All-Rounder Architect

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By Architect Zain Mankani, Photographs courtesy: Architect

Architecture more than a few other profession requires that high level of passion and that too to be maintained for years and years. Especially with so many schools producing a large number of graduates competition is at an all-time high to secure the best jobs available. I would also highly recommend fresh architects to definitely find a practice of their liking and work there for a few years to understand and learn all that the profession required but is impossible to fit it all in the 5 years of schooling. Everyone is entitled to the dream of making it big on their own but the profession also deserves that we pay our dues to it and represent it when capable.

Architect Ramiz Baig graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2002. He had an interest in architecture from an early age whilst studying history and developed a fascination for historic structures. He is also very passionate about cricket and is a tech junky.

When not playing cricket Ramiz is busy running his own practice and has built up a sizeable portfolio of residential, commercial and institutional projects in the last 8 years. In spite of his engagement with the profession and his love for cricket, he has always found time for the Indus Valley School and the Institute of Architects, Pakistan, the two organizations which are very dear to him.

  • Principal Architect – RBD Architecture and Interior Design Studio
  • Honorary Secretary – Institute of Architects, Pakistan 2014 – to present
  • Adjunct Faculty – Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture 2009-to present
  • Member Executive Committee – Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture 2009-2012
  • Vice Chairman – Institute of Architects Pakistan, Karachi Chapter 2012 2013
  • Honorary Secretary – Institute of Architects Pakistan, Karachi Chapter 2011-2012
  • President – IVS Alumni Association 2005-2008

ARCHI TIMES (AT): Before we begin talking about your architecture, it would be good to know you as a person. Please tell us about your early years and schooling.

Ramiz Baig (RB): I did most of my schooling from The City School, from elementary to A-levels did some branch hopping which was the norm in those days with City School. Eventually finished at a purpose-built campus in Darakhshan.

I have been lucky to come from a family which is very close thus importance of strong bonds in life were inculcated from my early childhood – a childhood which was very outdoorsy, street cricket taking up most of my free time!

As far as my architecture schooling is concerned I graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there and truly benefitted from the teachers there as well as the experience which taught very valuable life lessons of survival of the fittest and how to stand out from the crowd at a very early age. I must admit though not all those lessons were realized immediately and I continue to realize the importance of what all I learnt in architecture school to this day.

AT: What was your reason for selecting architecture as a profession?
RB: Since early childhood I had a keen interest in history and was always fascinated by castles and other structures of the bygone era. I was also really into Lego blocks and would always be keen to develop my own creations rather than just following the manual, sometimes not following the manual was forced as it was easy to lose many pieces whilst playing with friends and cousins!

AT: What kind of challenges did you face in the early years of your career?
RB: Well, there was definitely a couple of very serious challenges in the early years. The first being that the curriculum we follow in school though very thorough still does not really prepare you for practicing and I did find myself in situations where design was taken for granted and all the other aspects with relation to actual execution on site was required and fresh graduates including myself struggled with that. The second being financial! I married early, a couple of years after graduation and it was indeed challenging making ends meet. By the grace of Allah and support of my parents it worked out in the sense that whenever a financial jump was required in life, it came.

AT: You are also an active member of the Institute of Architects, Pakistan (IAP), although not a lot of young architects take interest in the Institute. What got you interested and what kind of role have you played within the organization?
RB: My first interaction with the IAP was when they hosted the SAARCH 2004 event in Karachi for which I volunteered. It was such a great experience having the opportunity to interact with the best in the business from the region as well as new-comers like ourselves who became friends for life. I believe I wrote my first article for Archi Times on this event only.

As I was devoting time to my own practice from 2007 I could not really find the time to get involved. That all changed in 2012 when on Ar. Arif Belgaumi’s suggestion I contested election for the IAP-KC and was elected as Honorary Secretary. I had a great learning experience under Ar. Arshad Faruqui who was the Chairman at the time and we had an exciting IAPEX conference that year where I convened the conference. At the conference along with presentations from national and international architects we introduced for the first time a talk on identifying the problems and discussing possible solutions for Karachi. This talk was hosted by a renowned TV host and was open to the public – all stake-holders like Architects, Doctors, Chartered Accountants, Engineers and even students. It was interactive and various facets with realistic solutions were discussed which were well received by the public at large. This IAPEX was also the first time that the student design charrette was introduced involving all architecture schools under the auspices of the Karachi Chapter.

The following year I was elected Vice Chairman of the Karachi Chapter and was also bestowed with the honor of convening the prestigious IAPEX 2013. What an experience that was! With great support from then Chairperson Ar. Mumtaz Jilani, we had a very exciting and thought provoking IAPEX exhibition and conference. Once again I must mention Archi Times for the excellent coverage they gave to that event. Continuing the open panel theme this time at the conference we had a panel focusing on persons with disabilities and the problems of accessibility they face all over Karachi. We again had all the stake holders present from activists, architects, political party workers as well as persons with disabilities themselves. This talk was truly an eye opener for the public and left them with the urge to help and make a positive change in the society.

So after finishing my 2 year term I thought I was headed for a break from IAP but then elections for the National Council came up and I was encouraged to contest by my seniors. By the grace of Allah I was elected securing the most votes and was further elected Honorary Secretary of the Institute, a post I am currently serving.

I have represented IAP in international committees like the Arcasia Committee on Social Responsibility, the work being done there is directly related to all the accessibility work we are doing here back home.

I am also IAP’s representative on the new Arcasia Committee on young architects and was part of the jury which just selected the first batch of winners for the Arcasia travel prize. I am also honored to be part of an international jury panel for an Arcasia student competition “metamorphosis” which will conclude at the upcoming Arcasia Forum later this year in Thailand and am looking forward to seeing exciting entries from Pakistan.

I would like to now address the early part of your question which stated that young architects don’t necessarily get involved with IAP. Well I feel that is changing, IAP has been so active recently with national and international level events taking place all the time that youngsters realize the worth and the exposure that IAP provides. We now have hundreds of affiliate members who in time will become very strong members of IAP as so many of them are already participating in IAP design charrettes, student jamborees, lectures and even volunteering to help organize various IAP events all over the country.

AT: What difference, if any, have you been able to make in your capacity as an IAP office-bearer? In particular, tell us about your efforts to make buildings more accessible for the disabled. What kind of success have you been able to achieve in that area?
RB: IAP’s national council along with the executive committees of all 4 chapters consists of very able and dedicated people who are all working towards the betterment of not only the institute but all its members. My first role as honorary secretary is one of high responsibility as I have to work closely with the President in running the institute.

Secondly, like you mentioned in your question, I have been highly involved with accessibility committee of IAP as its Chairman. The Institute of Architects, Pakistan-Karachi Chapter setup an Accessibility Committee to take up the task of conducting a research on enhancing accessibility features in existing public buildings throughout the city and to produce a document for its inclusion in the building by-laws through legislation. To its credit surveys of various buildings in the city including the Cantonment Railway Station, SSGC Building Karachi, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, and The Board of Intermediate Education have been surveyed.

Furthermore we have partnered with Network of Organizations Working with People with Disabilities Pakistan (NOWPDP) – which works on the creation of an inclusive society by mainstreaming people with disabilities through holistic undertakings with clear social objectives (www.nowpdp.org) in all its endeavors up till now regarding universal accessibility and looks forward to do so in the future. Along with them we are looking at other organizations who are willing to invest in corporate social responsibility for the betterment for our society at large. With them we have surveyed several facilities including plant offices and city offices of Engro (Pvt.) Ltd. and have successfully had changes implemented in their premises where accessibility was an issue. Currently we are conducting a similar exercise with HBL bank branches and we are hoping this effort will be just as successful.

Lastly, while representing IAP at the Arcaisa Committee on Social Responsibility meeting during Arcasia event in Kuala Lumpur last year we committed to creating universally accessible public toilet in Karachi which is to be further implemented all over Pakistan. For this purpose IAP successfully held a nationwide competition which I convened. We received approximately 30 entries and even IAP affiliates took keen part in the competition. Now we are in the process of finding suitable corporate partners from the building industry or otherwise to join us and get the prototype executed.

AT: What is the meaning of architecture for you?
RB: Architecture has to go beyond the structure in its finiteness. For a project to be architecture it has to have a soul, a purpose and some meaning to its functional execution.

AT: What are your inspirations in developing your design language?
RB: From very early on I have tried to work with simple lines and Meis van der Rohe was always an inspiration from college days. Though it’s very difficult to implement all those materials in our climate one can definitely be aware of the reasons why and then keep the philosophy alive. I can be very self-critical of my own work but that does not mean that I over design. I truly believe in using natural materials and having them exposed as much as possible. Architectural detailing is also executed which is honest to the material used.

AT: Which architects have influenced your work?
RB: As mentioned earlier Meis’ planning has been an earlier influence and I am a keen follower of the contemporary interpretation of South Asian Architecture in general. Locally, Arshad Shahid Abdulla, the only office I worked for before starting my practice, are a definite influence and almost like a second school after IVS.

AT: What is your design philosophy?
RB: More than design philosophy I would also like to shed light on my work philosophy or work ethic. My practice is of a small size by choice, I enjoy getting fully involved in my projects and have never looked at it as a “business”. Before taking on a project I enjoy having very detailed conversations with clients about them and their families, about how they are living currently and how they themselves see their house that we are about to undertake. I am very frank about how I would approach it. The projects that I end up doing then deserve and get my full attention. Frequently in my talks I compare the houses I design to surrogacy, as for the duration of the project you are the most important person around which the project is conceived and then during execution you put your heart and soul into it only to eventually have the owners move in and take over! The biggest realization comes when towards your last couple of visits you have to ring the bell to enter!

AT: What projects are you working on currently?
RB: My practice is mostly residential but I am also working on a few commercial interiors. Currently I am working on over 10 residences of various plot sizes at different stages. Amongst commercial and commercial interior projects I have recently finished the BRR Tower entrance lobby interior at I.I. Chundrigar road, UDL Pharma Office building at Port Qasim and the Head Start School at 26th street is near completion. Last year or so was interesting as well as a break from the norm that I got to work on various fast food brands including a couple of outlets for Karachi Broast, in Port Grand and Boat Basin as well as for Snack Attack in The Place and DHA.

AT: Which is your favorite project to date and why?
RB: As I mentioned I do very selected projects and generally the ones I design after meeting with the client and understanding their requirements I tend to tackle them all as the most important project as that is really the kind of attitude the client and the project deserves. However my project Bahar-e-Mushtaq would have to count amongst the favorites as that is really where I felt I established myself. My working relation with the client, the late Ghulam Mustafa Khalid was exceptional and, even though it was one of my earlier projects, he gave me the confidence and a free hand to produce whatever I felt best for the building and landscape. Every detail of the project was discussed and deliberated upon and I wasn’t ever rushed to make a hasty decision which ultimately resulted in a project that I am quite proud of and of which I know that every little detail has a story behind it.

AT: What would be your dream project?
RB: Well I hope it is my last project! As if you achieve your dream earlier what would you strive towards, all else afterwards would be kind of a let down eh?

AT: Are you incorporating technology-based sustainable design principles in your projects besides passively addressing these issues?
RB: With the energy costs on a continuous rise it is imperative for us professionals to first educate ourselves and then our clients in making better use of sustainable features in buildings. I would consider myself to be in the phase of educating myself on the subject.

I have learnt so far that sustainable design does not necessary mean low tech or vernacular but one can use very hi tech materials to bring down the energy quotient of the building.

AT: How do you feel about the standard of architecture education in Pakistan?
RB: Architectural education is growing at a very rapid rate in Pakistan and this growth needs to be seriously looked at as its quality is what is paramount for the profession. From the time that I was studying at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture from 1998-2002 there were around 5-6 schools of architecture in the country. Now I believe there are 25 and many more coming up!

This is something that we discuss at the IAP platform that maybe the curriculum needs to diversify so that we may have graduates of varying expertise to better cater to the building industry here in Pakistan.

I am playing my small role in the matter by taking time out and teaching 3rd year design studio at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture since 2009. Initially you are overwhelmed at the responsibility that is bestowed on you but I must thank Ar. Parvez Ansari who has been instrumental in helping me achieve my goals as a studio teacher. Currently I am also a member of the Board of Studies of Architecture at the IVS.

As far as looking at architecture education I have had a slightly different yet important experience when I was nominated and elected to the Executive Committee as well as the Finance and Planning Committee of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture for a term of three years. Being exposed to and then being able to help run an institution makes you aware of all that is required which as a student or a part time teacher you don’t really understand. I was actively involved with the vision 2020 program of the school as well the putting together of the schools mission statement. Another project that I got carried out was the as built documentation brick by brick of the Nusserwanji building with emphasis on deterioration and damage over the years for a potential complete restoration. I involved students in the process which not only added to their educational experience but learning about a structure of their school really helped invoke in them the feeling of ownership and belonging.

AT: What are your interests beyond design and architecture?
RB: I am a big cricket fan! Love watching as well as playing cricket. The Indus Valley School had the makings of a pretty decent cricket team during my time in college and we were quite active and won more matches than we lost. I have recently also started the IAP cricket team which toured Sri Lanka earlier this year to play matches against the SLIA team. Upon return we are focusing on getting young architects involved and we have a decent pool of players forming which is practicing and playing matches so as to ready themselves for the upcoming return tour by the Sri Lankan Architects early next year.

I also love music, I believe that music has such a strong link to architecture not only in its art form but also how you associate particular music with a particular project or maybe even a particular time you were studying back in college. The most exciting time while designing a new project is when you have the right playlist which you are enjoying while creating your next dream project.

Technology is another of my interests. I love to keep myself updated with all the latest gadgetry available and try to make the best use of it in my work also.

AT: What advice would you like to give students and architects entering the field of architecture?
RB: Students entering into architecture now are lucky as they have so much information available that they can take the decision smartly. 15 years ago students only realized what they had gotten themselves into after beginning first year! And it could be a rude shock to some who weren’t ready or passionate.

Architecture more than a few other profession requires that high level of passion and that too to be maintained for years and years. Especially with so many schools producing a large number of graduates competition is at an all-time high to secure the best jobs available. I would also highly recommend fresh architects to definitely find a practice of their liking and work there for a few years to understand and learn all that the profession required but is impossible to fit it all in the 5 years of schooling. Everyone is entitled to the dream of making it big on their own but the profession also deserves that we pay our dues to it and represent it when capable.

I encourage youngsters to stay connected through their schools Alumni networks and of course bodies like IAP as it is only through participation that we can make all our institutions stronger.

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