• | 9:00 am

Is it time to put architecture in the Middle East on a diet of philosophy?

Whether it is Plato, Sheikh Mohammed, or a magnified beehive-like system, architects say embracing philosophy helps to build monuments of change and affirmations.

Is it time to put architecture in the Middle East on a diet of philosophy?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Architecture has long served functions far more than shelter and unwarranted convenience: storytelling. Inanimate forms and structures—not only people—can, by the same token, tell stories through the images and experiences they steer. A convoluted wall, an overly bulging or over-scaled structure, or an erratic sequence of components might make us wonder: what is the meaning here?

Humans can visualize pronouncements and summon them onto paper through writing or into 3D physical reality through art, architecture, and interior design. Philosophy seeks an understanding of human presence. It asks why? Architecture’s human-containing nature does something similar.

“The interactive nature of a well-designed space can suggest a life philosophy. For example, once a user walks through a museum,” said Lama El-Kady, a Ras al-Khaimah-based architect, “they begin to reflect over the designer’s intended philosophy through experiential elements: ramps, pathways, and staircases, which lead towards the focal point: the meaning of life. Moreover, designers can use representative forms acting as metaphors. A person, for instance, might transition through a project from a randomized cluster to an organized resolution presented as symmetry in form.” 

One example of how philosophy can embody architecture is the Art Gallery of Nanjing University of the Arts, which fabricates a 3D space that fuses Plato’s reflective “allegory of the cave” philosophy with an ancient Chinese idiom, nudging the intellect of those who visit. A wooden log rests in the bare space underneath a vault with a warm candle-like light source. Thoughts come to mind: this is more than just a building. 

“I like to think about design philosophy as a personal value that guides our decision-making process,” said Jiana Dukmak, a Dubai-based interior architect. “I have attempted to establish that in projects by focusing on creating a sensory experience for the end user reflected through the composition of materials, colors, forms, furniture, lighting fixtures, and decorative pieces. I find it extremely important to invoke a feeling within the visitor that enables them to form a connection with the physical space.” 

Similar examples can be drawn in the Middle East context. The calligraphy-covered torus-shaped Museum of the Future in Dubai is not only a building but also a poem. The building’s windows are the visionary words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, which translates to: “We might not live for hundreds of years, but the products of our creativity can leave a legacy long after we are gone. The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it. The future does not wait. The future can be designed and built today.” 

Imagine that you’re standing next to that building right now. You will no longer see a physical structure. Your mind would intervene, seeing beyond physical reality, imagining that prosperous future. The torus was intentional and was designed to resemble a ring with a void to signify unknown knowledge. What does unknown knowledge stimulate? Faith. 


The strength that lies in belief—one might reason—surpasses the power that could have lied in an all-known knowledge scenario. Thus, lots of influence lies in “the void.” Philosophy, after all, is the pursuit of those knowledge gaps that keep humanity afloat, ambitious, and pursuing.

“We are at a turning point in history,” said Darya Shugayeva, a Dubai-based senior interior designer, “where art and design must reflect new philosophies. We are escalating from a society of consumption and copying to an altered level that hinges on environmental friendliness and respect. Artists are always ahead, a big challenge and a source of inspiration. I am captivated by how they glue tradition and modernity when generating a masterpiece.”

Coupling cultures, due to globalization and open borders—physically and digitally—have given birth to joined modern philosophies, which have prompted novel connections.

 “A small project in which I played a part reflects the integrative nature of modern philosophy: the Coffee Room cafe in Beirut, Lebanon,” said Shugayeva. “Beirut is an inspiration for me, a city over 5,000 years old, with numerous intertwining cultures and religions. Thus, we played with tradition and modernity to mirror the city’s nature, adding French colonial chic, contemporary Arab and European artists, unique decor and furniture, and even a bit of Art Deco.”

Philosophy is originally inspired by nature, the definitive and often overlooked problem solver, which has the ultimate way of solving modern-day challenges. Are we paying attention to the workings of nature? Has humanity replaced sunlight with blue light?

Rayan Itani, a Dubai-based senior experience designer, had taken the privilege to lead a small team on a project for Fjord, Madrid, and explore the concept of biomimicry in its workplace as part of a Customer Experience and Innovation program at IE University. 

They extracted philosophy from a primary source, a well-configured mini-utopian land: the beehive. “We wanted to leverage underutilized spaces, boost employee productivity, and enhance the social aspect of employees’ lives. We questioned nature’s demonstrations of structures and operational functions that might address these concerns,” said Itani.

“The modularity and adaptability of the hexagonal beehive cells confirmed a self-sufficient, robust, and modular structure. That inspired a cost-efficient and convenient solution for the spaces. Humans mimicking the way nature performs is only natural, and that is where mindful design can influence decisions when re-considering workplace efficiencies.”

Distress around constructing the right thoughts stems from architecture: that of the mind, which then reveals itself in the external environment, including buildings. 

Whether Plato, Sheikh Mohammed, or a magnified beehive-like system, that is the power of embracing philosophies in structures, manufacturing them as monuments of change and affirmations of commanding letters and natural forms.

If buildings could speak, they shall say: why am I here? And they better have served a purpose that fulfills a way of nature, a powerful thought, or a faithful reflection: a 3D philosophy.

  Be in the Know. Subscribe to our Newsletters.



More Top Stories: