In this inspirational blog, Sadiqa Jabbar, an Associate Architect at MEB Design, delves into the craft of Making a Difference in the realm of architecture.
Architecture, both in practice and education, is multi-faceted and if you are in the right place, at the right time, surrounded by the right people, it is one of the most satisfying careers out there.
At our 40th birthday party, a client asked me about what makes me tick as an architect – I paraphrase as I cannot recall her exact question! My answer was and is always simple, and one that I express to everyone who asks me. It is knowing that I have made a difference.
Architecture, both in practice and education, is multi-faceted and if you are in the right place, at the right time, surrounded by the right people, it is one of the most satisfying careers out there. I feel passionate about promoting my profession to anyone who is willing (and has the patience ha!) to listen.
Yes, there are many challenges and things to get right. With the education system under review, processes and entry could be made more accessible and inclusive. We aren’t paid like our cousin professions in Law and Medicine or our friends in Finance and Economics. The need to balance passion with pragmatism, all agendas for separate blogs.
However, the satisfaction of seeing your clients and/or end users enjoy the buildings, places, and spaces that you design is preciously invaluable. Knowing that your contribution has made a difference to their lives by an improved and considered approach is what makes the difference between working for the sake of working or working for and with a higher purpose.
Being a highly spiritual person, I need to know that what I am doing will in some way benefit another. Whether it provides a safe and inspiring environment to teach and learn. A warm, welcoming, and inviting place to worship, meet and greet. A clean, hygienic, and homely space to be treated and diagnosed. A sanctuary to develop, grow and receive care, or hibernate! Or an exciting, energetic, and curious building to play and exercise.
To me this resonates with MEB Design’s core vision of ‘building communities though creativity, one design at a time’.
Yasmeen Lari became the recipient of the RIBA Gold Medal 2023. The work she has undertaken during her career both prior and since her retirement has been inspirational. She uses her position to advocate for those without the voice and resources.
From helping rebuild communities hit by natural disasters, building capacities through training, and facilitating toolkits, to advocating for action on climate change before Governments and organisation began publishing policies and mandates, Yasmeen Lari is making a difference.
Architects like Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr who founded Architecture for Humanity in 1999 and more recently Chris Hildrey tackling homelessness in the UK are other examples of architects using their skills and platform to make a change in society.
One of the projects closest to my heart is the Centre Rosalie Javouhey school reconstruction in Haiti. A school for girls aged 3-18 years, it provides a safe sanctuary to learn and grow, a place to have meals and toilet facilities, and develop friendships. In a community facing numerous traumas from the earthquakes and other socio-economic issues, this building provides the girls and their families some respite.
It was a challenge to convince the client and local community that the three-storey building was the solution given the trauma of the earthquakes. However, we had a team of experts within the industry designing seismic structures and were able to convince them that it was possible to have a safe multi-storey building that would take the impact if designed and built appropriately. Thankfully it withstood the second earthquake a year after completion.
More recently and closer to home at MEB Design, working on the Aldwickbury School Sports Hall provided another moment of joy as an architect. For the scale, budget, and site constraints the building blends seamlessly into its surroundings; the scale of the building not realised until entering the hall. From the vision and drawings to the built reality it was a project well worth the challenges faced by the project team.
The look of amazement on the faces of the young boys for whom we’d designed to the appreciation by the client, that is what makes me tick as an architect. It makes my job and effort worthwhile. For what is the point of a building if not to satisfy and excite the people for whom we design.
That smile on a person’s face, the spark in their eyes, or the sound of joy cannot be price-tagged.
The more experienced I’ve become the more I appreciate that one of the most important aspects of my job is relationship building. Architecture cannot be realised without a multi-disciplinary team of experts working together. All stakeholder input must be appreciated, and they must feel valued.
With that comes the humility to let go of the ego and understand that not every part of your initial design will or can leave the drawing board. The budget may not facilitate it, the client’s taste may differ, or a better solution may be found.
At the same time, I’d say that one needs the integrity and resilience to stand up for a design and convey its value if it is indeed the best solution – (rightly or wrongly) architects too often are blamed for when things go wrong.
You see, that’s the value that a good and passionate architect can bring to any scheme. Wanting to produce the best design possible for the client, site, context, and budget. Seeing a vision before it touches the paper or computer and having the patience to wait months (or years) before it materialises in physical form.
Architects leave lasting legacies for generations to come with their designs transitioning from blueprints to leaving large footprints in the world. What is the legacy we want to leave? For what and how do we want to be remembered? These are the questions I regularly ask myself both as an architect and human being.
As Yasmeen Lari says, architects are best placed and skilled to work with communities and should be leading the advocacy for change as activists. We can make a difference in society – it is up to us to see how and take the leap.
“Architects could play a key role in stitching the frayed tapestry of the earth. They could utilize their gift of design to give agency to those living on the margins through participatory approaches. … They could equally become champions of social justice by helping improve the lives of disadvantaged communities, and millions of climate and conflict migrants suffering from displacement around the world.“ (Interview with Yasmeen Lari, Designboom)
What is the legacy you want to leave? What do you want to be remembered for?