A mentorship with Álvaro Siza was one of the defining periods of Sahel Al-Hiyari’s early career as an architect.
“My year with Álvaro Siza has had a powerful influence on my work,” says Al-Hiyari who travelled to Venice to see his former mentor receive the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 13th Architecture Biennale. “I still draw inspiration from our many discussions. Siza’s designs have a supreme sense of place and context. They mix beauty and intelligence, are practical but never formulaic.”
Siza, one of the world’s most renowned architects, and Al-Hiyari collaborated for a year as mentor and protégé in the inaugural cycle (2002-2003) of the Rolex Arts Initiative.
“The year of mentoring occurred at a critical stage of my life,” adds Al-Hiyari. “Working with an architect of Álvaro Siza’s calibre and passion convinced me that, despite the frustrations I had been encountering in Jordan, I had to continue to practise architecture there. This is what I am meant to be doing.”
In the preface he wrote to the monograph, Sahel Al-Hiyari Projects, in 2005, Álvaro Siza noted how “tradition and modernity” are successfully combined in the work of the Jordanian architect. Characteristics common to all of Al-Hiyari’s projects, he said, are “the adjustment to climate, topography and context ... as well as the attention given to the control of light”.
Al-Hiyari’s interest in buildings can be traced back to his youth when he had a penchant for sketching and liked drawing plans of his family house. He has degrees in architecture and fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a Master’s in urban design from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. After carrying out post-graduate work at the School of Architecture at the University of Venice – where he also taught in the mid-1990s – Al-Hiyari remained abroad, working in firms in the U.S. and Italy.
In 1997, he returned to Jordan where he felt that he could “make a bigger difference” to the way architecture was practised, and opened his own firm. Today, Amman-based Sahel Al-Hiyari Architects employs six architects.
In 2002, Al-Hiyari was chosen as one of the world’s top 10 young architects by Architectural Record. His diverse projects range 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 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.