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Timely Pairing: Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative Pairs a Pritzker Prize Winner with a Young Jordanian Architect: Álvaro Siza and Sahel Al-Hiyari

by ArchNewsNow
June 28, 2002

The world of architecture may soon have a new star. He is Sahel Al-Hiyari, a 38-year-old architect and painter who was trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the University of Venice, and now resides in his native Amman, Jordan, where he maintains a small practice. He has been chosen as the protégé of Pritzker Prize winner Álvaro Siza as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, a new international philanthropy in the arts.


Launched on June 13th at a gala reception at The Frick Collection in New York City, Rolex established the Initiative to assist younger artists whose opportunities do not yet match their talents. Al-Hiyari, who was in New York for the festivities, told ArchNewsNow that he was notified of his nomination in November, then exclaimed, “I still can’t believe it!” His is planning to make several trips to Siza’s studio in Portugal. “I’m looking forward to spending time with Siza – like being privately tutored, his knowledge will be passed on to me,” Al-Hiyari said. He is very excited about having the Master’s input on the design proposal for a hotel by the Dead Sea, and perhaps other proposals for low-income housing and urban design projects.


Through the Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Rolex seeks out extraordinary younger artists from around the world and makes it possible for them to enjoy a year’s guidance from masters in their own fields. Five mentors participate in each cycle, representing the fields of dance, literature, music, theater arts, and visual arts (architecture in the first cycle). Each mentor works with a single protégé from among candidates put forward by expert, international nominating panels. President and Chief Executive Officer of Rolex S.A., Patrick Heiniger said: “By searching out extraordinary younger artists and giving them personal access to great masters, Rolex hopes to provide them with the most precious gift of all: time to learn, time to grow, and time to create.” In November 2003, to mark the conclusion of the year, Rolex will honor the Protégés and their Mentors at a celebratory event in New York.


Al-Hiyari has always been interested in the use of light in art. It is this quality, among others, that draws him to the work of Álvaro Siza, whom he calls “a master of sculpting space and light.” Interacting with Siza will undoubtedly “leave an indelible imprint on my professional and personal development.” His completed projects range from a weekend house in the Jordan Valley to the Jordan Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany. He is currently working on a large furniture showroom interior in Amman.


One of Al-Hiyari’s recent projects, a psychologist’s office in Amman, is featured as part of the “Exploring the Edge” series on the Center for the Study of the Built Environment Web site. The article, titled “Ugly Concrete Boxes are Almost Alright" (a play on a Robert Venturi statement about Main Streets), gives us at least an inkling of why the Rolex architecture nominating panel and the advisory board (which included Frank Gehry) selected Al-Hiyari:


“He studies what most of us view as unrefined building practices; he accepts their harshness, crudity, and imperfections; he digests their vocabularies; and he uses these structures as a springboard from which he develops a new, bold, and vital architectural aesthetic. In the final result, he creates poetry out of an uninspired utilitarian reality.”


We expect to hear – and see – a lot more from this growing talent.


About the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative: Under the direction of the Advisory Board, five expert nominating panels worked in anonymity to identify greatly accomplished younger artists who might become Protégés. Neither the nominating panels nor the Rolex staff accepts applications. During the first cycle of the program, the nominating panels reviewed the work of 96 younger artists from 39 countries in order to select Protégé candidates for the Mentors’ consideration.


During the year of mentoring, which began officially with the reception, Rolex will provide a stipend of $25,000 to each of the Protégés. After the year of mentoring, each Protégé is expected to organize a showcase event in his or her home country, with a portion of the costs to be paid by Rolex.  To increase the benefit of the program for other artists and audiences around the world, Rolex will document the year of mentoring in a publication and a documentary film.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Alvaro Siza and Sahel Al-Hiyari

© 2002