Architect Rashid Taqui, also editor-in-chief of Architecture+, explains the genesis and objectives of the Architecture + awards to be announced on Dec. 20. Rajeev Nair met him
Allow the cliché of introducing Howard Roark in this story of a young architect, Rashid Taqui. If the Atlas Shrugged hero of Ayn Rand, prescribed “objectivity for personal fulfillment,” Taqui adds another one: “Creativity for professional excellence.”
That, mission-statement-like as it sounds, isn’t easy. In architecture, creativity, with all its subjectivity, works only when it truly transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. It is also a learning process, which is best understood when shared.
Architecture + is delivering that learning. And, Architecture +, for the uninitiated is the niche magazine that Rashid publishes, as its editor-in-chief. If you are wondering what makes Rashid a voice to be taken seriously in architecture and why Architecture + should indeed be regarded as any different from other interior design and industry titles, know that this man, as a 25-year-old had been extensively associated with the development of the Al Maha Resort in Dubai.
Al Maha Resort, the world has come to acknowledge, is a class apart in its desert location, eco-friendly construction and elegant décor. Rashid says Al Maha Resort was the first project he had cracked in Dubai, having just completed his masters in architecture from the UK working on two projects, both linked to the UAE architectural scene.
He had created the project as part of a design competition while working with one of the renowned architectural firms in the region, and the team eventually won the contract to actualize the event. This gave Rashid the opportunity to work hands-on on the Resort, more like an overall project-in-charge, delegating tasks and discussing details with seasoned veterans in the construction sector. That was indeed a great learning for Rashid.
Born in Pakistan and moving in to the UK when he was five years old, Rashid had in him an element of creativity and a love for working in the fast-paced environment a la advertising. “Art and advertising are expressions, and architecture has long-lasting significance,” says Rashid, on his career choice. He was one of only 60 students handpicked for an international degree in architecture studies, where he studied both the European and Third World context of architecture. As part of his curriculum, he had worked extensively on Egyptian designs.
His parents wanted him to be a civil engineer. Architecture education takes long years; they wanted to see Rashid married much earlier. The UK was going through a bleak phase for architects the year Rashid graduated and so he decided to look further a field. His uncle was in the UAE, and touring the country, he was surprised to note “how the architecture in the region had no clear cut direction.” Rashid believes that architecture is not about going back to the past blindly; it is about creating an identity that suits modernity without doing away with the character of the past. That does not mean having wind-towers in your skyline all the time, he adds. “The heritage of the region must be adapted in the contemporary context.”
His first posting took him to the Al Maha Resort design, which took seven-and-a-half months. Eighteen months of on-site job followed. “The first thing they did was create a village for some 750 people in the middle of nowhere,” recalls Rashid. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime. Working on the project reinforced in me the belief in myself, even when others doubted.”
Rashid recalls with sadness that after the virtually non-stop work on-site, he missed the opening of Al Maha Resort. The very morning that the resort was to open, he had to rush to the UK to be with his father, who had taken seriously ill.
On his return, he worked on various prestigious projects. He then took a break to evaluate his direction of growth and following a hiatus in the UK, decided to work in an architect-cum-project manager position, which he believed would enhance his learning curve. It is this job that was to eventually propel him to launch Architecture +, as a platform for brainstorming by the architectural fraternity.
Rashid says he felt the need for architects to be more accountable and this also necessitated greater client education. Architecture + was thus to serve two functions: One, reach out to architects to portray their views and analyses; help the clients discover the issues in architecture.
Rashid already had a fair share of experience working with the publishing industry, and the opening of Dubai Media City was further motivation for him. Publishing industry friends advised him to launch Interior Design +, another title he had registered for its viability. Rashid resisted. He wanted to do Architecture + and that was it.
With a team of 20, he launched the magazine under the aegis of Inhouse Creative, which was to synergise the operations of the magazine through other revenue streams including graphic design services.
The initial feedback to the magazine came from across the world, says Rashid. He therefore looked at the publication as a sounding board for architecture practices in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Indian Sub-continent. This was to be focused group, and the magazine was to serve as a forum for dialogue to the international architects who could learn about the region as well as for the region to interact with the West.
“We had to break the preconceived notions some easily adapt to magazines from the region,” says Rashid. He therefore focused on story selection, and design and layout to ensure that readers first had to be wowed by the publication before they sought out the finer details. He therefore insists on international representation in contents. Authors are not repeated in subsequent issues, and weekly meetings, give the quarterly a clear sense of direction. “It was absolutely not about money or ego,” says Rashid. “We needed a forum for dialogue and we weren’t going to water down our mission.”
Success encouraged him to create a series of discussions by the writers in Architecture + and then an awards to showcase the best in architectural creativity. Architects from across the region submit finished projects (executed in the region) for the awards under the theme, Designs for a New World.
This year, Rashid informs, from over 300 registrations, and 170 eventual submissions, 88 projects were short-listed in ten categories. These were recently exhibited at the Big Five exhibition along with entries for a young architect award that has been instituted to encourage the youngsters. The students had to conceptualise a problem and offer a solution in their projects.
Rashid asserts that the awards are judged totally independently and the jury comprises eminent industry experts from around the world. There are popular and professional choice awards too. This year, Rashid also introduces the Architecture + Foundation, which will work towards construction of houses for people in the region affected by various calamities. To found the Foundation, an auction of diamond watches will be held at the Awards ceremony at Dubai Media City. He expects to raise about Dhs100,000. Next year, students might be asked to design houses for people in calamity zones and the Foundation will support the creation of homes based on these designs.
At all stages, says Rashid, the bottom-line of his goals has been to educate, inform and stretch the boundaries of creativity. And that always finds takers.