Calligraphy Benches
calendar 21 Jan 2020

Calligraphy benches reimagine Arabic

The collaboration between celebrated architect Asif Khan and innovative Arabic typographer Lara Captan turns crowdsourced words into usable works of art

The poetic language of Arabic will become stunning physical artistic forms at Expo 2020 via a series of engaging calligraphy-inspired benches that its creators say will wrap the 4.38 sqkm site ‘like a poem’.

The 50 benches, to be spread across the site’s Thematic Districts, are the result of a collaboration between celebrated British architect Asif Khan and innovative Amsterdam-based Arabic typographer Lara Captan to turn crowdsourced words into usable works of art.

The benches expertly mix form and function: as well as providing places where visitors can pause and take in the many wonders of the event, each design spells out a meaningful word in three-dimensional calligraphy-inspired Arabic script.

The words for the benches were originally crowdsourced via Expo 2020’s social media users, who were asked to select words that, to them, best represent Expo, its subthemes (Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability) and the UAE. Those words were then refined with a group of 30 young Emirati professionals, who made the final selection and decided where the script-based benches should be located on site.

Huge attention to detail has been taken in every aspect of their design, including the words’ meaning internationally and regionally; the shape of the words when they are moulded into their 3D bench-form; the district in which they are placed; and the material each bench is made from – for example, the bench featuring the word for ‘vision’ is transparent, while the bench for the word ‘dream’ is formed by a series of hammocks.

The physical language of the benches is also designed to invite different forms of behaviour. Some benches feature elongated words to encourage people to sit on their own in quiet contemplation; other words are in shorter, circular forms, designed to spark conversations and spur people to interact with each other.

In addition to the benches interspersed throughout the Thematic Districts, four chosen words stood out as universal values that belonged to everyone around the world. These will be placed close to the site’s entrances, to welcome people onto the site.

Each bench will feature a plaque to explain its meaning, while the words used to create the benches will be featured in a range of Expo 2020 apparel.

Khan – the British architectural mastermind behind Expo 2020’s Public Realm – is known for works that include the darkest building in the world, and MegaFaces, a pavilion with a kinetic façade at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics that used 11,000 full colour LEDs to recreate the faces of visitors to the building.

Captan – who sees Arabic letters as being ‘made of motions within’ and has worked for years on modernising and maintaining cultural relevance in Arabic typography – used a diamond-shaped grid unique to Arabic typography as the basis to design the word forms that became the finished benches.

It is another example of how Expo 2020, a unique celebration of art, culture, music, architecture, technology and more, will be a once-in-a-lifetime showcase of human brilliance and achievement – transforming the simple act of sitting into something altogether deeper and more meaningful.