The experience that VITA and the PSTA has accumulated over the years from its research and education programmes has formed the basis for its involvement in project work and design consultancy.
The practical nature of the work at the PSTA has resulted in the development of its workshop and direct participation in live projects. Both the staff and alumni have initiated developments which aim at establishing the crafts as part of the building process. The PSTA has always clearly emphasised the importance of craftsmanship and aims to broaden its position by re-establishing the arts and crafts in their proper role as an integral part of the process of building and architectural design.
In addition, the PSTA is establishing its facility for consultancy services covering the scope of architecture and urban design with a particular focus on the principles of the traditional built environment. It is envisaged that these services will range from generating relevant planning principles for the contemporary environment of the Islamic world to the implementation of architectural projects.
The Tent at the Souk in Shakespeare’s Globe
The PSTA participated in Shakespeare’s Globe Islam Awareness week in several ways. Staff students and alumni designed and made the whole souk which was the principal feature of the culminating event.
The design and construction of the souk was a complex process involving several highly-skilled crafts and craftspeople – from hand-block carving and printing to tent rigging.
First, the geometric design to print on the plain canvas material was chosen – an Islamic pattern originating in Egypt. It proved an effective design for a double-curved structure and was applied using hand-block printing. This structure was achieved when the tent material was stretched between a square perimeter at its base and a circular opening at its apex.
The surrounding walls of arches and openings were designed to evoke the spaces of an Islamic madina (old town). A variety of painting, printing and mixed media techniques were used to achieve a striking result of bright colour and pattern.
Together, the tent and walls acted as a highly evocative thoroughfare to craft workshops and stalls. The overall effect was a delightful combination of light, shade and colour, much praised by all who visited.
The Noon Ceiling
VITA alumni were commissioned to decorate a reception room in a house in Queen Anne’s Gate, London, with a geometric Islamic-inspired wood ceiling. The design is based on an 8-fold pattern mainly on Moroccan and Hispano-Mauresque prototypes. The principal designer and craftsman of the ceiling made in-depth studies of the Alhambra carved wood ceilings; the combination of his theoretical knowledge and wide experience as a practising craftsman in Islamic woodwork and design was essential in the execution of this project.
The ceiling was constructed in the workshop at Charlotte Road using traditional woodworking techniques. A variety of woods was employed including beech, oak, cherry and walnut with arabesque inlay in the central panels and fretwork.
The Carpet Garden
The PSTA was invited by HRH The Prince of Wales to help design and construct a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2001, based two Turkish carpets. The project was undertaken in collaboration with Clifton Nurseries and Porcelanosa, a Spanish tile company.
The Carpet Garden was based on the traditional chahar-bagh (four-fold) design with a central Moroccan-inspired octagonal fountain; the four rills flowing from it, lined with sea-green tiles, were laid out in zig-zag design imitating one of the carpets, and were edged with a deep purple hedge. The geometric shapes of the flower-beds were filled with a wide variety of flowers to imitate the colours of the carpets. Typical of the enclosed traditional Islamic garden as represented in Persian and Ottoman miniatures were the tall dark evergreen cypress trees and these were placed at intervals around the perimeter.
The Carpet Garden was later installed in a permanent setting at Highgrove where it can now be seen by visitors. It is a place for peaceful retreat and contemplation, encapsulating as it does many of the elements essential to the traditional Islamic garden: water, shade, colour – especially green – fruit, and scent, echoing the Qura’nic descriptions of the Paradise Gardens.
East London Mosque Design Project
The PSTA is acting as a design consultant for the building extension project of the East London Mosque. This development includes a new prayer hall, a community centre, classrooms, as well as other communal facilities. The PSTA is also involved in a long term educational programme with this mosque specialising in the arts and crafts of the Islamic world. This programme aims to help the Muslim community contribute to the local environment. It will tailor the different courses towards making individual architectural items (doors, decorative panels, ceramic tiles, etc.) which can eventually be integrated into the new extension.
Interior Design Project for Ar-Rum
The PSTA designed, manufactured and installed several items for the interiors of Ar-Rum, a Muslim Centre in Clerkenwell. These included a large ceramic fountain in the main reception area, a double-height timber screen in the entrance hall and two glass-block walls of geometric patterns.