The first thing Aziz Al-Humaidhi does when he strolls into the bazaar office is survey his surroundings. It takes me a minute to realize what he’s doing. “When I’m sitting anywhere the first thing I do is notice how things are connected”, he tells me with a smile,“how did they treat that, how does that close, is that good is that bad? It becomes a habit.” This ever-analysing, always-learning, constantly-questioning theme runs through our whole interview – that, and the smiling.
Thirty-three year old Aziz Al-Humaidhi is Principal in Charge at NHE Consultants, an international architectural and engineering design firm based in Kuwait, with offices in Cairo and affiliate studios in Turkey and Australia. Some may find the scope of responsibility that comes with this role intimidating but the smile Aziz wears through most of our interview suggests he certainly seems to be taking it in his stride. Perhaps this has something to do with the modern approach to the workplace he brought with him to the company. He likes his employees to know they’re part of the process. That they are working towards a goal as a team– a collaborative effort as opposed to a top-down approach, meaning that he likes to delegate to others. He relies on people he trusts and knows can deliver what he needs.He says of his management style; “I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, maybe it cuts both ways, the fact that I never really worked anywhere else. A lot of people come with that experience and are able to implement what they learned. I didn’t. I don’t know if that informed me or detracted from my methods but I’m trying to bring a new design sensibility to the office”.
Aziz drew a lot as a child and had artistic aspirations but chose wisely when applying for university, not wanting to be a struggling artist, he opted for a fine arts degree with a major in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design – one of the most liberal schools in the country and consistently ranked as the number one fine arts college in the United States. “It was a bit of a culture shock at the beginning, but in hindsight you look back on those years and they really informed you, how open-minded everybody is, how experimental”, he says. This wasn’t necessarily easy coming from Kuwait and he had to adjust to the way of life. When he returned to Kuwait he then had to readjust and is still working on blending these two ways of life, these two ways of thinking, to bring the best to his work and NHEC in turn.
Where he perhaps struggles most is the cultural differences within the office itself. “You come from a culture in the States where employees expect to be part of the decision making process, whereas here people have a sense of waiting to be told what to do”. Even when he convinces them to take the ball, it can be difficult to get them to run with it, but Aziz is always there to offer encouragement and help them reach the end zone. For Aziz though this isn’t an all-encompassing ethos that he’s forcing on the firm. His approach is a very organic one that developed as he took the reins from his father and one that truly seems to be working.
Like many of his generation Aziz has become accustomed to instant gratification. We want our news in bite-sized portions, we want our entertainment fast and we want constant updates. This is how we live in the social media era. Architecture doesn’t exactly fit in with this – it doesn’t offer rewards quickly and this can sometimes be a test of patience for Aziz. Being forced to wait though can be massively satisfying at the end of the project and it is this satisfaction that powers Aziz into the next project. Besides, he uses his hobbies, such as music production and photography, to get his rewards in the short term. They also, in turn, inform his disciplines towards architecture and whilst he feels they don’t directly inspire him, the processes that he goes through can be translated to the bigger picture and larger time frame of designing and completing a building.
This doesn’t seem to be just a job for Aziz, there’s more to it than that. “What is the true nature of what you’re doing?” he asks himself during our interview. The question, in relation to his curiosity of whether people really notice what he does, seems to occupy him, “is it worth it, does anyone care, does anyone even notice sitting in a wooden hut versus a high-scale, high-end building?” Personally I like that he asks himself these questions, always analysing what he does and why he does it. He’s more than simply an architect for hire. His priority is to give the client what they want, but he also informs and educates them so that they can make decisions on things they might not have thought of originally; “there are things that we’re not really cognitive of” he tells me, “you don’t know why you feel good in a space, [why] you like this object or that thing.” This kind of collaboration with his clients reflects the way he operates in the office. This can mean taking them to spaces he’s previously worked on and exposing them to concepts that cannot be explained fully with words. He also tries to utilise socially responsible or eco-friendly ideas when he can, again working together with clients to find the best solution for their needs.
Even though he likes the possibilities that are afforded him when working on multi-million dollar projects such as working with cutting-edge materials and state-of-the-art processes – things that can’t always be implemented in smaller projects, like houses, due to budget or market constraints – I get the feeling he enjoys personal, simple projects more, perhaps for the emotional satisfaction it brings. This is clear when he talks about a memorial he created for young victims of road fatalities at his alma mater in Bayan. It was for a foundation his sister started to raise awareness of the dangers of the road. The reaction of the parents to this piece rewarded him in a way that stays with him today still. His pride when he speaks about the memorial shines through.
When asked about his goals for NHEC and where he sees himself in the future, Aziz smiles some more. He paraphrases Robert Burns and talks of how plans can often run amok, so it’s best to hold on to them loosely he feels. When pushed he offers a reluctant metaphor, “You never know what a building is going to look before it’s done…” he says. Then he smiles some more.
For more information on Najeeb Al-Humaidhi Engineering Consultancy please email: [email protected] or call 1822333.