By Camille Dupire – Oct 10,2017

AMMAN — “If cities spoke, what would your streets tell you?” asked Lebanese architect Grace Aaraj in a workshop organised as part of Amman Design Week 2017 (ADW).

Building on her experience as an architect and urbanism professional, Aaraj conducted a workshop titled “DIY: A Pattern Language for Amman’s Streets”, where she invited the 15 participants to design their own pattern of streets in the Kingdom’s capital.

“Streets are the most common place where everyone goes, whatever their social, cultural or financial background is,” she told The Jordan Times in a recent interview, stressing the importance for people to better approach the “veins of their city”.

Based on Christopher Alexander’s — a noted architect and design theorist — approach of “A Pattern Language”, the workshop sought to engage participants in an interactive discussion and analysis of the urban landscape.

“Being a pedestrian myself, I know how challenging and frustrating it can be to walk through cities, whether it is Amman, Beirut, or any other,” Aaraj, who is also a university instructor, continued.

Participants were asked to produce “timeless patterns” that embodied Amman’s architecture, urban life and community using a multidisciplinary approach including observations, personal experiences and photographs of the city.

Aaraj explained: “I asked them to visualise their daily commute, to retrace the route they take every day, and to think of it in terms of safety, greenery and accessibility, among other aspects.”

The participants, who included professionals in various fields from interior design to international studies and medical labs, collaboratively mapped the city’s streets from a pedestrian and resident’s point of view.

“I don’t want to impose my ideas in a professorial way,” said Aaraj, who stressed the need for participants to share their personal concerns and solutions towards their city.

“This workshop is for anyone who is in a love-hate relationship with urban life and the streets of Amman,” she said, noting that streets are both the most “private” and public aspects of someone’s life.

“You learn a lot about someone when studying the routes they take: you understand their daily routine, their work habits, their relationships,” the architect, who received two international awards for her work, added.

By targeting the issue of pedestrianism from the perspective of citizens, the workshop aimed at providing solutions to the issues encountered daily by the 4 million inhabitants of the Jordanian capital.

“With this workshop, I learned that everything is connected to each other, and that I can use the mapping methodology to every aspect of my life,” said Asma Azban, a medical student attending the workshop.

The one-day event came as part of a series of workshops taking place in different Arab capitals, starting in Beirut in May and scheduled to spread out to Cairo, Dubai and Marrakesh, among others.

“Because this methodology of ‘pattern language’ is still debated across the globe — although widely accepted and applied in various fields — my goal is to disseminate the concept; to show people that, by revisiting their perspective towards their city and knowing it better, they can change it and make it more accessible and friendly, one step at a time,” she concluded.

Aaraj studied architecture on a Fulbright scholarship, with a focus on sustainable urbanism and community engagement and she co-founded ArchiBuild, a design-build practice in Beirut, according to an ADW statement.

Her designs and publications, which tackle architectural education and the application of design for the public interest, have been exhibited in Haiti, Egypt, Japan, the US and Europe.