x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Traditional values

Architect Sandra Piesik is helping explain and preserve the tradition of arish construction.

When Sandra Piesik moved to the UAE in 2005, few could have anticipated this Polish-born architect would make such an abiding impact on this country’s vernacular architecture. Ms Piesik arrived in Dubai at the dizzying height of the construction boom and subsequently worked on a string of high-value projects. But when the industry underwent a severe correction in 2008, she began to focus her attentions on a more traditional form of building and became an unlikely but enduring champion of arish, or palm-leaf architecture.

By her own estimates, as recently as the 1970s, 80 per cent of the UAE’s population lived in arish houses. The rapid rate of development since then could have rendered these simple dwellings a thing of the past.

Now based in the UK, Ms Piesik has spent the past five years waging a long campaign – through her book, her lectures, a London exhibition and most recently a workshop in Paris, as The National reported yesterday – to keep the traditions of arish alive.

“A culture dies if you fail to transfer learning from one generation to the next,” she told this newspaper last year. Thankfully, with such an enthusiatic campaigner at work, there seems little chance of that happening.