The GEN Z Series have been travelling extensively in the UK in various renowned universities meeting some outstanding student-architects. Having interviewed young architects from the University of Arts London and University of West England in Bristol, our next stop was Oxford Brookes University. I met Fatemeh Azimi, a talented young architect from Tehran. She graduated recently with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Oxford Brookes University.
Retreat Centre Mumbles
Fatemeh Azimi reveals, “I was born in Tehran, Iran. My mother is a Psychologist and my father is an IT Engineer. He also has collaborated and worked on a several construction projects. My parents have been incredibly supportive. They encouraged me to pursue my passion for architecture in the UK. In spite of many challenges, as an international student, I have deeply cherished every moment of my journey. As a young architect, I realized one must be resilient and face every challenge with gusto (smiles). My foremost architectural aspiration is to experiment and challenge conventional design norms and use computational tools to create structures that respond dynamically to environmental factors and user needs.”
Fatemeh Azimi is very passionate to delve into conservation architecture. She informs, “I I am passionate about challenging myself in the realm of architectural conservation. I am dedicated to discovering innovative approaches that enable people to appreciate and relish the rejuvenation of abandoned historic buildings, breathing new life into these culturally significant structures.” Johnny D has a long tête-à-tête with Fatemeh Azimi to explore her quest in the field of architecture and her thesis ‘Retreat Centre Mumbles’.
What was your childhood ambition? Did you always wanted to become an architect?
I used to closely observe my father during his work as a kid. When I was around 14, my father was actively engaged in a collaborative construction project. His responsibilities included extensive work with CAD drawings. Initially, comprehending the intricate array of lines and technical details proved to be a challenge for my young mind (smiles). However, a significant turning point occurred, when my father transitioned to developing a 3D model of the building. This shift in approach allowed me to grasp the concepts more readily. I used to accompany him to the construction site during the excavation and execution phases of the project. I discovered this field was where my heart truly belonged. I made the commitment to pursue architecture as a lifelong endeavour (smiles).
Plan – Ground Floor
How has architecture influenced your life as a student?
I firmly believe that architecture is not just a profession, but a way of life. It has instilled in me valuable lessons, such as embracing constructive criticism, cultivating patience and persevering in the face of challenges without succumbing to limitations. Architecture has also underscored the importance of continually pushing the boundaries of creativity. Architecture has imparted the profound understanding that knowledge is an ever-expanding realm. It has emphasized the significance of collaborative teamwork and the need to stay abreast of evolving technologies and construction methods, all the while maintaining a deep reverence for the lessons of the past.
Briefly tell us about your University and the Course.
In September 2023, I achieved my Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Oxford Brookes University. The undergraduate program encompassed a comprehensive array of modules, including design, technology, history, and digital culture. These modules collectively enriched my knowledge and understanding of the field. Notably, the most impactful module was the design component. This module offered a dynamic experience by engaging us in various units each year.
In my second year, it provided me with an opportunity to challenge conventional norms, encouraging me to think creatively and push the boundaries of traditional design concepts. In contrast, my third-year module imparted valuable insights into the significance of mindfulness when dealing with historic structures, emphasizing the importance of designing with a keen awareness of the building’s historical context and sustainability considerations.
Plan – First Floor
What role do you perform as Architectural Assistant at James Mackintosh Architects?
Our office primarily specializes in the conservation of historic and listed buildings. Consequently, a significant portion of my responsibilities involves conducting in-depth historical research, performing condition surveys and creating detailed repair drawings. Once we have gained a clear understanding of the building’s condition and have determined the necessary repairs and modifications, I can progress to the feasibility study phase. During this stage, I evaluate various design solutions.
A recent development in my approach to our projects is the incorporation of mid-journey, which has proven to be remarkably effective and efficient in generating conceptual images and enhancing communication with our clients. It enables us to convey our ideas more vividly and comprehensively, ultimately contributing to a richer and more collaborative project experience.
Briefly describe the significance of your project.
After doing population research, I realized year-by-year the numbers of people who are dealing with anxiety, depression and loneliness are increasing. Among the whole UK population, employees are facing more stress annually and senior people are also dealing with loneliness. Considering the fact that majority of the Mumbles population consists of elderly people and the level of employees’ anxieties is higher in Wales, I decided to develop my brief around designing a place for these two user groups.
Detailed Section – 1
Currently digital gadgets are the main means of communications. In order to take a step away from the workplace stress, it is essential to avoid digital devices. Since senior people are not the biggest fans of technology, they can easily find their way through life without them. The Retreat Centre consists of library and healthy activities such as cooking, exercising, and meditating, and none of these require technology.
By engaging in the community kitchen, local elderly individuals can overcome their feeling of loneliness and spend free time with their neighbours and new people. Niche visitors can spend a few days in the Retreat Centre using the facilities to detoxify from workplace, develop a better and healthier lifestyle sans technology.
Which National or International architect has inspired / influenced you? Please specify as to why?
One architect that has truly inspired me in every stage of my academic process was Zaha Hadid. Her boundary-pushing designs and her ability to blend organic forms with futuristic elements are really inspiring to me. Hadid’s dedication to innovation and experimentation, as well as incorporating curves and dynamic line in her designs aligns with my own design approach. She constantly tried to push the boundaries of what is possible in architecture. Her fearlessness and willingness to take risks inspire me to continually explore new ideas.
Detailed Section – 2
As an Intern, what is the most important lesson(s) you have learned from senior architects, while being a part of a project?
I learned throughout all my internships the importance of collaboration and effective communication. I came to the profound realization that engaging in a project with a diverse range of perspectives and remaining receptive to novel ideas and alterations invariably leads to enhanced productivity. Moreover, this experience has significantly refined my attention to detail and heightened my awareness of critical design considerations.
Elements of Inclusivity
If you are given the responsibility to rectify the Urban Planning of an existing city to overcome floods due to Climate Crisis, what innovative design features other than existing ones would you implement to make cities flood-proof?
To make a city flood-proof in the face of the climate crisis, innovative urban planning features would be essential. Promoting the installation of green roofs and walls throughout the city is one way to absorb rainwater and improve urban aesthetics. Implementing permeable materials for sidewalks and roads also allows water to penetrate the ground and reduce surface runoff. Additionally, a particularly noteworthy concept is the design of structures capable of floating on water or ascending with floodwaters, maintaining functionality during and after inundation. Notable examples include amphibious homes, which exemplify resilience in the face of flooding events.
Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you liked the most, and why?
I hold deep admiration for the opportunities offered by ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!” to young graduates, enabling them to voice their thoughts and showcase their creativity. In my view, the global platform has the potential to boost the motivation and confidence of young architects, because it presents their work without the apprehension of harsh judgement.
Local charm of cities has diminished due to Modern Architecture as every city looks alike and similar. How should architects / urban planners / landscape architects modernize cities, while maintaining the local charm intact?
Modernizing cities while preserving their local charm is indeed a big challenge, but it is achievable through thoughtful design and planning. First strategy is to respect the city’s cultural and historical context. Incorporating elements of local culture into the design is a way of maintaining the unique character of the city. Reusing existing structures for modern purposes, while retaining their historical character is another way to add depth to the city’s architectural tapestry. Furthermore, paying attention to the scale and proportion of new buildings to ensure they fit harmoniously within the existing urban fabric is another way of creating cities that are not only functional and sustainable, but also deeply rooted in their unique identities and histories.
Looking at the past in the current present, what are the futuristic architectural changes you would like to see in your home city? Elucidate the reasons for your vision.
Looking towards the future of Tehran, I am hoping to see the embracement of green buildings and sustainable designs, as currently Iran grapples with severe air pollution issues. I believe Incorporation of renewable energy sources, green roofs and efficient water management systems can combat environmental challenges. I am hoping to see more mixed-use buildings that combine residential, commercial and recreational spaces, as it will reduce the need for long commutes and promote walkability, which can highly help the traffic issues in Iran.
Honours and awards related to architecture.
- The Doric Club Oxford Prize Nomination; and
- A-design Bronze Award associated with AAD architecture office -Tehran.
Image Courtesy: Fatemeh Azimi