Excited and Optimistic

architect fawad abbasi

ARCHI TIMES Interview | Photographs courtesy: Architect

Fawad Suhail Abbasi received his Bachelors of Architecture from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2002. He co-founded Suhail & Fawad architects with his father, Ar. Suhail Abbasi in Islamabad with a branch office in Karachi. He received his first National Design Excellence Award in 2009 and Design Excellence Honorable Mention in 2015 from IAP amongst other recognitions in the last 13 years of his practice. His work has been published extensively both locally and internationally and he has been involved on socially responsibility projects with NGO’s like Behbud and others.

He has served as the Executive Member of Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners and Honorary Secretary & Chairman of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Chapter, Institute of Architects, Pakistan. He is a member of Pakistan Institute of Interior Designers, Pakistan Green Building Council and the IVS Alumni Association. He is currently the first Chairman of ACYA, ARCASIA Committee on Young Architects & also the Regional Representative of International Union of Architects (UIA), Region IV, Young Architects Work Programme.

ARCHI TIMES (AT): Before we begin talking about your architecture, it would be good to know you as a person. Your motivations and interests?
Fawad Abbasi (FA): Having the opportunity of growing up in a remarkable city like Islamabad, gave me the possibility to explore what I truly wanted to do in life. There was always a sense of belonging, an attachment to see a first of its kind city in Pakistan being planned & built right, a huge inspiration, as well as a great stimulus, to the architect that I am today.

I grew up around creative people, artists, architects, print makers, sculptures, designers who started to inspire me at a very early age. My parents & siblings have always been a huge support, giving me direction, whenever needed; yet fostering me to be an independent thinker, confident and a well-rounded focused self, for which I am eternally grateful to them and God.

AT: Please tell us about your early years and schooling.
FA: I was very active in school and involved with fine arts, dramatics & sports and equally concentrated on my studies, creating a balance with extracurricular activities. Always exploring different mediums of art and music during my high school days.

AT: Was choosing architecture as a profession a personal inclination or was it influenced by the fact that your father is also an architect?
FA: My father never forced me to be an architect but I was naturally inclined and I was always interested in the arts & architecture, discovering the creative family streak. But as growing up, I remember visiting construction sites and going to project inauguration ceremonies with my father.

I was amazed at the scale of projects, how each building had its own character, the context, and how each structure was molded, the depth of spaces and a feeling of satisfaction like you have contributed a little of yourself to society, in your own humble way. This astounding feeling is what attracted me towards architecture.

AT: What kind of challenges did you face when you started your career?
FA: After graduation, I had to make a very tough decision to either move to England or further expand and work with my father at our new firm, Suhail & Fawad Architects which he established in the year 2000.

Staying back has been the best decision of my life, and experiencing the incredible opportunity to learn from a senior architect who I had always looked up to, and idolized. Ar. Suhail Abbasi not only trained me, but guided me and taught me how to manage & design projects of all sizes and also how to manage an architecture firm where I was constantly growing and evolving as an architect.

I started freelance interior design projects in my 4th year, at Indus Valley, School of Art & Architecture, Karachi. Two of my college friends, Naveed Salam & Faizan Khan teamed with me till Faizan moved to America. That early experience was our gateway of stepping into the professional field and we opened Suhail & Fawad architects in Karachi, Ar.Naveed and myself. For about one year I stayed in Karachi to institute the office & then moved back to Islamabad going back and forth whenever necessary. To date we have successfully managed Suhail & Fawad architects in Islamabad & Karachi with projects across the Country with my father, Ar. Suhail Abbasi as the Principal.

We have learned and grown as a team, from each project executed. We started small but in less than 5 years advanced & matured to a reputed practice with projects across the county. Starting from scratch has not been easy, but when the goal is clear and led by a vision, the effort seems to outweigh the outcome. For us the most challenging projects are the ones that mature us as architects, and that’s the fun of learning and growing as a firm. We are known for our diverse portfolio of work, restricting the number of projects and clients we take on, & limiting ourselves to ensure quality of architecture which has been primary to our design philosophy.

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?
FA: It seems to be a misconception that young people are not taking interest in IAP, on the contrary, the involvement and interest of Younger Members has been the revival of IAP in the last 5 years that has led to positive involvement by younger architects at the Country level as well as Internationally, as can be seen in the scores of events and their active participation over 5 years.

These young architects have surprised us with their energy & motivation at every event. They are responsible, enthusiastic and go-getters which have made them stand out. We have received a lot of positive feedback from international architects as well, on their visits to Pakistan and appreciated the efforts of IAP in training these young architects.

So I see a lot of hope for the future of Pakistani architecture and our next generation. Several architects worked unconditionally for IAP for several years alongside their practice which is the reason for its success and recognition internationally.

After graduation, I also got involved with IAP and served in various capacities, initially as a student volunteer and later as an Executive Committee Member, Honorary Secretary and the youngest Chairman of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Chapter from 2011-2013.

AT: How do you see the role of IAP or PCATP in safeguarding the interest of Architects and what objectives should it set forth for itself?
FA: PCATP is our Architects Registration body, to pursue the Professional Registration Issues and also our Educational Accreditation matters etc. IAP on the other hand as its Executive arm, provides the platform to nurture where needed, develop Programmes as per professions needs.

You might have noticed that IAP has taken keen interest in filling the gap of trained teachers and held two International workshops limited to young teachers to train them in Studio Training by Nuno Soares and Thomas Daniell from the School in Macau.

IAP has held Roundtables and Workshops to educate and involve both architects and students alike on “Sustainability and Green” in all four Major Cities of Pakistan in the last 30 months. Similarly in the field of “Conservation and Heritage” has been held in Karachi and Peshawar.

Our International Roundtables on “Social Responsibility” as well as the one on “Architectural Education” in Islamabad has attracted international and national recognition and attention. We have focused not only in Pakistan but abroad as well, to try a multipronged approach to developing opportunities for our Architects in Pakistan in all the above mentioned four areas repeatedly in the last 3 years.

AT: Young architects particularly students of architecture are against IAP and are not interested in becoming IAP members, please comment? And do you see that as a lack of awareness among students or as something that lacks within the institute?
FA: The question itself speaks of a lack of knowledge of on-ground reality. The involvement and positive interaction of IAP and its members has been prevalent & immensely popular but if one doesn’t want to recognize it, we cannot comment.

We have given IAP the best we can and the members have shown this appreciation in their feedback on every occasion, by joining each event as participants as well as volunteering in large numbers.

AT: In Pakistan presently more than 4500 architects are registered with PCATP. Paid up membership of IAP is around 500-600 all over Pakistan. Instead of increasing IAP membership day by day it’s decreasing. Why has IAP failed to attract and increase the membership?
FA: PCATP membership and actually practicing architects numbers are much different for various reasons. To practice you HAVE to join PCATP. IAP however is a voluntary organization that people join because they want to, and the growth and participation by the membership over the recent years has been tremendous in both Local and International events. It is important to view this positively and then can u see the roses besides the thorns. For the first time in the history of IAP, Pakistani architects currently hold 7 international positions which shows what this organization has accomplished as a team.

AT: You are the Chairman, ARCASIA Committee on Young Architects (ACYA), please tell us about your election and your role as a chairman, and in future what are your plans?
FA: I have been involved with the Architect Regional Council Asia (ARCASIA) since 2010. I represented IAP on ARCASIA Committee on Green & Sustainable Architecture (ACGSA) for two years, Nepal in 2013 and Malaysia in 2014. Seeing my involvement with IAP & ARCASIA as an upcoming young architect I was unanimously nominated as the First Chairman of ACYA for 2015 and 2016 which I am immensely proud of, as I am representing my Country, Pakistan & chairing this committee amongst 19 Member Countries.

I currently also hold the position of Regional Representative for UIA Region IV for the Young Architects Work Programme, International Union of Architects.

AT: Also, how has the experience been for you as a young architect of Pakistani origin since you get to meet many foreign architects of the committee?
FA: It has been an amazing experience, having the opportunity to work & represent Pakistan on an international platform after serving on various positions within IAP & PCATP.

Crafting me to be more confident as an architect, while interacting and making friends across the globe with famous names in architecture. I have met icons like Peter Eisenman, Moshe Safdie, Dr. Ken Yeng, Charles Correa to name a few and that itself has been an honor and has influenced me, greatly. I continue to learn from the most creative architects of Pakistan & other countries who are committed to make a change, which has surely been inspirational. My father has been the biggest support and has been monumental in guiding me in my professional journey.

AT: What are your inspirations in developing your design language and what is your overall design philosophy?
FA: I truly believe in the power of simplicity of architecture, and deriving my main and focal inspiration as well as motivation from my father. My work is about using basic compositional and geometric elements and working around a context which plays a major role in my design philosophy.

I have grown and still am working towards learning and styling architecture and interiors with respect to the evolving architecture innovations internationally. Keeping in check, our firms design philosophy & incorporating the use of natural materials and straight lines.

I completely believe that after formulating strong conceptuals, working with a team of young architects and designers supports and enhances the creativity of design & for the success of any project, team work is imperative. I take pride in my uncompromising strive for perfection in my work & my commitment to my clients as I share their dream of creating an ideal built environment. My design lies with acknowledging a responsibility to the built environment.

AT: Which architects have influenced your work?
FA: Pakistani architects have put us on the map & I am privileged to have been taught by many of them. The Indus Valley School played a major role in my training with teachers like Architect Syed Akeel Bilgrami, Najeeb Umer, Arshad & Shahid Abdulla, Ejaz Ahed, Arshad Faruqi & Faisal Butt to name a few.

Back at home Ar. Shama Usman, Jahangir Khan, Sikandar Ajam Khan, Murad Jamil & most importantly my father, Ar. Suhail Abbasi were inspirational mentors who continue to guide me and I am indebted to all of them.

Some young practising architects like Saifullah Siddiqi, Syed Fawad Hussain, Rashid Rasheed, Saad Mehmood Khan, Nadeem -ul- Hassan, Rizwan Sadiq, Noman Faruqi, Ahsan Najmi and Zayd Bilgrami are just a few names that have produced phenomenal projects.

I have been a huge fan and have learnt from them.

AT: What projects are you working on currently?
FA: I have been fortunate to have worked on multi-dimensional projects in the last 12 years of my practice.

I am currently working on an Embassy, two covered shopping malls, a residential towers complex, a commercial retail complex, a few sports & hospitality buildings alongside residential, corporate interior retail outlets, offices & restaurants in Islamabad & Karachi.

AT: Which is your favorite project to date and why?
FA: Our Design Firm won two National Design Recognitions from the Institute of Architects Pakistan. In 2009 we received the IAP Award for Excellence in Architectural Design, for my favorite project: The Covered Swimming Pool & Fitness Facility Building for Islamabad Club, it also has a momentous significance because, this was my first large scale project. Working on a larger project, taught me how to conceptualize, design, coordinate & manage a project in its totality.

This was my first National Design Award and I was recognized very early on in my career which was a huge motivation.

AT: What would be your dream project?
FA: I have been involved with a few corporate social responsibility projects in the last few years & also designed a school for special children, unfortunately it never got built & I am hoping it will, someday.

I firmly believe that that one has to devote time for community service and what better way than architecture. That will always be my ultimate dream.

AT: Are you incorporating technology-based sustainable design principles in your projects besides passively addressing these issues?
FA: I am fully committed to the belief that the environment & human endeavor are not mutually exclusive & through creative & considered design, can effectively cohabit & perpetually enhance one another sustainably, socially as well as economically. We continue to lead our clients to sustainable & responsible built environments.

AT: What are your thoughts on Pakistan’s architecture in general and how do you see its future?
FA: I am always excited and optimistic, as Pakistani architecture has progressed immensely in the last 50 years. We have set new heights and given our county a place in world architecture.

We have numerous names in our country that have produced phenomenal architectural & interior design projects for us to learn from and be inspired to achieve bigger & better goals as professionals.

To me as a fellow architect, the future of architecture seems bright and hopeful as I feel we all have this impulse as architects to constantly strive for better innovation as per International Standards. This yearning to achieve creative perfection in architecture is also because of the interaction of International Architects visiting Pakistan, in formal and informal meetings, under the umbrella of IAP & ARCASIA.

The architecture of Pakistan is a legacy left by our icons that we all cherish & respect, which has to be conserved.

AT: Your take on Islamabad’s architecture and urban planning?
FA: Islamabad is a unique city, In fact the only planned and documented city in Pakistan and is known worldwide as the only built linear city of the world.

AT: How do you feel about the standard of architecture education in Pakistan?
FA: It is alarming as we move to an era where there has been mushroom growth in architectural schools in Pakistan. I believe in giving back & was always interested in improving architectural education in our country. The last few years has seen a serious effort in improving the quality of architectural education.

The Institute of Architects, Pakistan under the leadership of President IAP, Ar. S.M Jahangir Khan Sherpao has organized International Education Roundtables, Studio teachers training & other events to engage young teachers and start a dialogue that has opened more avenues and been very successful in Pakistan. Chairman, Board of Architectural Education IAP, Ar. Murad Jamil has also been really proactive and organized various events across Pakistan involving all the architectural schools of the country and brought together a change and where we want to see our profession. We are hopeful, that these efforts will surely bear fruit in the future.

We have trained 125 young teachers in the last two years and hope to train another 40+ this year taking the number to 25% of the total teachers needed as basic trained for studio. We have focused on the Young teacher that will Insha’Allah change the system positively without any issues.

Our Teacher Training program has been recognized internationally and other ARCASIA countries are requesting our identified trainers to do the same for them. This has led for us to focus on the third training into an ARCASIA Young Teacher Studio Teaching Training. A team of 20 young Teachers came together again under ARCASIA, in March 2015. The topic was, URBANISM issues in ARCHITECTURE by Italian Architect Fabio Todeschini, leading a two week training session. This interest, led to two younger teachers from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to join our young teachers from all over Pakistan.

Ar. Fabio Todeschini had joined us from South Africa, where he had been approached by Ar. Jahangir Khan, Ar.Shahab Ghani and Ar. Akeel Bilgrami at the UIA conference the year before.

These trainings in the last three years have been planned hosted by BAE-IAP, Vice President ARCASIA, Zone A & ARCASIA Committee on Young Architects (ACYA) and organized by various chapters of IAP in Islamabad, Lahore and the upcoming in Karachi end of November 2015.

AT: What are your interests beyond design and architecture?
FA: I have always loved traveling and have had the opportunity to explore new countries and traditions in the last few years especially. As an architect it’s been overwhelming and inspirational.

AT: What advice would you like to give students and architects entering in the field of architecture?
FA: I see a lot of potential in our young architects and what they aspire to be. I have always believed in engaging, the students of architecture, with practicing architects, understanding and a project form conceptualization to construction and then execution of the final Project.

The best advice that I can give our younger generation of architects, that if you have the zest and yearn to succeed as an architect, you have to understand your role with respect to the built environment. Learning is a never ending process, with respect to senior Architects, sensitivity & attentiveness, and this commitment to your profession, can you only be molded into better human beings & outstanding architects.

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