YEAR | 2019-2020
LOCATION | Rijal Almaa, Aseer, KSA
ROLE | Conceptor + Set Designer + Lighting Designer + Lighting Operator

ABOUT | Timeless Fortitude

As per the project for Al Basta heritage village, Rijal Almaa was approached as a masterplan, moreover in this case because it represents a pieces of urban history containing a unique richness of culture and tradition.

Rijal Almaa is an ancient village located in the region of Aseer, in Saudi Arabia. Its peculiarity is the surprising good shape of the urban complex survived unscathed throughout the passing of time. The local community has kept alive the spirit of the place, not only the stones but also the way of living so much linked to the surrouding nature and the tribe unity. Therefore the choice of the project title TIMELESS FORTITUDE.

As by the particular approach that distiguishes PHOTONIKA, Patrizia Stella has been interviewing the locals, the “head of the tribe” and young people devoted to preserve the tradition, from which she could learn some important facts, such as the code of the Al Qatt, the decorative wall painting which since ever the women of each family group had been using to express the philosophy that governed the house. Al Qatt has been inscribed in 2017 as part of the Unesco world wide cultural heritage.

For the purpose of the project, the village has been analised and diveded in sub-contests on the base of Kevin Lynch’s urban theory, where each of them have been assigned with a particular lighting signature that mirrors the way light was used in ancient times. As a matter of fact, since electrical lighting has made its appearance only recently, the design team has made an acceptable compromise for the modern age. It was learned that at night in the village there was no outdoor light at all, except for the oil lamps held by the ones who walked outside their homes: so, from far the night scenario must have looked like some occasional running lights along the paths of the village. This picture was tranlsated into a dynamic street lighting “on demand”: in other words light is activated by sensors that detect the passage of a walker, mantaining a basic low intensity light, also for safety reasons. This is a way to stage an echoe of the past, and at the same time turns up to be a useful setup for the aim of a good energy management.

The wide arena at the entrance of Rijal Almaa is the core generator from which all the housing curtains echos up the hill. Besides refining the lighting choices to make of it a proper welcome space and also a performance stage, to this contest Patrizia has dedicated a coup de théâtre recalling a particular local tradition. In occasion of a marriage, which was a collective celebration, a young boy of the village used to run fast throughout the all village holding an oil lamp. This anectode has been converted in the project as a fast running of the lights placed along the perimeter of the arena, as a sign of celebration before the beginning of a collective event.

As by tradition, Patrizia Stella has designed an exclusive lamp for Rijal Almaa. The inspiration has come from one of the old oil lamps, the masarij, exhibited in the local museum. The particular shape that caught her attenion reproduces the symbol of the Rub Al Hizb, the eight-pointed star expresses the arabian devotion for the sacred geometry. The new technological Rub Masarij is an hanging lamp displyed in strategic points along the step walks of the village, diffusing a doubled colored light, red and blue.

By the time PHOTONIKA arrived in Rijal Almaa, the village had already been object of a previous lighting installation that revealed many gaps, from the lack of a narrative to the discontinuity of the lighting distribution up to some real problems of fruition comfort. During the first surveys, the village appeared at distance as a cluster of single points in an absolute dark environment, with no possibility of reading the architectural consistency nor of enjoying its aesthetic potentiality at night.

The design therefore aims to overturn those incoherences by creating an organic second skin to wrap the entire village, able to speek its old language through modern technologies and techniques, alive in its dynamicity and also matching the signature vivid colors of the Al Qatt.

The masterplan was widely appreciated by the governmet establishment. It gives voice to the very spirit of Rijal Almaa, to its sound enduring values, enhances its beauty and creates a powerful sensorial memory in the visitor. We believe that the design was performed likely as an autoctone would have done, making each effort to emulate the same ability in arts and crafts, the same allignement with the natural  environment and creating a good symbiosys between modern times and history.

TIMELESS FORTITUDE is a tribute to the women and men who have made Rijal Almaa.

Unfortunately the project has come to an abrupt arrest in 2020, when the design team had already completed the preliminary phase.

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