Interview with Architect Kamran Haider

Architect-kamran-Haider

By: Zain Mankani  |  Photo Courtesy: Architect

Architect Kamran Haider received his Bachelors in Architecture from the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Karachi. Initially he worked at the prestigious firm, The Architects, as a Project Architect. Even at the onset of his career, he was offered several projects to do independently, and received tremendous response from his clients. He then worked at other design offices, such as Naheed Mashooqullah Associates and Proportions but his urge for creative freedom ultimately led him to set up his own practice DESIGN APPROACH in 2011. His design aesthetic therefore, is at some level, reflective of these diversified architectural practices.

With sheer dedication and honest approach towards his work he carved his own niche in a short span of time. As a relatively young office, DESIGN APPROACH has completed more than 100 projects in the last five years. His forte has always been residential architecture, but he has also designed commercial buildings and a few retail projects.

ARCHI TIMES (AT): We would like our readers to know a little about your background.
Kamran Haider (KH): I was born and raised in Karachi. I am fourth among my siblings; my father was a banker and mother a housewife. As a person I am quite head-strong and a go getter. I believe in setting goals and then work rigorously towards achieving them.

AT: What about your early years and schooling?
KH: As a student I was average, drawing was my favourite subject.My parents were always encouraging and supportive in whatever I wanted to do.As a child I was very naughty at home but an introvert and shy in school.

AT: What was your reason for selecting Architecture as a profession?
KH: The reason I chose Architecture as a profession goes back to my childhood. As a kid I would always be interested in designing something or the other. Doing Plans for some imaginary buildings was my favorite pastime. Initially I wanted to do ACMA, but soon realized that it is not something that I was cut out for and that landed me doing what I always used to do i.e. design.

AT: What kind of challenges did you face in the early years of your career?
KH: I faced too many challenges and I still do. The first and foremost was of course finding the clients who can trust that you have the ability to carry the whole project on your own shoulders and I think all the architects can very well relate to that. But the even bigger challenge was to be able to support myself financially during my architectural education.

AT: You work a lot with builders and developers also. What are the challenges?
KH: Builders always have a major interest in selling their projects at the highest price and at the right time, so one has to keep up pace with the ever-changing design trends, both locally and internationally. Also, there has to be a good balance between the budget spent and its outcome at the end of the day.

On the other hand, these projects are equally rewarding for the architect in terms of the relatively lesser time they generally take in construction, because no major decisions are taken once they have started unlike many private houses where one has to sometimes educate the client and argue on design unnecessarily and even the interrupted flow of finances drag them further.

AT: What is the meaning of architecture for you?
KH: Architecture is beyond designing an instinctive enclosure, which even animals do. It is the experiential quality that evokes with in us both on physical and spiritual levels. That’s why any religious space looks different than say for example a hospital or a school. I always think buildings are like machines to be lived in, seen and explored. They start forming an inseparable web around us that is full of experiences from the day we are born till the day we die. For me the prime focus of Architecture must be to provide comfort and the sense of belonging for human life to nurture in it.

AT: What are your inspirations in developing your design?
KH: The inspirations mostly come intuitively during the design process, which means I usually start with something and end with something else. I believe it’s even more interesting to take a journey that is full of surprises than the one that you have already been to, but it is also important to have reality checks to throw you back on track. One thing that I make sure I always stay away from is overcrowding of ideas in a single space, which kind of makes you choose the best ones in the end.

AT: Which architects have influenced your work?
KH: It is yet to be decided which architect has influenced me, but I think ASA is the firm which I have always looked up to in terms of detailing, whereas Kamil Khan Mumtaz’s work is truly awe-inspiring in its form and there are of course many more. But if one day my work has any slight reflections of these successful practices, I will feel really proud.

AT: What is your design philosophy?
KH: I believe the real challenge of an architect is to elevate the built form to art: to create joy in a building. Therefore I try to create spaces that are lively by incorporating natural elements in my design. For me it’s much more important to create spaces that give you the sense of comfort as a whole, rather than just having a display of some expensive materials around you.

AT: What projects are you working on currently?
KH: I am working on residential projects and a few commercial buildings as well. I choose to do residential design; I find it interesting to plan such complex spaces.

Although I have worked on almost all kinds of buildings in this short span of my career, I have always found myself comfortable in residential design.

AT:Your favorite project to date and why?
KH: A house that I have completed recently – it’s very close to my vision.I used a limited color palette and focused more on sculpting spaces with the natural light. With this project I reinvented myself as an Architect and I especially enjoyed myself doing detailing for this project. Thankfully, it was appreciated a lot.

AT:What would be your dream project?
KH: Well my dream project would be one that I think can only be realized in my dreams. I always thought of designing something as mammothas an Airport. I love the industrial feel of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano ever since I visited Pompidou centre in the heart of Paris. I felt immense respect towards the mundane mechanical services and structural detailing in a building because they are the organs that truly keep everything going.

AT: What are your thoughts on Pakistani architecture?
KH: At the cost of sounding nostalgic or cliched, I feel the architecture especially no win our country is losing the true spirit and joy of its own being. The context-based designs are reduced only to some low-cost community projects whereas we all are trying to ape each other. Ironically we don’t see any Kamil Khan Mumtaz and Nayyar Ali Dada coming up anymore. There is mushroom growth of housing schemes that do not propagate the sense of community that our neighborhoods would always have. Rather, they try to fit everyone in a borrowed lifestyle from the elitist societies of the West.

AT: How do you feel about the standard of architecture education in Pakistan?
KH: Like in any other field in our country, there is a huge difference between the basic approach in architectural education between private and government owned institutions. There seems to be more stress upon having architecture department in every university than to work on the right academic methodology. To cultivate students’ minds with reasoning and the ability to make responsible decisions are the two things we need to aim for, in order to have a better future in this field of Architecture.

AT: What are your interests beyond design and architecture?
KH: Well my other interests somehow revolve around the arts as well. I am passionate about photography and it has become my strength now as an architect for visualizing the intensity of light, colorand vantage points and even to document my own projects. Occasionally I paint, I find the abstract impressionism truly liberating where you can fly as high as you want. Travelling is something that I make sure I plunge into once in a year to unwind, the destination does not really matter.

AT: What advice would you give to the students and architects entering the profession?
KH: My advice to the new architects and students is to be careful about the kind of people you will initially start working within your career, because they are the ones who can actually make or break you in terms of your ability to become a better designer.

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