Cristiano Luchetti, assistant professor at the American University of Sharjah, and judge at the Middle East Architect Awards talks to 2013 Architect of the Year Kourosh Hajizadeh about winning the accolade, his career and design philosophy.
Last year was my third time as member of the jury for the Middle East Architect Awards, Luchetti writes.
This event is indicative of the state of the art in urban design, current trends, and achievements in the region, so projects and architects’ profiles submitted are disciplinarily interesting for a scholar like me.
In 2015, I witnessed a lack of projects that one could define as “iconic”. It seemed that the architectural language of the submissions was adapting more and more to the economic conditions of these ambiguous times and avoiding unnecessary risks.
In 2016 I noticed an even further drift toward safer and familiar languages.
In a sort of a reversed-brutalist process the language expressed through Euclidean geometries and rational architectural composition of spatial layouts gets polished and beautified through the use of the latest fashionable materials and high-tech building components.
It seems that if space still remains within the boundaries of accustomed typologies, its finishing, performance, and detailing acquire more value.
Unfortunately, sustainability remains a niche field. Incorporating sustainable methodologies into a comprehensive design process is still unresolved and it will surely – and hopefully – be one of the main field of investigations in the coming years.
I was intrigued by the work of Iranian architect based in Teheran Hajizadeh & Associates lead by Kourosh Hajisadeh, who was awarded Architect of the Year in 2013.
Looking at the firm’s portfolio I saw strong originality expressed through a unique series of architectural solutions. Their work sparkled my curiosity so I decided to directly ask them about the founding paradigms of their architecture and their point of view on the contemporary status of the industry in the region.
Cristiano Luchetti: Kourosh, despite your relatively young age, you are already an important figure for the architecture of this part of the world. Could you introduce your firm and describe what the driving forces of your design philosophy are?
Kourosh Hajizadeh: Hajizadeh and Associates Boutique Architecture Firm was established in 2008. Previously, I had worked for Iranian architects like Bahram Shirdel and also for Hadi Mirmiran, who played an important role in my approach to architecture.
Many things changed as I founded my own office. New attitudes changed my perception. In my opinion, architecture is nothing but relations and dynamics among people.
In the beginning I participated in competitions. In this way, my design ideas were free from a client’s interference.
Then I sent my portfolio to Middle East Architect and my picture was put on the cover of the magazine as the Architect of the Year. After that my professional life flowed in a new and different way.
Generally, I’m not into a formalism style of architecture and I believe that architecture is not a product but a process.
I should also add that my brother, Amir Hossein began working as the lead architect in my office since 2013. He was also nominated as Young Architect in the Middle East Architect Awards 2016. I can foresee a brilliant future if he carries on with current situations.
CL: Going through your submission for the MEA Boutique Firm of the Year I was fascinated by a sentence you used to describe one of the most important epistemological (theory of knowledge) goal of your work: “Passing the Bounding Variegation of Populism”. I am wondering if it has to do with the specific conditions of working and being based in Iran. Would you elaborate on this concept?
KH: An unpleasant issue existing in third world societies beside economic problems, is the low level of aesthetic preferences. We’ve always tried to follow our ideas, innovations and creations.
CL: Here is another quote of yours: “Not only form follows function, but also form follows the space which is created by an event”. It reminds me of Lewis Mumford’s interpretation of the spaces of a city as a stage for events or even a ‘Debordian’ understanding of urban contexts through personal experiences: Are you a ‘Situationist’ architect?
KH: Yes, for me it’s a key sentence. I came to it three years ago and in my opinion our projects speak volumes in this manner.
As I mentioned before, we don’t follow a formalist style in architecture and believe that architecture is not a form. Our quote “Not only does the form follow functions, but also form follows the space which is created by an event” is a definition of architecture in terms of space, not material.
CL: It is evident in your work there is a strong emphasis on the theoretical approach of your projects. In your portfolio text is somehow more relevant than images. As architects we are always trying to find our way slaloming between clients’ brief and our personal research. How do you solve this potential dichotomy? How do you see the role of theory in the contemporary architecture of the region?
KH: Architecture definitely follows theories in art and philosophy. We strive to overcome time and space.
But as you mentioned the correlation between the theories and clients’ needs is really tough and most of the time we can’t deal with it here in Iran, so we may lose the project. Conveying our ideas to the client is hard, sometimes we’re forced to present the project in two different languages; one for our architectural ideas and secondly restating them in the words of the client. At times we conquer it. But it is not easy at all.
Nowadays we have many famed architects in the region whose presence helps upgrading the quality of architecture. Yet sad to say that there is no theory used in the process of architectural design in the Gulf States. I think architectural competitions and awards can be one of the prominent factors structuring the architecture of the Middle East.
CL: In recent years Iran has faced a massive urbanisation with a demand for new buildings. A new generation of very talented architects reached international recognition through their high quality production. At the same time the embargo imposed by the US caused a consequent lack of imports of materials and technologies developed outside the country. Some Iranian firms focused on local materials and construction techniques as highlighted at the Venice Architecture Biennale. In your view, is this peculiar condition the main character of contemporary Iranian architecture or is there something else?
KH: In recent years, my beloved Iran is honoured to have architects reaching various international awards.
No doubt the embargo by the US has influenced our studios a lot. But today we’re facing a global challenge of the finite supply of fossil fuels.
Therefore contextual architecture is being promoted all over the world. it’s the main reason why today we focus on local materials more.
Ecological approach in the design of some Iranian architects has come to some novel, exciting and logical outputs.