Building emotional connections
Aala Qahtani, founder of Saudi-Arabia based Aala Qahtani Architects, talks about inspirations, her newly-developed futuristic prototype, and current projects she’s working on
What is your guiding design principle?
My vision is to create profound experiences. Both the inside and outside of buildings, should grab your attention and spark interest as you are walking or driving by. I want people to feel an emotional connection with the buildings I design; a strong connection that stays with them and draws them back. So much of your work is based in Saudi Arabia.
Architecturally, what emotions does this country stir in you?
I have a deep love for my home, Saudi Arabia, and I am inspired by the traditional architecture of each of the main regions: the North, South, and East, which border the Arabian Gulf; and the Hijazi (West) and Najdi (Middle) regions. Even today, many people do not understand the rich history of Saudi Arabia. Every successful international architect’s design ethos is formed in their homeland, and Saudi Arabia’s unique and historic architecture is a continuous source of inspiration for me. I feel it’s my mission to take the beautiful Najdi architecture to the next level and modernise it through the effective use of technology.
Could you tell us about the futuristic ‘plug and play’ prototype— X Villa. What are your primary goals with this?
We were asked by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Housing to create a design prototype. I took inspiration from the traditional architecture of the Najdi region and built on the ‘lifestyle’ around it to design X Villa. The architectural design has been stripped back to its most contemporary form. It solves a problem that many Saudi families face while living in urban settings that have grid planning – a lack of privacy. Everything, from the techniques to the materials we used were carefully considered. This prototype can be purchased online. The construction uses a low cost and durable materials, which makes it a far more accessible option for families who wish to build their own house.
How does technology help you deal with design challenges and meet sustainability goals?
By using the latest software, we can simulate reality as much as possible. This is so that we can feel the effect that our designs will have on people. BIM software helps us coordinate and collaborate amongst our teams, especially when we are working on big projects, which we often do. Lately, I’ve become very interested in how artificial intelligence can enhance our designs and help us create more sustainable cities. In many of the buildings we design, we try to use recyclable materials. We all must play our part for our planet.
What is the next project you’re slated to work on?
We’re particularly excited about designing another prototype for the Ministry of Housing. The building will help the government solve a lack of affordable housing. The land is very expensive, and house prices have not fallen, even following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this project, I’m changing the fixed mind-set around what materials can be used to construct houses. We need to move away from using only reinforced concrete, in favour of using recycled materials. For example, this project uses corrugated iron sheets. It’s a contemporary house that has five sections which you can mix and match, which gives the homeowner both creative and practical, personalised options to suit their lifestyle.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?
Over the next decade, I will push the boundaries of architecture, regionally and internationally. I have huge ambitions to create buildings that are recognised around the world for their ability to inspire people toward new realms and narratives and to transcend traditional expectations about architecture