Inspiration The Visual Vocabulary of Hussain AlMoosawi


In these photos, architectural design elements form the alphabet of a new language we speak with our eyes.

Communication designer, typologist, and photographer Hussain AlMoosawi captures United Arab Emirate buildings to form a visual language that describes his native country. Checkered black and white squares could be a game-board for checkers or the belly of a tiled swimming pool, while shimmering blue triangles reflect sunny skies, and reflective hemispheres are embedded like eyes in stucco flesh.

These seemingly abstract patterns, decontextualized from their real-life structures, turn architectural design into a tantalizing game of Tetris. Endlessly repeating shapes become aesthetically pleasing windows, doors, and archways in towering buildings throughout the Emirates. AlMoosawi often shares these textural images in gridded formation. This presentation structure allows the image collector—and the viewer—to examine shared qualities in visually similar but uniquely captured images.

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“As a typologist, I've always worked with grids,” explains AlMoosawi. “Beyond aesthetics, grids are used by typologists to compare different subjects that are photographed objectively.” Similar to his work as a communication designer, the power of AlMoosawi’s images arises from their considered display following exhaustive collection. Facts and figures bear less meaning out of context, but when organized and contextualized, the data’s perspective begins to emerge.

Because of his professional familiarity with grids as a typologist, as well as his comfort working as a designer within strict proportional constraints, AlMoosawi described himself as “grid-ready” when he started using Instagram as a tool to showcase his work. He carefully curates his feed, selecting each image based on its relationship to the previous one and considering factors like the building’s age, architectural style, and color. Reflecting on how different outlets demand different design solutions, AlMoosawi explains that Instagram’s platform, which preferences vertical images to maximize pixel space, has turned his eye toward skyscrapers for his ongoing typologies of Emirati buildings.

As a multi-hyphenate creative, AlMoosawi has long found intellectual engagement and personal fulfillment in pursuing projects outside his commissioned work. “I've always enjoyed what I do but also had a surplus of creative energy and an urge to communicate my personal views,” he explains. And, although photography was part of his training, “for many years it was nothing but a tool to reflect my personal life.”

The designer, who went abroad for college and is now based in Abu Dhabi, first developed these pictorial stories during his student years in Melbourne. “That's when the two disciplines came together, where I acted as a designer who uses photography as a medium to document design,” says AlMoosawi. “This resulted in a series of typologies where my design background helped me on how to look, while my technical ability as a photographer aided me on how to capture.”

In addition to photographs of Middle Eastern buildings that have drawn his attention in recent years, shown here are AlMoosawi’s typologically inspiring utilities of Melbourne. Each image in the gridded series homes in on surface details of small structures that power the large Australian city while modestly hidden underfoot. AlMoosawi’s careful attention celebrates what many people would consider forgettable facts of modern urban existence—worn-down visual noise in a busy metropolis.

Furthering his exploration of overlooked structures and spaces, AlMoosawi has also documented the visual vocabulary of Emirati construction zones. In UAE’s local communities, “architectural styles repeat themselves as if they are dictated by social self-regulation, while the color palette follows a predictable pattern,” the photographer explains. “This visual uniformity is wonderfully disturbed by construction fences, which come in different colors and styles. It’s the state of being temporary that gives these fences the license to be whatever they want. To express freely.”

The wide-ranging aesthetics of these ephemeral structures often include repeated geometric shapes, from tall white diamonds and slanting stripes to squat red dots and ground-grazing triangles. Others sport lettering, with Roman alphabet text spanning multiple metal panels. Organizing the physical borders into a typological grid elevates their functional purpose into a study of personality, suggesting the unique perspective behind each individual who added visual flair to a perfunctory structure.

Looking into the year ahead, AlMoosawi shares that a recent excursion to Abu Dhabi’s western region has filled him with inspiration. The area’s buildings evince two distinct construction periods, which he hopes to document on a return trip: In Delma Island, many properties display a traditional style unique to Abu Dhabi’s island, AlMoosawi explains, while in the older part of Al Ruwais, modernist structures were master-planned by the national oil company, ADNOC. “The two locations are not distant from one another but have been architecturally influenced by contrasting factors.”

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Whether peering down at subtle details or patrolling city blocks for sky-grazing highrises, Hussain AlMoosawi focuses his lens on patterns and shapes to reveal the hidden stories of local communities. Explore his online portfolio, which marries data design and typological photos, to see more of how AlMoosawi sees his corner of the world.

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