From There to Here: David Hansen, Architect



Fascinating is how a western trained understood the eastern context so well.

From there the temperate west, to here the hot-dry east, is a fulfilling voyage.


Here, the architect is not combatting the sun, but in Corb’s words, has made a ‘pact with it’.

My teaching and research involved climate responsive architecture in the region. I revisited with interest the sun’s path through the skies of the Middle-East while studying Hansen’s designs. Sun moves, sends heat, but the buildings are protected. This is desirable for a desert climate, and here lies his innovation that bars the heat while making interiors daylit with soft light. Embracing new technology of computer modelling, solar and shadow studies, along with structural ingenuity, the architect was able to mitigate the harsh effects of climate of the place in question. But the poetry is not abandoned. In devising all the technological innovations for addressing the sun, he merges technology and art skillfully.


The essence of tradition in contemporary – a challenge, is well met here. Traditional environmental strategies are exploited with new materials and methods. In Princess Noura University, Hansen applied the basics of mashrabiya or rowshan in the walls, roofs, and outdoors in an abstract, and in his own vocabulary, to bring in soft light. New ways of passive cooling were also inspired from traditional wisdom of thermal mass, deep shading, screens, perforated openings, shaded courtyards and greenery.  Advanced application of double roof, and special glass are remarkable. Another recurrent passive technique visible in the designs for the desert cities is the evaporative cooling of the micro-climate through reflecting pools. An important motto in landscaping was to ‘go local’. Hence saving energy was of foremost importance in creating cooler indoors in Hansen’s architecture that was also fresh and contemporary.


Riyadh Archive’s vertical louvers welcome just the right amount of sun since the size, type, angles and spacing are based on solar studies, and the pattern of these creates a musical rhythm. Janadariya Center echo the landscape of wadi and its undulating rock formation. Dammam Tower’s orientation and envelop is perfectly together with climate consciousness.


Materiality is an eye-opener. Hansen experimented with new materials, and often was instrumental in creating new materials.


Connection of indoor-outdoor is difficult in desert buildings – one has to shut off the outdoor immediately after entering. But Hansen designs dealt with that problem successfully with transitional spaces as well as giving views to outdoors.


The architect handled various geometries – from the smooth curvilinear lines of the Hyperloop project expressing speed, to the stark angular geometry of Transportation Center or Dubai Expo pavilion with great ease. Three-dimensional expression of Expo pavilion abstractly echoes the starry constellation, connecting viewers to the night sky of ‘the place’.


The settings are so dissimilar from where he came from – there, than where he worked mostly – here. His was a challenging career in varied climate which is the main force that shapes architecture. Hansen acclimatized well, and produced extraordinary work.

Concept of Hansen’s architecture rests on solid foundation of the climate, culture, tradition and technology. Building forms and envelops showcase ingenuity in addressing all these aspects and importantly, time – both present and future. Interior spaces are modulated by structure, architecture and of course, daylight. Abstraction of traditional geometric patterns in his work not only gives the sense of locality, but is used to orchestrate light. Innovative use of technology added a much-needed element indoors, the daylight. And this is why Hansen’s work is also specially lit in the architecture of today.

Lastly, people of most of these cities in the Middle-East are accustomed to modern and contemporary architecture, and the key challenge for bringing in something new was met by Hansen every time. And each work, is of science and poetry synthesized.”
Zainab Faruqui Ali, PhD, Chairperson, Department of Architecture, BRAC University, Chair, Education, Commonwealth Association of Architects