Inside the innovative design project ROUTED

Published: 19 June 2020 - 3:22 a.m.
By: Jane O'Neill

Ayah Maklad graduated with a degree in interior design from Dubai's American University. She's passionate about designing for unheard voices, as her thesis project ably demonstrates.

Born in Syria and raised in Dubai, Maklad began supporting her family at the age of 15. Now the interior designer graduate has turned to her family for inspiration.

Her latest project, ROUTED, was inspired by her uncle, Hazaa Al Shater, a truck driver in the UAE. Ayah developed the idea of ROUTED from a conversation she shared with her uncle.

He told Ayah that to him, home could be several things, but spending countless nights on the roads, having to walk long miles in extreme weather just to look for a restroom was not it.

In this project, she pays tribute to all the truck drivers who live their lives in exposed steel structures, like a nomadic tribe who have no place to truly call their own. The project focuses on providing truck drivers with essential physical needs.

Ayah has created designs for expandable spaces that would make a living in trucks more comfortable for the drivers. Her thesis project also creates a museum-like experience that serves as a space for their self-expressing art.

Ayah says: "In today's fast-paced world, we tend to drift away from social design, and instead we design the most luxurious and eye-catching interiors.

"The result is spaces that are not affordable, convenient, or accessible to most people. ROUTED, a socially designed senior thesis project, exposes the truth of the undermined truck drivers’ society, people who live under their trucks, hoping to create change. Inspired by my own uncle, an external transport truck driver, ROUTED was formed.

"The first four months of research were challenging because little or no information was found online; this pushed me to physically go on site visits and interview my audience, the most reliable source, to come up with personal observations.

"I visited two truck rest areas, solely designed for truck drivers to rest during peak hours when they have to come off the road, natural disasters, or tiredness.

"I found a community of truck drivers living in surprising conditions. They slept in the back seat of their trucks, showered underneath their trucks, and cooked near their trucks.

"Since space was an obvious limitation, they transformed a small box on the side of their vehicles into livable spaces. That was a factor to challenge: how to make space from space itself?

"Their ability to adapt to their realities and come up with ideas was interesting, and this thesis project takes the same route, challenging the idea of space by using expandable shipping containers to create more space.

"Presenting my concept, at first, was difficult because it is distinctive and there are not any previous examples to support it. Most of the replies I received were promises that truck rest areas will be facilitated in the future. This brought another challenge, creating the structure from scratch.

"To understand how shipping containers can be combined, visits to engineers and architects were needed. In a meeting with Arjun Menon, the managing director at Smart Box, I was able to present my idea and his team reviewed my preliminary drawings.It became easier to start the next phase: translating data into design.

"Along with the guidance of my mentor, Kevin Mclachlan, founder of NOMADK Design, this project came to life."

"After the final site visit to the rest area, I realised that it is not enough to only provide these homeless drivers with basic living conditions. Many drivers had hidden talents that they could not develop due to long work hours and shortage of facilities.I translated the psychological data and found the need to create a museum along with the residential building. However, it is an unconventional museum, the museum itself is exhibited. It is designed to expose the drivers’ suppressed emotions and allow the public to share an experience of light out of darkness.

"Around 90% of truck drivers speak either Arabic or Hindu, and the only common factor between both languages is diacritics. The configuration of the four spaces in the living building is inspired by them. The first diacritic “fat-ha”, meaning “open”, opens the kitchen containers to allow residents to interact while cooking/eating. The second diacritic “kas-ra”, meaning “break”, breaks the showermand laundry containers, providing private spaces. The third diacritic “dha-ma”, meaning “connect”, connects the living containers, hence, connecting residents together. The fourth diacritic “su-koon”, meaning “tranquil”, separates the bedrooms from the other containers.

The exposed residential building has a void in the middle with an inflatable structure expanding from the underground museum all the way up to the residence. Inside this structure, a steel staircase allows residents to move through floors and enjoy the structure.

"This journey has changed my design perspective. It opened my eyes to current problems, using design as a tool to spread awareness on social design. As designers, we need to tackle complex human problems, placing social issues as the priority.

"My next step, as a fresh graduate, is to create a more inclusive conception of design and make change in the undermined societies."

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