Breeze houses installation channels air and weaves cultural narratives for dubai design week

Designboom_ Reflecting nuances of Arabian heritage in a contemporary urban context, Breeze Houses, or Manzel Al Nasim, is an interactive art installation by Alya Ola Abbas showcased at Dubai Design Week 2023. The artwork mimics a vital sustainable architectural ventilation component found in traditional Emirati homes — the ‘Malqaf’ (wind tower). Melding architecture, nature, and human narratives, translucent blue curtains mirror the wind’s dance while audio recordings weave conversations and narratives of Emirati life. Amid the design district, the tower gently captures external air and immerses visitors in the channelled wind streams.

Abbas’s journey began with a visit to Dubai’s historic Al Fahidi neighborhood, where wind towers grace traditional houses. Coupled with her architectural engineering studies and a profound fascination with the mechanisms of wind towers, Abbas sought to transform this visual inspiration into an interactive artistic creation for the design festival.

The design of Breeze Houses allows visitors to see and experience the passage and motion of air within these iconic towers, as if they were inhabiting the homes themselves. Additionally, Alya Ola Abbas creates a multi-sensory experience, weaving in social narratives and integrated environmental interaction that the towers create with both the surroundings and the inhabitants of the area.

Wind towers, initially designed as natural air conditioning devices, harness temperature differences inside and outside the wind tower walls to create optimal airflow within. Typically, a water surface such as a water basin or channel placed within the tower contributes to gentler air, a phenomenon mirrored in Abbas’s design. The artist utilized transparent, billowing curtains to reflect the movement of the breeze and air beneath the tower. ‘Since we often only imagine the flow of this air and don’t see it, I used curtains to allow people to visualize the gentle breeze flow within the wind towers. This architectural element, solid in structure, encapsulates the graceful movements of the gentle breeze within its walls,’ she shares.

Beyond functionality, wind towers hold cultural significance, serving as gathering spaces for residents of these homes during hot summer nights. Their exchanged stories become etched into the walls of the seating areas. These towers also provide shelter for pigeons, who make their homes on the wooden supports atop the towers. Thus, the wind towers become an integrated urban architectural element where nature, humans, and birds find refuge and dwell together.