How Canadian-Lebanese architect Samir Saddi is trying to rebuild the Arab world

How Canadian-Lebanese architect Samir Saddi is trying to rebuild the Arab world
This is an image of Ibn Toulon Mosque in old Cairo. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 29 May 2021

How Canadian-Lebanese architect Samir Saddi is trying to rebuild the Arab world

How Canadian-Lebanese architect Samir Saddi is trying to rebuild the Arab world
  • The Beirut-born architect has dedicated his life to documenting traditional Arab architecture and encouraging others to incorporate heritage into modern designs

DUBAI: After recently coming fifth in the UNESCO International Competition for the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of Mosul’s Al-Nouri Mosque with his team, Samir Nicolas Saddi has big plans for heritage rehabilitation around the Middle East.

The Beirut-born Canadian-Lebanese architect, who founded the Arab Research Center for Architecture and Design of the Environment (ARCADE) back in 1990, has dedicated his life to documenting the fragile traditional environment in the Middle East and proposing innovative approaches to sustainable architecture — as he did in the UNESCO competition.

“The aim of rebuilding Al-Nouri Mosque is very symbolic, given the level of destruction occurring in the Arab world,” he told Arab News. “It was especially symbolic for me as I am very concerned with how to rebuild the Arab world, particularly the countries which have been devastated by war. So it was a great opportunity.”




A tragedy happened when Saddi was preparing to visit Syria to document Aleppo. (Supplied)

Saddi’s team of architects from France and Dubai looked at how to integrate the mosque within Mosul’s architecture, which he describes as having a “unique historic pattern.” Their aim was to find a way to make it available for local people to rebuild, based on their knowledge of their own architecture.

“We had a lot of passionate discussions about architecture in the Arab world, especially the historic cities,” Saddi explained, as he spoke of his interest in opening up the Gulf to young French consultancies. “My role was really to inform the team about the Middle East. I might also be working with the team on other projects and opening up France to the Middle East and to the Arab world, which is great, because the Arab world — especially the GCC — is mostly collaborating with American and British consultants.”
Saddi’s own journey dates back decades, starting in Lebanon when he finished his studies as an architect in 1974. At the time, it seemed the country was heading into a fruitful and prosperous era, and Saddi was already working with a large architectural firm on projects to be developed over the next 10 years. But all of that abruptly came to a halt when the country’s devastating civil war broke out in 1975. “At first, we thought it would only last a couple of months, and then it took 19 years” Saddi told Arab News.




Old Aleppo souks. (Supplied)

“I realized that there was no time to document what Beirut was because we had immediately entered into a zone where people were fighting and my aim was really to document Beirut city center, which was an amazing place, and other places in the capital,” he said.

For Saddi, documenting historic or traditional architecture was crucial in such a fast-moving world in which time seemed to be running out for such places.

A similar tragedy happened when Saddi was preparing to visit Syria to document Aleppo, Damascus and other ancient Arab cities with rich heritage. “But the war happened, so Aleppo was gone, and so on and so forth,” Saddi said. “I visited Aleppo in 2000 for a couple of days and I took some pictures but today, it is ruined.”




For him, old Jeddah — also known in Arabic as the Balad — is one of the most significant of those cities. (Supplied)

The main idea behind ARCADE, he said, is to “document these places because, at least, if you have documentation, you can photograph the urban architecture, and later on elaborate a lot of research that will consolidate modern contemporary architecture and projects.”

He mentioned the fact that international architects commonly work on projects in the Gulf and the Middle East today, despite not really being familiar with the essence of the region’s architecture. “So the design is often coming from far away and is not related to the reality of the people on the ground,” he said.




He spent three years taking photos of old Jeddah, from 1994 to 1997. (Supplied)

Saddi is now working with his peers in Europe on a book about historic Arab cities in the Middle East. For him, old Jeddah — also known in Arabic as the Balad — is one of the most significant of those cities. He spent three years taking photos of old Jeddah, from 1994 to 1997, with the aim of safeguarding the old city and participating in its redevelopment.

Old Cairo is another city that ranks high on his list. “Today, it is a very big project,” he noted. “In 2017, I had time to go and really document the historic Cairo, which is amazing, and there is a lot to do. Today, it is a real project — Egypt is keen on restoring and rehabilitating Old Cairo.”

He described it as a “monumental zone” with exceptional buildings representing a perfect example of Islamic architecture, along with old churches. “Cairo is really very important to preserve,” he said.




Old Cairo is another city that ranks high on his list. (Supplied)

Saddi spoke of many other cities in the Arab world which he believes it is crucial to rehabilitate so that people remember and recognize them as the beacons of rich urban architecture that they are.

Ultimately, his goal is to demonstrate to the world the Middle East’s unique heritage, while communicating to the younger generation of architects and urban planners in the Arab world how crucial it is to develop their architecture based on their heritage.




Old Tripoli. (Supplied)

“We should not copy,” he said. “In the last 50 years, architects were unfortunately copying the heritage, but it is not about that. It is about going further and really connecting with this heritage and continuing its spirit, like what is happening in Mosul.”

For Saddi, such projects are not about simply recreating the past, but rather about introducing a new spirit that is connected to the past. “This is my hope — that somehow we can achieve this through publications and workshops, which is why I created ARCADE,” he concluded. “It is about research. Unfortunately, the Arab world is not yet keen on allocating budgets for research. The west was — and is still — allocating huge budgets towards this, but not the Arab world although we have the means to do it, so it is a shame. But I have hope for the future.”


Bella Hadid celebrates niece Khai’s birthday with never-before-seen snaps

US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)
US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 20 September 2021

Bella Hadid celebrates niece Khai’s birthday with never-before-seen snaps

US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday, and paid special tribute to Gigi Hadid and her partner Zayn Malik on their daughter’s big day.

“Happy Birthday to the greatest gift our family has ever been blessed with… I didn’t know my heart could grow this big!!!” Bella posted on Instagram, alongside a carousel of photos featuring the now-one-year-old.

Although baby Khai’s face was blocked by emoji stickers in all the shots, for privacy reasons, Bella managed to gush over the family’s bundle of joy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

“You make me smile when I’m sad and make me cry of happiness just because (you’re) alive. I can’t wait to watch you grow into the most perfect specimen of all. @gigihadid @zayn thank you for my forever best friend,” the model aunt added.

The couple announced the birth of their daughter in September 2020, with Gigi sharing the exciting news with her 58.5 million Instagram followers.

“Our girl joined us Earth-side this weekend and she’s already changed our world,” she said at the time.

For his part, proud father and British signer Malik write: “Our baby girl is here, healthy and beautiful. To try put into words how I am feeling right now would be an impossible task.”

“The love I feel for this tiny human is beyond my understanding. Grateful to know her, proud to call her mine, and thankful for the life we will have together,” he added.


Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend
Updated 20 September 2021

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

LONDON: Michael Schumacher will always be an iconic figure in Formula 1 — widely regarded as one of the most gifted racers of all time, with a work ethic hitherto unseen in the sport, and a drive for perfection that left his rivals staggered by his laser focus. And while this documentary, created with the blessing and cooperation of the Schumacher family, offers an incredible look at the personal and private life of the German driver, it does little to expand on what most people already know about the seven-times world champion.

Now streaming on Netflix, a procession of famous faces from the world of F1 — Ross Brawn, Flavio Briatore, Jean Todt, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and many others — offer their recollections of Michael, and those interviews are expertly combined with archival material from Schumacher himself, home videos released by the family, and interviews with his wife and children.

Michael Schumacher’s documentary offers a look at the personal and private life of the German driver. (Motorsport Images)

But while directors Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech do a skilled job of stitching everything together, they rarely take the chance to take “Schumacher” into new territory. Subjects such as Schumacher’s aggression-fueled lapses in racing judgement, or his insistence that he simply couldn’t be in the wrong in any crash, get little more than lip service — perhaps understandably, given that the film was created in such close cooperation with his family. But it does beg the question of what “Schumacher” hopes to achieve. Anyone who follows F1 knows that his was a generation-defining talent, and hearing that same sentiment reflected by a series of notable interviewees simply rings a little hollow.

What’s more, the movie steers clear of offering up any glimpse of Schumacher today. At the end of 2013, Michael suffered a significant brain injury during a skiing trip and hasn’t been seen since. He is, his family insists, continuing to live his life as privately as possible. And while that privacy is important, and absolutely his right, it makes for a strange juxtaposition with a film billed as offering such an intimate portrait of a racing legend.


Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film

Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film
Updated 20 September 2021

Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film

Luxury label Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates Saudi National Day with new film

DUBAI: French luxury fashion label Jean Paul Gaultier is celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, which falls on Sept. 23, in its first-ever launch dedicated to a Middle Eastern country.

The brand has brought to life the traditional card game of baloot through a film shot by an all-Saudi production team in Riyadh. 

The brand is also celebrating the country’s heritage and culture with the baloot box. (Supplied)

The film features a host of Saudi personalities, including actress Sarah Taibah, emerging fashion model Domie Alsalim, fashion and beauty multi-hyphenates Yara Alnamlah and Faisal Alghazzawi, as they compete in the game. 

The brand is also celebrating the country’s heritage and culture with the baloot box — a luxe green reimagination of its signature perfume case which comes in velvet stamped with gold details.

 

The celebrity-loved fashion house created a deck of cards exquisitely designed by Saudi artist Raghad Al-Ahmad. 

Al-Ahmad merged Jean Paul Gaultier’s signature iconography with cultural motifs rooted in the identity of Saudi Arabia through the art form of collage. The queen, king and jack of the deck are reimagined to represent the regions and cities in the Kingdom. 

The queen, king and jack of the deck are reimagined to represent the regions and cities in the Kingdom. (Supplied)

The baloot box is packed in a green bag with gold-embroidered straps, patterned after the intricate gold trimming of the traditional Saudi bisht.

The bag was designed and created by traditional Saudi tailor Salman Alhamad and Atharna, a social enterprise dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Saudi crafts and culture.


Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 

Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 
Updated 20 September 2021

Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 

Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay to star in Netflix drama 

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Rosaline Elbay is set to star in Netflix’s upcoming heist action drama “Jigsaw” alongside US actor Giancarlo Esposito, she revealed this week. 

The series centers around a large heist that is loosely based on the $70 billion in bonds that went missing in New York’s downtown Manhattan when Hurricane Sandy struck the city in 2012.

Elbay, who is also a writer, will play the role of Judy Goodwin, the crew’s demolitions specialist who is clever, talented and independent.

The eight-episode series, which ranges from 24 years before the heist to one year after, also casts Spanish actress Paz Vega, British star Rufus Sewell, US actors Tati Gabrielle and Peter Mark Kendall, Australian talent Jai Courtney and Iranian actress Niousha Noor.

Elbay is famous for her role as Amani in Hulu’s award-winning series “Ramy,” which stars US-Egyptian Golden Globe winner Ramy Youssef. 


Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival

Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival
Updated 20 September 2021

Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival

Director Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ wins award at Toronto Film Festival

 

DUBAI: Lebanese director Mounia Akl this week won the Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC) award at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival for her feature “Costa Brava, Lebanon.”

Her impassioned debut is an eerie family drama set amid a raging climate crisis in near-future Lebanon.

The film stars actors Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki. 

Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri plays Walid and Lebanese star Nadine Labaki plays his wife, Souraya. (Supplied)

“Costa Brava, Lebanon – an exquisite intergenerational family story – is an ode to sustainable futures by visionary new talent, Mounia Akl from her precious and troubled country,” said the NETPAC jury, that included Spanish filmmaker Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Beijing based film producer Isabelle Glachant and BAFTA-nominated producer Elhum Shakerifar, in a statement published in Deadline.

The 32-year-old filmmaker’s haunting and upsetting feature was originally meant to depict a dystopian Lebanon in 2030 at its worst.

“I tried to imagine this dystopian future where none of our problems had been solved and the country was an extreme version of itself,” she told Arab News at the festival.

“It was somehow a way for me to imagine the worst for myself in the same way you sometimes want to explore your trauma in a cathartic way. It was a way for me to imagine the worst in my mind as a way of avoiding the worst happening in my mind and in life.”

The film follows a family who move out of Beirut. (Supplied)

But Lebanon’s crisis deepened as Akl and her team got closer to shooting the movie. “The reality of Lebanon became more tragic and more dystopian than even the dystopia that I imagined in 2030,” she said.

In the film, the now trash-filled surroundings of Lebanon’s “Costa Brava” had meant to be the free-spirited Badri family’s getaway utopia from the pollution and social unrest of Beirut. But their dreams were trashed when construction of a landfill site started next door to the family’s home.

Costa Brava is an actual landfill in Lebanon that opened in April 2016 as one of two sites advertised by the Lebanese government as a solution to the eight-month trash crisis the country had experienced the year before. However, within two weeks of its opening, residents and activists launched protests at the site demanding its closure.