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Q&A with X-Architects

Q&A with X-Architects

September 2016

Ahmed Al Ali and Farid Esmaeil, both graduates in Architecture from the University of Sharjah, established Dubai’s first local architecture practice in 2003.




I hear you have expanded your practice by more than 50% over the last 12 months, and this in a climate when everyone says the market is down. How do you explain your success?

Architecture and construction in general are some of the most demanding professions that push for constant hard work. As X-Architects we focus on what we do best which is adapting to contemporary desires and challenges. We begin every design process by delving into the history and culture of the surrounding area, figuring out how to capture the local spirit and work in harmony with the landscape and heritage of the site. This approach has opened up unique opportunities and major commissions.

As a home grown local company established in Dubai 12 years ago, how have you seen the UAE architecture industry develop over the past decade?

The UAE architecture industry has transformed immensely over the past decade. At the time we started there was a real estate boom happening in the UAE, specifically here in Dubai, and a very international style of architecture was happening. We knew that we didn’t want to take that route but develop an approach to design that’s more specific to this culture. The learning curve in the past ten years has been dramatic in the design industry; the continuous building and development in UAE has allowed the market to go through a huge learning curve. The overall approach to architecture has become more sensible to accommodate new essentials such as sustainability, cultural needs and modern lifestyle.

There aren’t many home grown local architecture practices in the UAE such as yourself. Do you see this changing in the near future?

As the UAE continues to grow and thrive the number of local architecture practices is increasing as the nation feels the importance to invest in a new generation of local artists, architects, and thinkers, who will produce authentic native art and architecture, which is sensitive to our identity, responsive to our environment and has the spirit of our age, representing who we are.

We hope that through our practice we inspire similar studio-based offices to open up in this part of the world. We are one of the first people in the UAE to establish a critical architectural firm and we wish that it inspires future generations to follow this model.

You specialise in cultural and environmental projects – why have you chosen this particular niche? Was it by coincidence or planned?

We try as much as possible to approach projects that work with our philosophy, so when we see the opportunities, we push for them. For example with the Wasit Wetland Centre project, we knew that Sharjah really wanted to preserve and document its natural history, its animals and birds. We thought it was an opportunity to present the history of wetlands in this part of the world and reveal its richness to the public. And not only that, but also to build a structure that gives both scientists and researchers as well as the general public the tools and infrastructure to start protecting and preserving the environment.

You describe your design approach as merging Arab culture with contemporary design. How do you achieve this?

Research is an important part of every project. We start from understanding the place: its environment, its history, its culture, understanding the economy, the geography, and so on. And only when we understand all of these forces in a specific place, we can respond to them in a creative way. The design becomes a response to a specific place and a specific environment. Of course, when you want to refer a project to a specific place and history, you don’t copy and paste the history, rather you try to get inspired by it and design something that’s more responsive to the current time and to the way people live nowadays, and to be technologically integrated.

It’s interesting because it’s not only about beauty or form, but it’s also about finding the architectural skills to organise the complex network and data that we have into a harmonious proposal that still doesn’t undermine aesthetics and a sense of place and identity.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and your ambitions for the future?

We live in Dubai, which is always questioning what the future will be and how to push boundaries. From our side, we try to provide an alternative, looking at sensible and interesting ways to design and to create architecture that has an identity related to this part of the world.

At the moment we are working on a number of different projects including some beautiful restoration projects with very contemporary extensions; housing projects in Doha; the UAE embassy in Doha and a masterplan in Mecca

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