Author : Aishah Mokhtar

University : Oxford School of Architecture

Status : MArch(D) Applied Design in Architecture, 2014

Advisors : Nasser Golzari, Yara Sharif

Title : Women’s Haven | Cultivating Moments of Paradise 

Dear Diary,

Cyprus is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean sea. For the field trip, we landed in Ercan airport from Istanbul, northern side of the island, half an hour away to Nicosia the capital city. It was almost dark when we landed, the sun almost set and had that pink orange colour sky with mountains surrounding the landscape, birds flying in a group creating patterns on the sky. Cyprus was so beautiful, it was love at first sight.

From the North.

Dear Diary,

It was Sunday when we arrived in Nicosia starting our journey from the northern side. If it wasn’t because of this field trip, I wouldn’t know that Cyprus is divided between the Turkish and Greek due to the war happened in 1974. It’s also one of the oldest Walled City in the world. All this while when someone mention Cyprus, automatically I will imagined Greece culture and blue sea. Having to experience Nicosia in the northern side, rich with traditional culture from the Turkish Cypriot really amazed me.

Crossing the ‘No Man’s Land.”

Dear Diary,

North and South Nicosia is divided with a approximately 230 metres land now filled with ruins, leftovers from the war since 1974. Surrounded by barbed wires and one needs to go through an immigration checkpoint to cross the land. Tourist, locals filled the area waiting their turn to stamp their passport.

To the South.

Dear Diary,

As soon we crossed the border, everything changed. The people, food, money currency, language, culture, fashion, shops and many more. It was like we were transported to a whole new place. The city heavy with tourist, such a high contrast from North where it was more relaxed environment. Wherever we go, people started to look at us, especially the locals. In the end we finished exploring the city within just 5 hours.

Dear Diary,

Nicosia, one of the oldest walled city, separated by a golden ruins in the middle creating sort of like a whimsical journey along the area. Holding thousands of memories from the past, ruins emerged from a sad episode for Cyprus, now could be use for something poetic and beautiful instead, cultivating hopes and dreams.

Dear Diary,

“I feel invisible on the other side of the city (South Nicosia). Is it because of the scarf I’m wearing?


Women’s Haven is a place of safety or refuge for women coming to Cyprus. A haven for women who feel insecure, judged or misunderstood by the society or purely just want to be with others who understand and accept you for who you are no matter where you came from or what your status is. Series of moments of Paradise will be cultivated among yourself, helping, learning from each other, finding your own moment without being judged by others in fact it could be shared to create beautiful memories.


“A secret haven is not suppose to be home, but rather a weekend house. A place to escape to when reality starts to drag us down; a quiet place to recharge the mental spirit and rekindle the heart before stepping back into the real world.”

Huda bt. Nejim Al-Asedi, 22

“Maybe it is not the talk of where but a matter of  who is safe-haven. If I was asked that instead, I will answer without much hesitant, “my mother”.

Balqis Tajalli – 24

“To travel through time at free will, as an observer not always a particpator …. to relive times of safety,times of happiness and of those moments that perhaps weren’t appreciated for their sheer beauty at that time.”


From series of women’s haven description, I see some clear pattern between their imaginations of their haven. It’s either reading a book under the trees, having cup of tea when it’s raining outside, looking at the sky, all description were dreamy and sort of they’re looking for an escape from reality.

I proposed to design a haven that combines both functional and daydreaming moments space for them. Using ruins and the landscape as part of the main elements to construct the moments of possibilities.

Imagining a space for women who loves to cook. Spice garden hanging on the wall, a window overlooking a garden outside filled with flowers, cooking utensils hanging on the wall while chatting with a new friend, sitting on the floor admiring her cooking skills.

Imagining the Tea Room. Hanging table and chairs giving the room a whimsical effect with series of tea making tools/apparatus (sugar cubes, tea pot, pattern tea cups) all within reach

“It’s not the end of a story. It’s just the beginning.” Women’s Haven, 2014

Further information:


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Aishah Mokhtar_ The narrative and the representation method used. The project sparks from a personal experience when I was in Cyprus and it turns out to be a very personal design. Methods involved a lot from personal photography collection, hand drawings and 3d narrative collages, more delicate approach in design.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
AM_ The art of movie making. The project theme was inspired by movie titled Women Without Men (2009) by Shirin Neshat. The cinematography art, the narrative guided me throughout the project to develop the programme brief and cultivating the moments of paradise within the women haven.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
AM_ That Architecture opens up to millions possibilities. Some people told me that I’m dreaming too much when it comes to designing. At some point, I almost believed in what they said. In the end, I’ve learned that all you need is just the right brief, the right studio approach and yourself open up to possibilities. You’re all set!

S//A : Describe your dream project
AM_ My dream project would be to create a platform for students to share their skills and talents not just in Architecture but also in anything that makes them to feel inspired when designing.