Architecture is a multiform art that borrows from both logic and sensibility. From mathematics and aesthetics. A complexity that seduced Shahad al Azzaz, a young Saudi architect who runs her own practice between Riyadh and Madrid.
Last February, the Nomad festival was held in Switzerland, an event that presents the best of collectible design, each year in a different country. It was an opportunity to discover the works of the London Gallery The Invisible Collection, exhibiting a series of rugs with geometric patterns and pastel colors designed by the Saudi architect Shahad al Azzaz.
A demonstration that the young woman knows how to renew herself ad infinitum, much like the discipline she has chosen. After studying architecture and starting her career in Spain, Shahad al Azzaz opened her own practice in 2017. Since then, she has represented the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) in Saudi Arabia.
What triggered your interest in architecture studies?
Beauty. Architecture is a very sensitive yet complex field. You have to think in all directions and to tell a human story through a building or an object. The dialogue between the designer and the typical drawing plans, sections and elevations have to be transformed into a seamless object that people would react to positively.
Your father was a journalist and photographer. What did he pass on to you?
Although my father passed away at a relatively young age, the writings he left and photos he captured are a great source of inspiration for my work today. The philosophy he had in creating beauty through different means keeps me motivated and passionate about architecture. I look at this discipline as a form of art, which becomes very powerful by creating a positive impact on our daily lives.
At only 23 years old, you were nominated as the Director of Middle East projects at a famous Spanish architecture firm. What did you learn from this time spent working in Europe?
The time spent in Spain and the responsibility given to me in managing major architectural projects boosted my self-confidence and pushed me to investigate my capabilities. I had to overcome each encountered difficulty to avoid stumbling over those obstacles and letting it affect my job. I learned a third language to ensure nothing was missed in the discussions held around me. The managerial skills gained while working in an international firm, created a good platform of knowledge that enabled me to take an entrepreneurial leap and open my own firm.
Three years ago, you launched your own architecture firm based in Spain and Saudi Arabia. What pushed you to do so?
The passion to design. I walk into the design studio every morning extremely eager to start a new story of a new project. Launching one’s firm gives you freedom in drawing your own design philosophy, to create the storyline and provide a service you are proud of. The interactions with happy clients, providing healthy buildings and homes to the people of your city are the ultimate success of an architect.
Last year, you designed the Saudi pavilion for the Dubai design week. Can you talk to us about this project?
Sa’af is one of the most favorable projects done by Azaz Architects. I think this project reflects the ultimate success of what architecture should achieve. There is great power in collaboration, especially when it’s between two different generations. I have learned a lot from seeing the capabilities of the artisans, especially the elderly that have worked on producing the meshes of the pavilion. I hope that this pavilion has been successful in evoking a conversation between multiple disciplines. I strongly believe that architecture should be an open-source to celebrate different civilizations and social connections.
What are the main opportunities Saudi Arabia has to offer in architecture?
These are definitely exciting times for Saudi Arabia, especially with the vision of 2030 creating new promising policies and opportunities. There is great room for the creative industry to expand. Designers of all disciplines now have multiple platforms where their talent can be celebrated and appreciated. We have seen a multitude of recent events where Saudi talents were able to participate and effectively perform.