Mosque of the sun, Doha, Qatar
Exhibition: The Royal Academy of Art, London
Model: Etched Brass, paper rapid prototype
Team: Sara Shafiei and Ben Cowd,  saraben>studio

Mosque of the sun, Iran
Exhibition: The Royal Academy of Art, London
Model: Etched Brass
Team: Sara Shafiei and Ben Cowd, saraben>studio

This live project is for a new dome for the Mosque of the Sun in Esfahan, Iran. The concept of the dome is to align accurately with the sun at prayer-time throughout the year. Other apertures align with key celestial events throughout the year.

The model on show was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition in 2010. The model was constructed out of sheets of etched brass

Exhibition stand commissioned by De Montfort University
Timber, Steel and Water-jet cut brass
Team: Ben Cowd, Sara Shafiei, Alex Taylor, Ashely Clayton, James Flynn, Christopher Christophi, Simon Davies, Robert Symonds, Victoria Bennett, Gianni Simone and Alex Russell

The project was commissioned by De Montfort University to design a portable exhibition stand to carry student models and sketch books around the country as part of the RIBA initiated Polyark event. Commissioned, designed and built in 3 weeks the Dinosaur has travelled to over 10 destinations and been seen by over 1000 architecture students across the UK and Europe.
The concept behind the project was a tripod. Models are not laid out on a flat plane, but elevated and positioned accurately at various heights to allow visitors to get close to the models and peer inside, as you would a camera on a tripod. Every arm and leg is a different length and supported at a different angle. Each one slots in into an individually designed metal fixing which clamps the exhibition stand together. Designed to transported in a small van, the Dinosaur can pulled apart without any tools, enabling all legs and arms to be stored flat.

The National Botanical Gardens, Rome, Italy
Team: Sara Shafiei
Tutors: Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti

The project attempts to portray how magic and illusion can become an inherent part of the architectural design, which foregrounds the engagement of the user in the building.

The proposal begins by exploring how Harry Houdini’s ‘Vanishing Elephant’ trick is manifested within Albrecht Dürer’s ‘cone of light and vision’ to merge showmanship, optics and illusion.The resultant building, a Theatre for Magicians, is located in the National Botanical Gardens in Rome.

The building is situated at the peak of the site with picturesque views overlooking the site. The structure of the building is rooted in excess baroque ornamentation. The laser cutter is harnessed to create the detailed pattering on the façade of the building, allowing light to filter through the skin, creating a ‘glowing’ theatre in the hills, enticing visitors inside.

The use of perspectival illusions (such as text and cone anamorphosis) aid in the creation of a landscape of deceptions, whose ornamental tectonics are revealed to the dynamic spectator.

The Study of Anamorphosis
The Theatre of Magicians, Rome
Team: Sara Shafiei
Tutors: Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti

Anamorphosis can be seen to use perspective constructions to create a “trick”. The viewer is presented with something that does not make sense when viewed conventionally, and so they must seek out the unconventional viewpoint in order to resolve the “trick”. Therefore, anamorphosis becomes a secret, in which the search and discovery of images became an act of magic.

In order to unravel an anamorphic image, the subject’s relationship to the object of vision much be altered. As Dan Collins suggests in Anamorphosis and the Eccentric Observer, ‘For the viewer to observe anamorphic image they must become an “eccentric observer,” an observer who is willing to sacrifice a centric vantage point for the possibility of catching the uncanny’.
From a traditional point of view, sculpture and architecture ‘implicitly endorse an observer willing to link conventional profiles of an object into a flawless and harmonious progression.’ There are very few designs, which break away from this mould. Borromini’s Colonnade in the Palazzo Spada in Rome, and Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza represent the inverse of the norm, as their architecture insists on establishing a hierarchy of views that favor a specific vantage point. This form of design allows the viewer to become part of the process of creating an image, therefore becoming an inherent part of the final product. It is for the possibility of this outcome, that anamorphosis is used as a tool of illusion in the architectural proposal.
Here, anamorphosis is used on the façade of the theatre. The façade holds the distorted anamorphic image, and the cone (which intersects the façade) becomes the plane, which reveals the true image. As there are no traditional signs around the site to navigate visitors, visitors must explore the landscape and architecture before them to unravel its secrets. The anamorphic cone within the façade reflects the words BOX OFFICE, when the cone is viewed from the correct vantage point. In this case the “secret perspective” is positioned at the top of the grand stone staircase.

Mixed Use Development, Madrid, Spain
International Competition
Team: Jaime Bartolome, Pablo Gil, Sara Shafiei

Travelling Pavilion, Rebat, Morocco
Materials: Laser-cut Plywood
Team: Ben Cowd, Foster and Partners

Developed whilst working for Foster and Partners, London. The pavilion is designed to be constructed from flat sheets of plywood. Each layer of ply is laser-cut with a different pattern found in Islamic Architecture, traced from buildings and mosques surrounding the site. Different densities of patterns are used to create different spatial, lighting and atmospheric effects within the pavilion.

The model was exhibited with Spencer De Grey RA and Lord Norman Foster RA at the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition 2009.

Interactive Arts Centre, Madrid, Spain
International Competition
Team: Jaime Bartolome, Pablo Gil, Sara Shafiei

Flagship Fashion Store, Madrid, Spain
Materials: Water-Jet cut plywood 
Team: Sara Shafiei and Ben Cowd, saraben>studio

saraben>studio was awarded joint-first place in an invited competition to design the new flagship fashion store for RAASTA, Madrid, Spain. 

The project was inspired by 2 Dimensional layouts, measurements and cutting patterns in fashion designs and how these are folded and wrapped to create 3 Dimensional items of clothing. The proposal consisted of lightweight plywood sheets which are folded and wrapped to construct the interior of the store. 

The changing rooms, constructed of a single sheet of ply, are scattered around the store:
"... Some changing rooms are small and our heads stick out of them, some are hanging and people can see our feet, some have holes in for the attention seeker and some are hidden for the shy and bashful. They can be seen as magical places of encounter, where shoppers can dress up, play and escape. They're a personal space in a public realm." Ben Cowd, saraben>studio

BOOK: Solar Topography
Laser-cut book based on The Observatory, Rome
300mm x 450mm x 200mm
Team: Ben Cowd, saraben>studio

The book is constructed from 600 sheets of Laser-cut paper which are bound into a book. No pages are glued together enabling the viewer to flick through the model as a normal book. 
The book shows the Solar Topography at two scales on facing pages. The detailed plan shows the 'wing' in detail, positioned on the corner of the Palatine Hill and the Farnese Gardens. The second deeper and more delicate plan shows the project in relationship to the city of Rome and the Colosseum.

St Pauls Cathedral, London
Materials: Rapid Prototype, Laser-Cut Paper
Team: Ben Cowd & Tobias Klein

On a tectonic level, Contoured Embodiment is a reinterpretation and intervention of and within the Dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s St Pauls Cathedral in London. Crafted and manufactured digitally, the work combines laser-cut planar slices, articulating a traditional relationship of surface and boundary; with rapid prototyped convoluted spaces, proposing a new understanding of space defined by density and fields.

On a conceptual level, the work is guided by a fascination of Catholic Iberian Baroque, an excess of ornament, organic spatial exuberance and the scale-less implementation and rhetoric of symbolism, allegory and narrative explored through the Sacred Heart.


Foro Romano, Rome, Italy
Materials: Laser-cut paper
Team: Ben Cowd
Tutors: Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti

Inspired by cosmic diagrams of ancient civilizations, the project focuses on the theme of cosmology and sacred space. Mapping the paths and cycles of the sun and stars; the contoured surfaces can be read as astronomical clocks and calendars: steps representing days and months, stones representing minutes and lines attributed to seconds. The cartography of these studies is generated by a series of recessed laser-cut drawings and models. The final proposal of a public observatory and ticket office, placed in the complex historical context of the Foro Romano, interprets the formal intricacy, density and diversity of patterns found among the ruins.

Locally Available World unseen Networks
Projects made by IU faculty members: David Greene, Samantha Hardingham, Rowan Mersh, Theo Spyropoulos, Shin Egashira, Isabel Peripherique, Edwin Kendall.
Text: Samantha Hardingham and David Greene/The Invisible University
Digital photography: Kevin Shepherd
Images by: Sara Shafiei

The National Botanical Garden, Cuba
Materials: Bamboo, Timber, Concrete
Team: Sara Shafiei and Ben Cowd
Tutor: Marjan Colletti

The Project is a building design for a Palo Monte Ritual Centre, situated in the National Botanical Gardens, Havana, Cuba. The Palo Monte is a popular Cuban religion that originated in the Congo region of Central Africa.

Throughout the design process we worked hard to develop a language of architecture that could symbolically and spiritually represent the Palo Monte religion. We used drawings, collages and study models, built from natural and local materials to experiment with materiality, spirituality and spatial conditions. Oceanic art, architecture and pattern making inspired the form and organization of the building and resulted in an architectural language personal to the Palo Monte’s history, beliefs and culture. The reading of the building aims to educate visitors and tourists of the true practice of Palo Mote, unveil the mysteries behind the religion and lay to rest the common misconceptions and myths surrounding it.

We experimented with bamboo forming, bending and layering techniques to create the 7 spiritual ‘pods’ in the building. Each pod represents a specific god and responds to the very unique and functional, spiritual and symbolic requirements of the Palo Mote.

The building is hoped to be an opportunity for Cuba to experiment with this sustainable building material and learn and develop the various processing and construction techniques to enable them to use bamboo throughout Cuba.