Seniors in the architecture major will have to abandon T-squares and straight edges for their latest project: designing water slides for the Wild Wadi Water Park in Dubai.

On Monday, architecture professor Steven Harris announced that students in the “Senior Project Design Studio” will travel to Dubai from Jan. 26 to 30 to study the city’s architecture and gather information for their final assignment in the major’s design track. The students will enter their designs into a global architecture contest sponsored by the Jumeirah hotel chain, which owns the water park.

Since 2005, a fund at the School of Architecture has sponsored seniors to journey beyond New Haven as part of preparation for a competition of this nature. This year’s project will focus on the Middle East for the first time, Harris said. He explained that Dubai’s complex history and recent development will give students plenty of material to work with in considering how their designs will interact with the environment. For instance, Harris said, students will have to consider the tension between the gender segregation prevalent in Islamic society and the water park’s mixed-gender atmosphere.

“Working in the Middle East raises many overlapping and intriguing issues,” Harris said. He added that he is fascinated by the culture of Dubai, comparing the city to Las Vegas.

Since the 1980s, Dubai’s architectural landscape has been on a rapid upward swing: the city now boasts the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, which was completed in 2010. Kevin Adkisson ’12, who will participate in the project, said it will be interesting to work in a city that has grown up so quickly, adding that working in a radically new landscape is an exciting opportunity for a young architect.

Before traveling to the Gulf, students will research the city’s nuanced culture and architecture in groups. After the on-site research in Dubai, students’ individual plans will begin to take shape, and after returning, each student will work on plans to submit to the international competition following a midterm review, Harris said.

Though they frequently compete against established architects, winning is not beyond hope, Harris said, adding that students often win large prizes. Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 created her winning design for the 1982 Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. for a similar assignment, Adkisson said.

The students’ focus on the academic elements of architecture may give them an architectural edge, Harris and Adkisson said.

Harris said the guidelines for the competition are “vague,” stipulating only that entrants design some sort of “attraction.” But, he added, the medium of water will pose an unfamiliar challenge to students because it is less versatile than other materials they have worked with.

“Water has very specific technical aspects,” Harris said. “It’s not infinitely [able to be manipulated], and this restriction often leads to rather extraordinary solutions.”

Adkisson said that pre-departure research will include studying the history of water from the classical world through the 21st century, the history of water parks and rides, water park design and the Wild Wadi Water Park itself.

Though this trip is more expensive than similar ventures in past years, the source of funding will remain the same, Harris said.

Assistant Dean John Jacobson said that since 2005, the trip has been funded by the school’s Alexander Purvis Fund, which allows undergraduate architecture students to travel for free. Most students will also apply for Mellon grants from their residential colleges, Adkisson said.

In past years, senior architecture majors have traveled to Atlantic City, Mexico and Spain.