Above the Fold: Zaki Ghiacy - Architect, Urban Designer
In Above the Fold, we spotlight individual members of Coroflot's vibrant creative community. The idea is to take you behind the scenes and inside the minds of talented Coroflot members who we think are doing exceptional work. Coroflot was created by designers, for designers, and Above the Fold is the place where we can talk to creatives about work that we not only love, but think you'll love too!
Zaki Ghiacy proudly keeps one foot rooted in the traditions of his profession and one in the future. To date, the UK Architect and Urban Designer has won numerous awards for his work, which encompasses everything from private residences and police stations to recording studios and hotels. When looking at Zaki's Coroflot portfolio, you immediately get a sense of how passionate he is about his work based on the sheer amount of sketches he has amassed. His sketches - done for leisure and work - capture urban environments both artistically and accurately around the world, signaling to us that he is someone who rarely travels without a notepad and pencils. Even though Zaki's design style is modern and he admits to using iPads for his work, he is quick to remind us that everything still begins with a pencil and paper. The ability to balance new and old methods is one of the things that makes Zaki's work so fascinating.
Was there a specific moment in life where you realized you wanted to pursue a creative path?
I have to admit there was no light bulb moment. Due to a variety of factors, including university fees, I fell into the field of architecture. I was very lucky, however, to be good at it. I have enjoyed every minute.
Who are your design heroes?
Early design heroes were Dieter Rams of Braun, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen. Current favorites are Jonny Ive of Apple and Norman Foster, who is still the best. His design for the World Trade Center was a masterpiece. John Pawson, a British architect, has always been a personal favorite. I'm also very keen on Thomas Herzog, a German architect, but we don't hear much from him these days. Currently I am following the work of John Pardey in the UK. He has a small practice and mainly does residential projects, which are exquisitely designed and detailed. He doesn't get much coverage though.
Is there a particular style of architecture that you find to be your favorite?
My favorite architecture is contemporary/modern, particularly the early pioneers such as Mies and Gropius.
Can you share some details about your most recent project?
Lately I have moved into urban design and am increasingly involved in large-scale master planning and design guide production. My most recent project was the production of a Guide for Urban Transformation for a government organization in the Middle East. This involved design as well as economics; real problem solving, rewarding, and actually making a tangible difference in people's lives.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
We are at the forefront of housing delivery in the UK and this is a very exciting time to be working in this sector. The UK is an island with not enough land, not enough housing, and a lot of people needing homes - a universal problem but particularly acute in this country. I am looking forward to getting some of our high density housing designs off the ground.
Walk us through some of your process for creating.
In my opinion, everything creative should start with a hand drawing. Every well known designer and architect is a master at hand drawing. That is how I start and then we move on to the full range of electronic. But we never start off with computers. Start with a series of hand sketches, thrash the ideas through a design charrette, finalize the concept to a handful of ideas, and then use computers to bring the project to life.
What is your favorite project that you've completed (professional or personal) and why?
My favorite project is one of the smaller ones. Throughout my career, like most architects and designers, one absorbs ideas from peers, colleagues and heroes. It is only once one reaches a level of design maturity that a modicum of originality sets in. I feel, in my case, that this was a small police station in Cambridgeshire completed in 2008. It was one of those projects where everything fell in together, from hand drawn sketches to completed project. I think it is an exquisite building, and the best I have done. Although it didn't win an award, it was shortlisted for two.
You've won a handful of awards for your work. Can you talk about some of the projects that have won awards, and in particular what about them stood out that you feel was a factor in winning?
The Nationwide Building Society HQ was my biggest project and the most challenging. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it won a major award in the UK. It was my first real big project, which I won from competition and took through to completion and the RIBA Award.
What tools (physical or digital) do you find yourself using repeatedly?
I always use pen and paper to start a project. Increasingly, I am now using iPads to do hand drawn work. Although they are not the same as pen and paper, there are some apps that come very close. You just have to get used to them. I now have 3 iPads and I always have one in hand.
Is there any work out there that you've come across recently that you've really loved?
Design wise, I love all of the work that comes out of Apple. Every detail is thought through and the design is constantly developed through every iteration of the products. The best design is always evolutionary. In my opinion, they are the leaders and others follow. In architecture, Norman Foster is still the best. I think you can tell which buildings he has been involved in and which he hasn't.
Do you have a ritual for getting in work/design mode (music you listen to, certain exercise, food you eat) aka a productivity tip?
Design ritual wise, music is my thing. I love the blues and depending on mood it is different people, from Muddy Waters to John Mayer. Firm favorite, however, is Keb Mo - he really gets one going.
If you're stuck on a desert island and can only bring three (design) tools, what are they?
On a desert island I couldn't do without a pen, sketchpad, colored pencils and, inevitably, an iPad with the requisite apps.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of your Coroflot portfolio?
The Coroflot portfolio should be constantly updated. It should become second nature to visit it regularly and include work processes, preliminary sketches, and finished work. It is much more interesting seeing a process of design and Coroflot is easily the best place for it.