Was it an easy decision for you to move to Bahrain then, Anne?
Anne: Amsterdam had become a bit boring to me. I had lived there for more than 18 years and I was ready to move on, but I didn’t know where to. And then Noura came along and Bahrain was in the package, so I thought, “Why not?” I didn’t really think about what opportunities there were—I just moved! It was not all easy. There’s less infrastructure than I was used to in the Netherlands, but in the end, I’m happy to be a bit secluded. It gives me focus on my work. It’s also good to have some constraints.
Noura: It’s an island—and a small one.
Anne: We are not like Dubai, where you could get a lot more things. But that is nice because the constraints are something that you can use as a setting-off point.
I remember flying over Bahrain and being struck by how different it looked from other Gulf cities: a white city rising from white sand—it’s mesmerizing. What do you like the most about it?
Noura: There’s a lot that’s special here. It has a really layered history that you feel in many ways. There’s been life here [since roughly] 2000 B.C. up to today, and you feel it somehow.
Anne: I love to work with the light here. The Netherlands, where I’m from, is also famous for its light, but the light is that of clouds with the sun shining through. Here the light is of an incredible brightness, with very stark shadows. And I use that a lot in the architecture I make here—how I depict it, how I photograph it and how I show it. And also the color of it, because everything has dust over it. There’s always sand in the air. People here don’t like it, but I like that it gives everything a sort of beige hue and softens the color. I’ve completely adopted it in my work and the materials I work with.
It sounds like Bahrain has influenced your work a lot. Is there still something distinctly Dutch that you bring to the work you do here?
Anne: Yes. I think one of the habits of Dutch artists, architects and designers is the will to completely rethink and redo something, without being bound to history. To not feel restricted by tradition, I think that’s a Dutch trait.
Noura, you trained as an architect but now you work in more of a planning role with the government. What drives you to do this work?
Noura: I think the desire to push certain boundaries of what you’re able to say and talk about in this part of the world, although that changes all the time. One of the first projects I worked on was the Bahrain Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2010, for which we did this exhibition called Reclaim, looking at land reclamation. [In Bahrain as in other areas of the Gulf, privatization of the coastline for redevelopment projects has restricted public access.] You never used to hear about the way people living here were reacting to that or protesting or how it was affecting their lives. This was one of the first times that there was a critical analysis of the extensive change that was happening to the coastlines—at the government level. We did interviews with fishermen, a lot of fieldwork. It emboldened people. That kind of risk-taking and excitement is probably primarily what motivates me, and I always try to look for topics that are necessary or relevant to talk about.
Do you have similar preoccupations, Anne?
Anne: I’m much more concerned with individual artistic factors. That practice is led by something that I now call “material gesture.” The materiality of an architectural project is quite often understood as its construction and expression. I try in my practice not to produce meaning, but to look freely at material that is devoid of meaning or representation.
Noura: It may seem like our interests diametrically oppose one another.