UK groups appointed to Syria job

Two British design groups have been appointed to work on the 16 000m2 Massar Children’s Discovery Centre in the Syrian capital Damascus, which is due to open in 2011.

Real Studios and KCA London/Furneaux Stewart were chosen by the UK’s Cultural Innovations project consultancy earlier this year – along with Dutch design group Northernlight – following a three-month selection process.

Andrew Wood-Walker, Cultural Innovations design project leader, says ‘There’s no doubt that London is currently leading the way in terms of exhibition design, and we felt these design groups were the best.’

Part of Syria’s Massar youth development programme, the discovery centre is aimed at opening the minds of Syrian children to opportunities beyond formal education.

Wood-Walker calls the Massar Centre ‘a journey of learning and discovery’ – the first of its kind in the Middle East. He says, ‘It doesn’t just look like a Western exhibition centre that landed in Syria. We are bringing European exhibition design expertise, but tailoring it to the customs, traditions and tastes of the Syrian people.’

The Discovery Centre, based on the shape of the Damascus Rose, will feature 4500m2 of gallery space, set in 16ha of new public parks and gardens.

Each design studio is responsible for individually themed ‘clusters’ within the centre, which will account for a combined budget of €12m (£9.4m), funded by the Syria Trust for Development.

Exhibition specialist Real Studios won the commission for one 890m2 gallery area, which will address the concept of ‘achievement’, while Northernlight and KCA/Furneaux Stewart will be responsible for two and three more galleries respectively.

Real Studios creative direc-tor Alistair McCaw says the design process has been more collaborative than he first expected. ‘Because we have been having monthly joint presentations, it has added to the sense that our ideas are “trickling” into one another and creating connections between each space,’ he says.

In the Achievement gallery, Real Studios is planning three subsections: Lessons of the Past, Future Shock and Risk City. McCaw says, ‘It is important to convey the message to young people that you can take your life into your own hands and make a difference – the future isn’t out of your reach.’

Massar Children’s Discovery Centre

• Amsterdam’s Northernlight design group will create the Life and Our World ‘clusters’, worth €4.7m (£3.7m)

• KCA/Furneaux Stewart combined forces earlier this year to design the Beginnings, Ideas and You Can Do It! clusters, worth €3.7m (£2.9m)

• Cultural Innovations will be responsible for the remaining four galleries

• The architect is Danish practice Henning Larsen, whose design was inspired by the structure of the Damascus Rose

• The Children’s Discovery Centre is the centrepiece of the Massar youth development programme in Syria, sponsored by the Syria Trust for Development

• Cultural Innovations has employed Syrian architect-designer Louai Mamlouk to collaborate on the project

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