Hanna Salameh: the Jordanian architect who’s giving Amman back to its people

“Amman, it’s time to talk,” starts Jordanian architect Hanna Salameh in a video posted on his firm’s website. “The Jordan Gate Towers project is a big problem, and it’s time we fix it.” The voice over is accompanied by visuals of driving through the capital on a rainy day, with two abandoned high-rise towers fixed in the horizon. Located on what used to be a city park enjoyed by the community, the Jordan Gate Towers, which consists of two buildings intended for hospitality and commercial activity, had a seven-year pause of construction. The project, which started in 2005, is now expected to be open in 2018.

Watch Salameh’s video below

“We offered a solution for the two large towers last year,” said Salameh. “They were big operations with a terrible history, so we were lucky their construction had stopped and gave us a chance to do something else with them. The city seemed to have two options; either finish the original project or demolish the structures. What we wanted to do was turn the towers into green, sustainable and productive farms.”

The architects at Hanna Salameh Design proposed transforming the towers, which were essentially just concrete skeletons of failed plans, into farms that would produce energy, fruits and vegetables. Each floor would be planted, with wind turbines and PV panels installed to ensure the buildings would be self-sufficient, and a market would be built on the ground floor where the farmers could sell their produce. The site around the towers would be transformed back into a public park. The solution would have provided jobs, community engagement and accountability, as well as a green social space for residents and tourists to mingle.

The video on YouTube has reached over 25,000 views, with numerous comments encouraging the architects to create a Kickstarter campaign. “We can invest in this!” reads one comment, while another praises the proposal saying, “We need to show the world what our beautiful country is capable of. We need this in Amman.”

“We don’t have an elected mayor in Amman and people don’t get a say in what happens,” said Salameh.

“So when major television stations aired the project, it became huge. That day was the first time in history that the people of Amman got involved in a national conversation about what should happen with our city. It was a trending topic for three days, and that itself was an achievement.”

The Jordan Gate Towers project is only one example of Hanna Salameh Design’s work, reflecting its growing research and development department. The other half of the firm is a formidable architecture and design studio that has created projects for the Middle East, North Africa, North America and Europe. Its portfolio spans across the healthcare, hospitality, residential and retail sectors, like the Central Hospital of Sudan or Canvas Dubai – a restaurant in the emirate’s Marina neighbourhood.

Hanna Salameh Design has also launched a number of products, like FLO – a line of 3D printed pieces that bridge art and technology, which includes a desk and an interactive sculpture. Wherever and whatever the team is working on, one mission remains – to make every project as sustainable as possible.

“We’re exposed to diverse landscapes, but I believe that certain principles can be applied globally,” said Salameh. “So yes, we care a lot about staying green, and all of our projects are very green, but there’s also a distinction between active green design and passive green design. We focus on designing buildings that actually do not require a lot of energy to run, which means we rely on natural insulation, natural lighting, and all of these things reduce the need for energy.”

Of its many projects, one of Hanna Salameh Design’s notable designs is the centre for the Queen Rania Foundation. Located in the King Hussein Park in Amman, the project houses the EDRAAK – Queen Rania Foundation organisation, and aims at creating a motivating space for the team. In addition to its office spaces, the building also contains a professional filming studio as well as an outdoor working area and event space.

“That project was a great achievement,” said Salameh. “We responded to the programme and design requirements quite well, even though it was an unusual concept. I’m happy with all of our projects. We’ve been lucky to work with clients that allow us room for creativity, and allow us to challenge ourselves. We never release a project without making sure that it’s the best it can be, or without it being what we want it to be.”

Working overseas has lead the team to countries of varying cultures, like Canada and Morocco. But according to Salameh, they work very hard to not approach new cultures on a ‘superficial level’ but rather look at how the country works, and how people interact and live in their homes. “That’s what matters,” said Salameh.

“Imagine an architect comes to Jordan to design a building and he only draws inspiration from Petra. I would find that very offensive – it’s as if you’re putting a label on that country and making it one-dimensional,” he added. “If you’re working in the United Kingdom, you can’t build something for a ‘stereotypical British person’, or whatever. You have to see them regardless of where they come from, and that makes it easier for us to work internationally because we apply that mentality. Even in our local projects, we never take a ‘quintessential approach’, because everyone in Jordan is different.”

At the moment Hanna Salameh Design has been growing in terms of projects, though its core team remains a tight-knit group of eight. While the in-house architects and designers work with freelancers when they can, they manage to handle their workload, and always, seemingly, add to it.

“We’ve been growing rapidly, fortunately,” said Salameh. “We’re only eight people, but with the amount of work coming out of us, you’d think we’re an army.”

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