'ah landfills constructed next to the dean's office, a space tailored for reflection and inspiration.
"As graduating seniors, the design/build class helped us move beyond modeling software into a real world experience where we faced the real challenges of building; including issues such as satisfying client needs, scheduling and handling budget. Our clients were absolutely pleased with the outcome, and we now feel prepared to begin our careers," said Reem Helal, a member of the team.
"Design/build removes the abstraction of the traditional fictitious design project; it allows students to test their ideas in real time and it empowers them with the confidence and knowledge of seeing a project through from beginning to end," said Daniel Chavez, laboratory instructor at CAAD. "While CAAD has had many successful design/build studios for the architecture program, this is the first design/build studio implemented for interior design. This culminates the four-year program by giving senior students an opportunity to see their ideas realized," he added.
As the instructor of the studio, Chavez provided conceptual and logistical direction to the course using his experience as an architect and fabricator. The studio was initially imagined as a young design firm that received its first project. The students conducted interviews with the clients, in this case the administrators at CAAD, from the Dean to the administration personnel.
In addition to the wall, two students, Hanin Abbas Hazeem and Arghavan Mashaallah Hatamabadi, who were part of the class, created fantastic portraits of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, as well as His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassimi, Supreme Council Member, Ruler of Sharjah and President of AUS. The portraits are also displayed in the hallway across from the office of CAAD dean.
“We had a lot of fun creating these portraits. We had no idea what we were getting into and what the result would be; it was all experimental. So we took the photos of their Highnesses, pixelated them and used them as models or blueprints. It was hard work but when we saw the results, we were extremely happy,” said Hazeem.
"There were many great moments working on the wall and the Sheikhs’ portraits,” said Chavez. “One was watching my student Arghavan as she finished His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan’s portrait. She had been working hard applying the small pieces of wood according to the layout that she and Hanin had figured out. Up close, the image in the portrait is not visible; you have to stand a few meters away to see it.
Arghavan had not yet seen her work from afar and when I showed up at the shop, she exclaimed, ‘I'm finished!’ and held it up so that I could see. All I could say was ‘Wow!’ With great anticipation she pleaded ‘Can I see, can I see?’ We traded places, I held the portrait and she walked a few meters. She then turned around and almost fell to the ground with a sigh of relief and amazement at the result. "’I can't believe it, it’s beautiful!’ she cried,” concluded Chavez.
“It was an exciting challenge and a privilege having to produce the Sheikhs’ portraits. Each portrait consisted of more than 2,000 wood pieces that were meticulously placed to form the portrait,” said Hatamabadi.
The design/build studio is a required course in the AUS Bachelor of Interior Design degree program.
The College of Architecture, Art and Design at American University of Sharjah offers undergraduate programs in architecture, interior design, visual communication, multimedia design and design management as well as a graduate program in urban planning. You can learn more about these programs here.