Buildings and decoration: case study

Arab artists in schools project

Arab world education programme

The school

St Angela’s Ursuline School (Newham, London) is a Catholic voluntary aided girls’ comprehensive and specialist language and technology college for ages 11-18.

Taha Al-Hiti at St Angela's school


The artist

Taha Al-Hiti is a British-Iraqi architect and calligrapher.

The project

Taha Al-Hiti worked alongside art teacher Kelly Izzard and 20 AS level art students. Under Taha's guidance, students explored the theme of Habitation in the Arab and Islamic worlds and worked towards a timed exam at the end of March 2006. Outcomes ranged from huge scale paintings to carefully constructed and carved ceramic structures.

Students discussed the planning and design of buildings for habitation in different geographical and cultural contexts, including the design and siting of doorways, entrances and windows. They also looked at the role of decoration in buildings, including their own Victorian convent school environment, their homes and local environments.

As this was an AS examination project, some students continued to develop their own ideas with advice and support from Taha. One student focused on London as her place of habitation, and looked at cultural differences in the design of maps. Another based her work on shells as places of habitation, and explored the ways in which different places of habitation are fit for particular purposes.


The students were presented with positive images of the Middle East and the Islamic faith, and were led to reflect on their own previous perceptions. They developed a fascination for, and skills in, a specialised artistic practice (calligraphy). Their own cultural traditions were acknowledged and valued, and they learned to reflect critically on how their own cultural experiences are represented in the built environment (this was especially evident as students compared the design and decoration of mosques with the Catholic Church in the school).

“Taha’s presence has made us... much more confident to explore Arab and Islamic art and architecture with students in the future.” - Kelly Izzard, art teacher