ALUMNI PROFILE: Play with a sense of urgencyProfile
by Rana Haddad, AADipl 1995
01 April 2019
This Spring, the AA Gallery will host an exhibition by Amnesty International to showcase their investigation into the impact of conflict on civilians in Raqqa, Syria – the most destroyed city in the world. Related to the theme of this exhibition, AA Conversations is publishing a series of interviews with alumni who have challenged or dealt with the topics of urgency and conflict through their student work or in their current practice.
Rana Haddad graduated from the AA in 1995 and has since acquired the title of activist through her architecture and design practice in Beirut after the civil war that ended in 1990. Establishing her practice, which merges architecture and performance together – to address the everyday affected by urban planning, conflict-affected environments and culture – Rana has produced several public installations and performances in Beirut, Mantes la Jolie, Bern, Geneva, Algiers, Italy and New Zealand.
Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem, Gasping, outside Beirut’s Art Center, Lebanon, 2015
A reaction to our current situation. No electricity. Garbage everywhere, 1.5 million refugees, no government, Beirut’s heritage being erased. “How to delimit one’s own place in a world bewitched by the invisible powers of the other.” – Michel de Certeau.
How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
I always say that Beirut, the war years (as I grew up there during that time) and the AA made me. The AA allowed me to see the potential in the field of architecture and the philosophy behind it. It is more of a way of thinking rather than a profession. It broadened my perspectives and allowed me to see the potential in every living constraint.
I started my first public installation at the AA as a way to convey Beirut and to share it with everyone else. Since then, I create installations on the streets of Beirut, moving them out from within a school to engage with the public.
What role does urgency/conflict play in shaping your practice?
Everything. The city dictates my actions and forces me to take a stand in relation to the everyday events that shape it. To avoid having my hands tied up, I chose to address a city as loaded as Beirut in rather a playful and light manner, which turned out to be quite successful. Hence public installations, they straddle the territory between art and architecture.
Choosing to use my architectural and temporary public installation skills as a tool, to convey, highlight, address topics of urgency or conflict, turned out to be a pedagogical tool as much for an audience of designers (all my students and colleagues) as for the citizens. The ephemerality of the works gives it an edge. People seem to remember the event and its outcome, even years after it took place. This became a way to avoid the loss of memory. Such work has a ripple effect in the city on its dwellers.
Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem, Vertical Procession, Roccagloriosa, Italy, 2014
By means of public installation art, Vertical Procession was a one week residency, done with very little means.
It aims to raise awareness amongst citizens , especially young people, in smaller places around the conservation, repossession and the wise use of public spaces in favour of a sustainable cultural and economic development.
What role does the architect play in solving urgent problems?
Are architects problem solvers? It would be rather limiting for architects to see themselves as problem solvers. It is dangerous to look at it from such a point of view, as it only limits us to serving. This will hinder creativity. The tendency to solve problems nowadays cannot really be solved by one way of action, but rather needs a joint effort: to address problems before they even begin…
What topics do you consider to be of vital importance and urgency in contemporary architectural practice?
I would not call it or frame it as topics. In conflicted areas, or any other setting for that matter, as practitioners we need to be flexible and ready for everything that comes our way.
The lesson learned from Beirut is that the unpredictability of the city can be overwhelming. As citizens, we have no choice but to live on a day-to-day basis, in order to put up with the chaos that we inhabit. Through this, we learn to embrace the experiences which come our way; to let it happen. Once lived, we let go, a seamless process of clearing one’s mind, allowing us to remain in the present. This process leads us to discover new potential in existing conditions. Paul Arden once said: “The unsafe decision causes you to think and respond in a way you hadn’t thought of.’”
Rana Haddad and Joanne Hayek, Radio Silence – part of BePUBLIC, founded by Rana Haddad, in Horsh Beirut, Lebanon
Students: Betina Abi Habib, Zeina Bekhaazi, Souha BouMatar, Mario El Khouri, and Karen Madi.
‘Radio Silence’, questions the barrier between the different users by placing a seesaw as a gate belt on a permanently locked door. Children were our best clients, proving that any barrier can become unnoticed. Such a game turned out to be a risk to the authorities. We were called after two weeks to come and dismantle it.
What advice would you give to current students?
Drop your ego. Be ready for new challenges. Think through your hands and not through just your digital devices. Challenge yourself as there is no limit to creativity. We live in a time where multi tasking is a door opener. The field of architecture gives such opportunities more than any other field. Be open and ready for adventure.
Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem, PIIIISSSST, Entry to Portmanteau, Play with the rules, Milwaukee Art Museum, USA, 2018
‘Piiiiissssst’ is a 55 minute performance installation. The performance took place at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the installation consisted of posters, which revealed body parts coming out from a suitcase, or limbs that meet each other in a non-orthodox manner. It is a reflection of being carried in a suitcase, as a gesture of moving from one place to another. Knowing that one might not get a chance to cross borders, the suitcase becomes a form of camouflage.
For more information:
Discover Rana Haddad’s work
Read more about Rana Haddad’s work in Domus
Watch Rana Haddad’s lecture Don’t take it seriously, as part of the What’s Next lecture series at the AA
Read the full set of profiles by visiting our Alumni Portfolio