Sahel Al-Hiyari

Sahel Al-Hiyari

The protégé

Published in 2012

Characteristics common to all of the projects of Jordanian architect Sahel Al-Hiyari, 48, are “the adjustment to climate, topography and context...as well as the attention given to the control of light”, says renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, Al-Hiyari’s mentor in the inaugural cycle (2002-2003) of the Rolex Arts Initiative. Both “tradition and modernity” are combined in his work.

Al-Hiyari’s interest in buildings can be traced back to his youth. At the age of 10, he had a penchant for sketching and liked drawing plans of his family house. The young Jordanian’s dilemma – whether to study fine arts or architecture – was solved at the famous Rhode Island School of Design where he was able to pursue both disciplines before obtaining a Master’s in urban design from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard and carrying out post-graduate work at the School of Architecture at the University of Venice, where he also taught in the mid-1990s.

Disillusioned by the lack of a distinctive identity in his country’s contemporary architecture and the limited communication among Jordanian architects, in 1997, after working with firms in the U.S. and Italy, Al-Hiyari returned to Jordan and opened a small studio in Amman where he felt that he could “make a bigger difference” to the way architecture was practised. Today, Al-Hiyari Architects employs six architects.

Over the past 15 years, Al-Hiyari – who was chosen as one of the world’s top-10 young architects by Architectural Record in 2002 – has implemented diverse projects ranging from urban designs to private residences and renovations. Whether large or small scale, each project undergoes a rigorous design process in which the primary aim is to create a close interaction with the surroundings.

In addition to running his architectural practice, Al-Hiyari has lectured at Columbia and Harvard universities in the U.S., the Physical Development Research Centre in Iran, Jordan University of Science and Technology and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). He has also served as a reviewer and a member of the master jury for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Sahel Al-Hiyari is also a talented painter who has exhibited in Jordan, Lebanon and Italy. He is currently working on an art installation with former Rolex music protégé, Ben Frost.