Interview with Christopher Lee on The Jameel Arts Centre by Serie-Architects

The Jameel Arts Centre by Serie-Architects is set to open in next month in Dubai, UAE. The 10,000 square meter complex is a multidisciplinary space dedicated to the display, promotion and creation of art from across the Middle East and beyond, featuring curated exhibitions that draw on the Jameel Art Collection, as well as regional and international solo and group shows.


Located at the tip of Dubai’s Culture Village overlooking the Dubai Creek, the center will feature over 1,000 square meters of dedicated gallery space, a 300 square meter open-access research center, flexible event spaces, a rooftop terrace for film screenings and events, a café, a restaurant, and a bookshop.

Herkhazeen had the chance to interview Christopher Lee, co-founder and principal of Serie Architects, to discuss the architectural and cultural value behind The Jameel Arts Centre.


Serie architects are known for carefully studying historical buildings as the basis for new solutions in architecture. how was this incorporated with your design statement for the Jameel art center?

There were two precedents that we were looking at, one involving the scale of a house and the other the scale of the city. If you look at the Sha’abi houses, you’ll see that they were based on the accumulations of rooms around a courtyard. On a larger scale, the Madinat is an accumulation of houses with courtyards. The architecture that we tried to create here for the Jameel Art Centre, thus is formed out of a series of rooms huddling around courtyards.


Your firm has designed several projects across Europe and Asia. What was your design approach, material choices and spatial planning in this specific context and environment?

We always begin with the most common element that you can find in the city or context, rather than the unique and extraordinary. This is because common elements, or the typical, has a longevity and relevance that has come into being by prolonged use and acceptance over time. In that sense, these elements holds a certain collective value and memory to the context. Upon identifying these elements, we will then locate what are their irreducible characteristics and from there re-appropriate and revalidate them for our own use. In doing so we hope to create an architecture that is both surprising and yet familiar to its context.   



One of the interesting and prominent elements of the site is the waterfronts of the Dubai creek. How was the canal included in the design of the building?

We wanted the arts centre be open and inclusive, in fact it is increasingly important today that cities and buildings are designed to be so. To do this, there must be spaces that are deliberately designed to be welcoming, absorptive and nurturing. The colonnades of the project is designed as a porous interface between the building and the waterfront promenade, inviting people to walk through it and it along it, even if they are not entering the building.


The art center will house large spaces for galleries and exhibitions. How is the center equipped and optimized for showcasing art and art production?

To a certain degree galleries for contemporary art should be flexible to remain relevant for the future. However this does not literally mean that a building must have moveable parts. Rather the spatial organization of the architecture should be able to accommodate a wide range of uses, and continue to evolve with the city it serves. So, we have deliberately designed a range of galleries and rooms – with different volumetric proportions – so that they can take on different types of artworks as well as trigger responses for specific installations. It will also arouse a range of experience as a person moves through these spaces.


It is clear that you have included public courtyards and plazas around the project. What was the approach for those pockets and how did you tackle the weather issue in this context.

The courtyards are intended as enchanting gardens, that will tempt people to linger on in them, exchanging glances with other and perhaps initiate a conversation. The galleries are also overlaid in such a way that one could see several spaces in one glance – a garden and another room beyond. – so that one is aware that one is among others, sharing and participating in the appreciation and making of art. The galleries are also made of boxes that huddled together to create self-shading courtyards. This huddling creates a low surface to volume ratio, reducing heat it absorbs.


About The Architect:

Christopher Lee is the co-founder and principal of Serie Architects London, Mumbai, Singapore and Beijing; and leads the design of Serie across all four ofices. He is Associate Professor in Practice of Urban Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He previously served as Design Critic at the GSD (2011-12). Prior to that he was the Director of the AA Projective Cities MPhil Programme (2010-12) and AA Diploma and Intermediate Unit Master (2002-09 ). Lee graduated with the AA Diploma (Honors) from the AA, received the RIBA President’s Medal Commendation Award, and his Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture and Urbanism from the Berlage Institute and TU Delt.

Serie is the recipient of the prestigious BD Young Architect of the Year Award and was recently named as one of the 10 visionary architects for the new decade by the Leading European Architects Forum and was selected by ICON as one of 20 Essential Young Architects in the world in 2008.

The practice is known for its theoretical position which emphasises the study of building typologies and their evolution. Thus, Serie advocates careful study of historical building precedents as a basis for speculating on new solutions. With a close relationship to the internationally recognised Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and Harvard Graduate School of Design in the USA where Chris Lee is a member of the academic faculty, Serie has re-opened interest in this field as one of the key areas of architectural discourse.

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