Dar Al-Hekma, SCTA initiate ‘Reinventing Asir’ project

Updated 22 November 2014
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Dar Al-Hekma, SCTA initiate ‘Reinventing Asir’ project

Dar Al-Hekma University, in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), is initiating the Reinventing Asir project to position Asir as a signature region for progressive preservation.
The project will have multiple legs where the first one starts at the historical site of Al-Okaz village in Asir, on Feb. 18, and the last one ends in Jeddah on March 5.
“The initiative seeks to engage international and local artists, architects, designers, scientists, curators, scholars and community stakeholders in a dialogue that explores ways to bring the past of Asir into a significant future, by merging ancient wisdom with cutting-edge trends and technology,” said Suhair Al-Qurashi, president of Dar Al-Hekma University.
Reinventing Asir is a visionary project that focuses on the reinvention of the vernacular. It builds on the rich and ancient traditions and heritage of Asir.
Moreover, it has been taken as an area of intervention to demonstrate how local tradition and history can be woven into the global context of new media science, art and technology, according to Anna Klingmann, project leader and curator, and chair of the architecture department at Dar Al-Hekma University.
The project starts 50 km outside the city center of Abha at the historical site of Al-Okaz village in Asir. It will feature site-specific art installations from Feb. 18 to 20. Many artists are working hand in hand from all over the globe; Anne Senstad from the United States, Thierry Mauger from France, C. Hennix from Germany and Ahmed Mater and Ibrahim Abu Musmar from Saudi Arabia.
The artists will transform the site by color, light projections, photographs and sound installations to turn it into a multisensorial experience. The abandoned village will come to life and be a hub where local residents start conversations, remember their past but also discuss the potential future.
Part of the project is a students’ competition that will be held on Feb. 20. During the competition, students will present their design proposals for Al-Okaz village to a multidisciplinary panel of architects, artists and local stakeholders. The winner will be announced once the best design is selected.
The second part of the project will be held in Jeddah where the installation of Al-Okaz village will be showcased the following week starting with the opening of a photography exhibition by Thierry Mauger, who is part of the team for the video projections, on Feb. 25. After that, they will be shown during the Hekma Design Week in March 2015.
Hekma Design Week & Symposium is a cross-disciplinary, five-day event of intense workshops, presentations and talks that bridge multiple scales and disciplines ranging from traditional and contemporary art forms to site-specific art interventions, architecture, interior design, graphics, branding and fashion.
Finally, a video documentary of Asir events will be projected at the Athr Gallery in Jeddah alongside a contemporary majlis art installation that will take place in March by Anne Senstad, another artist who was part of the team for the video projections.
The Reinventing Asir events at Dar Al-Hekma University represents the beginning of an ongoing collaboration and research between Anna Klingmann, architecture students of Dar Al-Hekma University, SCTA and the local stakeholders in Asir as well as renowned international artists, architects, designers and scholars.
The collaboration aims to creatively explore and demonstrate how a historical village may be redefined and reclaimed with advanced technologies through an amalgamation of traditional architecture with contemporary art in a unique setting.


The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

The hotel was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. (Photo supplied)
Updated 21 July 2018
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The Phoenicia: A still-seductive reminder of Beirut’s golden age

  • For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars
  • The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers

BEIRUT: Of all Beirut’s hotels it is the Phoenicia that looms largest in the imagination. Opulent, brash, sexy, seductive, it is a reminder of what was and what could have been.

It’s hard not to look favorably upon its delicately perforated façades and its shimmering blue and turquoise tiles. It somehow manages to maintain a sense of mystique, a sense of otherworldliness, despite the chaos that frequently unfolds around it.

Much of this, of course, is down to nostalgia. Opened in 1961 at the dawn of Beirut’s Golden Age, the singer Fayrouz performed here in 1962, as did the Egyptian dancer Nadia Gamal. Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif were guests, while the Lebanese beauty queen Georgina Rizk was photographed by the hotel’s oval-shaped pool in 1971.

In many ways the Phoenicia still clings to the remnants of its pre-war heyday, living as much in the past as it does in the present. When the hotel was resurrected from the ashes of civil war in 2000, it clutched much of its original design and character close to its chest, with a further $50 million refurbishment undertaken to mark the hotel’s 50th anniversary in 2011. It is the end result of this later refurbishment that is primarily on display today.

The hotel’s immediate interior is dominated by marble pillars, plush armchairs, fountains and chandeliers, and hovers dangerously close to the ostentatious. Elsewhere it borders on the dowdy or the old-fashioned. Yet a grand and elegant staircase continues to welcome visitors, while lanterns and geometric patterns lend a slight but satisfying sense of location.

Outside, the swimming pool — once an oval-shaped beauty — is set against a backdrop of cascading waterfalls. It is more politically correct than its 1960s predecessor, under which could be found a subterranean bar called Sous la Mer, but it is nevertheless at the heart of much of the hotel’s continued appeal.

From the shade of the pool’s colonnades you can see the old St. Georges Hotel, designed in the 1930s by Parisian architect Auguste Perret, while Zaitunay Bay and the edge of the Mediterranean are a stone’s throw away. It is because of this location and these views that the Phoenicia retains much of its appeal, regardless of its 446 rooms and suites, spa, shopping arcade and banqueting area.

Of the hotel’s three buildings, it is the original, designed by the architects Edward Durell Stone and Joseph Salerno, that is the hotel’s aesthetic pinnacle. Combining elements of high modernism with Mughal and Muslim architecture, it is where you should stay if given the choice.

You buy into many things when you stay at the Phoenicia, which was named Lebanon’s leading hotel for 2018 at the World Travel Awards. History, of course, and location, but also a level of abundance that is not readily available elsewhere in the city.

Breakfast is a fabulous affair. Manakish are freshly cooked on a dome oven, eggs are prepared in front of you, while separate stations serve everything from a dizzying array of olives and salads to cheese, labneh, foul, sausages, honey and smoked salmon. There’s even Oum Ali and kanafeh.

For those in search of glamor, almost every night the wealthy, the stylish and the overdressed can be seen exiting luxury cars and heading to all manner of social gatherings. They dine at the Mosaic and Amethyste restaurants, or at Eau De Vie, a lounge bar and grill situated on the 11th floor. None of this, of course, is cheap. If nothing else, the Phoenicia experience comes at a price.