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The Royal Geographical Society in London is playing host to Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture in the UAE; an exhibition that looks at how the indigenous craft of palm-leaf architecture is closely connected to the religious, cultural and agricultural traditions of people in the Arabian Peninsula.
Architect and curator of the exhibition, Sandra Piesik has undertaken a three-year research project in the United Arab Emirates looking at how traditional buildings constructed from the leaves of date palms, tree trunks and rope made from palm fibre have provided shelter from the extremes of climate on the Arabian Peninsula for millennia.
Buro Happold became involved in the project when Sandra asked Wolf Mangelsdorf, Director of Structures, if Buro Happold could provide engineering advice for the design and construction of the project. More recently the consultancy has been helping Sandra with the many logistical issues associated with constructing and erecting such a sculpture for the first time outside of its native UAE.
Buro Happold has amassed over thirty years experience of working in the Middle East but despite the increasingly prevalent practice of working with locally sourced materials, the consultancy had never before worked with palm leaves. Unsurprisingly the particular construction methods associated with using palm leaves were also new to the UK and have very much required a ‘hands on’ approach. Buro Happold’s involvement has included recruiting and managing a team of volunteers to create the sculpture, as well as providing technical advice, having gained an understanding of how to manipulate and construct with this unusual, natural material.
Buro Happold sees the Arish Palm Leaf Sculpture as an important cultural and social project for many reasons; the construction techniques used were once dominant throughout the UAE and Arabian Peninsula but have almost been lost in 50 years of western-style concrete and steel developments. The Arish Palm Leaf Sculpture will help to preserve an age-old tradition which may have many potential uses in the sustainability-focused Middle East of the future.
Palm leaves are similarly to another popular, widely available plant valued for its multiple uses; bamboo. Both can be employed as a highly sustainable construction material and this project is helping the team to explore further potential possibilities in the UK, albeit limited due to the climate. Palm leaves are not set to replace timber but creating small structures such as sculptures and pavilions is possible.
Helping to deliver the Arish Palm Leaf sculpture has proved an interesting and challenging endeavour and one that aligns with Buro Happold’s ethos of helping to support emerging architectural practices that are often at the most creative and cutting edge of the industry.
Palm Leaf Architecture in the United Arab Emirates runs from Monday 16 April 2012 to Friday 25 May 2012 (open at weekends) at the Royal Geographical Society, London. For further information click here