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From Coral Block Architecture to the Tallest Tower

Friday, 7 July 2017

2017 Howe Fellow Kate Hriczo is Set to Explore the UAE’s 50-Year Transformation

My childhood was spent roaming the globe, and I was affected early on by the human-built world… I have devoted my skills to the realization, through designs of enhancement of the natural environment, where buildings respond to their contextual conditions, and where they bring people together in social and intellectual contact in spaces that inspire and illuminate their activities. I have been fortunate to be asked to design buildings in all parts of our country and abroad, and continue to be fascinated by the opportunity to design within the requirements of different climates, cultures, histories and architectural heritage. My designs have endeavored to clearly belong to their unique environments, from the windswept plains of New Mexico, to the urban streets of New York City and from campuses as distinctly different as those in Florida and Northern Ireland.” – Alexander (Sandy) Howe

The Burj Al Arab in Dubai sparked this year's Howe Traveling Fellow Kate Hriczo's interest in the UAE in 2000.

The Burj Al Arab in Dubai sparked this year’s Howe Traveling Fellow Kate Hriczo’s interest in the UAE in 2000.

The Howe Traveling Fellowship is a biennial exploration grant that was founded in 2011 to honor the life and work of late Shepley Bulfinch Principal Alexander (Sandy) Howe, AIA. Sandy’s passion for the artistry of architecture and travel was palpable, and his attention to place and design’s interplay with its natural environment remain an impetus for our firm’s curiosity and innovation.

Kate Hriczo, Shepley Bulfinch Architect, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C, is the 2017 Howe Fellow, and will be traveling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) next week for 30 days. While there, she will visit the seven Emirates to study how each has (or has not) evolved since the discovery of oil in the 1960s.

Prior to her departure, Kate shared some insights on the journey ahead, and her eagerness to understand a community’s story through its design progression.

Q: You’ve said you will never forget the moment you saw the Burj Al Arab for the first time in architecture school. What was it about that building that was so striking?

A: It’s honestly the visual connection I have to learning that the Burj Al Arab sits on a manmade island, and the structural components of how that would all work that stood out to me (and still does, today). I’d say I’m more of a technical architect with an eye for design, so I’m interested in the construction aspects of the project and its location. In that moment – in studio class – I knew I wanted to go there.

Q: When you learned about the Howe Traveling Fellowship, did you immediately think of the UAE?

A: Yes. I don’t know of any other place in the world that has grown quite so rapidly. It’s kind of insane to think a place that installed its first stop light just 45 years ago, is today, home to an indoor ski resort and the largest underground wall of glass with ocean views. I’m looking to explore these vast structural changes, while immersing myself in local culture to learn about the history of this place and its people.

Q: What picture can architecture paint of the development of a society? And how do you expect your three areas of focus – construction methods, structures and materiality – to tell the story of this place?

A: I honestly don’t know exactly what I’m expecting. I am trying to go with as open a mind as possible and see if my research lines up with what I find. Right now, I’m imagining there will be a huge, obvious gap between old and new architecture with not too much in between. In my hometown of Boston, you can see the evolution of buildings, design, people and time periods just walking down the street. It almost seems like the Emirates are each in a different design space, even though in total the UAE is only about the size of South Carolina.

Q: What architectural qualities stand out to you as specific to the UAE?

A: One of the main reasons I want to visit the UAE is to see the very strong juxtaposition between old coral block architecture compared to new construction techniques on the ground now (some of which are not necessarily being used in America yet). I’m also curious to see how facades are used and stand up to more severe environments, like high winds and temperatures.

Q: How do you see this opportunity impacting your professional and personal life?

A: I would say it’s really a chance for unmatched education. Learning about different cultures and the ways they do in things in person is an incredible opportunity. I also think whenever you go somewhere new, you come home and things automatically look different because you have gained perspective. I’m equally interested to see how I react when I get back to U.S.

Stay tuned for updates on Kate’s adventures in Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. For real-time Howe Traveling Fellowship happenings, follow us on social media #HoweFellowship #UAEin30.


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