Darat al Funun is one of Amman's most beautiful places. Visiting this "home of the arts" that overlooks the old downtown of Amman is one of the richest experiences you can have in the city. It brings together art, architecture and archeology in the heart of the city. Darat al Funun has dazzling premises consisting of a number of old Ammani urban villas that date back to the 1920s, terraced gardens and even the ruins of a Byzantine church dating back to the fourth century AD. The decision in 2011 to expand Darat al Funun to include a newly acquired plot adjacent to the current premises, presented unique opportunities and challenges. The new plot was mostly empty, with some striking rock formations that expose Amman's geology. But it also held a simple building consisting of 3 shops/workshops which were built in the 1940s. These spaces were used for different purposes over the decades, such as the storage and sale of firewood and a carpenter's shop. The shops open to the street. The rest of the perimeter of the plot was walled, but the wall had various openings. The wall itself was a collage of high quality and low quality building materials such as various kinds of stone and concrete block work. The wall itself is a kind of mini-collage showing traces of change, development, demolition and damage. This collage can be seen as symbolizing the urban processes of the 20th century at work in Amman's old neighborhoods. Prior to adding the Lab, Darat al Funun was more of a "walled garden" experience. A modest looking perimeter wall hid the lush gardens and stately old villas of Darat al Funun inside.
The new plot with its storefront was a completely different story. For the first time Darat al Funun would acquire an outside facing "storefront", open to the street and visible to passing by pedestrians and cars. Working under an extremely tight deadline, we helped renovate the workshop structure and created minimal architectural additions to turn the space into Darat al Funun's new Lab: a space for emerging creative experimentation. Our treatment of this project highlighted the archeological features of the site. It also left the collage of materials of the perimeter walls intact. A simple industrial aesthetic was used for the interior which features a concrete floor, white walls, exposed ducting and a grid of neon lines. A steel structure covered with corrugated a metal sheet was used to create an entry point to the structure. The workshop structure was also expanded by adding a simple linear exhibition space and storage/equipment room. SYNTAX also designed all the new metal work for the storefront facades and supervised the renovation of the old metal shutters and the cleaning of the perimeter wall in a way that did not erase its patina. Besides creating the architectural and interior experience of the new Lab, we also designed two visual installations in the space, celebrating both the building (and its builders) as well as 22 years of contemporary Arab art at Darat al Funun. The Lab was inaugurated by HM Queen Rania on the 7th of June 2011. This exciting project was made possible by the vision and determination of Darat al Funun's founder Suha Shoman.