Stories of displacement have defined my upbringing. My ancestors passed down Circassian folklore of diaspora from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire. I commonly heard my grandfather say in Arabic, "I'm from the people of forty-eight", alluding to the memorable year he crossed the Jordan River at the age of six. My grandmother still likes to describe the distinctly ripe taste of fruits harvested in the Golan Heights. My parents remind me of why they escaped the Gulf region in 1991 before arriving in the US, with stories of bunkers and gas masks. Descending from multiple scenarios of deterritorialization, I have fostered an interest in analyzing the ways in which humans codify their connection to the built environment. Born and raised in the NY Metropolitan area with summers spent in Amman, Jordan, my devotion to cities has revolved around the interrogation of space, culture, behavior, and politics, informing my academic and professional pursuits.
During my final year of my undergraduate studies, I explored the idea of "Behavioral Urbanism", a realm of thought that would allow me to rationalize my own understanding of displacement. Diving into topics of swarm theory, self-organization, and emergence, I attempted to surface a new value to architecture and urbanism as more than just the byproducts of human living. The goal was to unearth a spatial counterpart to a codified intelligence through simulation and analysis. With Gaza as the urban model at hand, I analyzed patterns of infrastructural damage to optimize spatial routes during instances of urban crisis, mitigating the effects of future waves of political strife.
At the time, the effects of the 2014 Gaza conflict on infrastructure were still largely undocumented. I resorted to journalistic reports and photography for insight on the situation. I recall scrolling through imagery of people running through streets for survival, exhibiting the behavior of "flight", as physiologists describe, unwillingly humanizing every node and vector on my screen. Engulfed in the scientific method of testing and analysis, yet bombarded with visuals of raw human emotion, I endured a strange psychosomatic awareness. There are mathematic conventions for quantifying magnitude and direction in a vector; but how can one measure fear and distress in humans running for life? Vacillating between the empirical and the speculative, I realized that design, in between all the algorithms, number sliders, and code, had implications far greater than "human living". Simply put, design possessed urgency to human survival. My academic pursuit served as a basis for a commitment to understanding complex global challenges. I set out to gain the technical training needed to address large-scale issues.
After graduation, I traveled to Abu Dhabi to pursue an opportunity to work for AECOM, joining the Concept Team as a Graduate Architect. The fast-pace building industry of the UAE, extreme scales of projects, and a regional sense of emergence, all provided an experience unfathomable for a recent graduate. Early on, my technical skillset in digital modeling and scripting had application for complex transportation, hospitality, and residential projects. Most memorable was my experience on Yas Acres, a 9 million square-foot urban development, as a concept designer for community buildings, urban art, and way finding elements, in close collaboration with urban planners and landscape architects. More recently, my role has shifted to the realm of project management with exposure to design coordination, resource deployment, proposals, and finances, gaining valuable understanding of the process in which a theoretical design manifests into the physical world.
As I found myself in a new metropolis, the question of human interaction with the built form had continued to consume my interiority. To address this internal struggle, I resorted to my passions of writing, music composition, and film. The ideas set forth in my work were digressive in nature, as lyrics informed the music, and the music informed the film. "Centerpoints" was the result of the creative process - a film highlighting the struggle of a young urban professional exploring ideas of identity and place. The pinnacle of the work features a 150-frame hyperlapse of Dubai in a 2-kilometer radius, with the Burj Khalifa as the center-point in every frame: an urban turntable. Spending an entire day on foot with a camera and Google Maps, I had circumambulated the city in a strangely spiritual act, crossing anything from restricted zones to construction sites. As a result, I received 1st place in multimedia for the Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award with an opportunity to exhibit the work along the entire facade of the Burj Khalifa. In this very moment, the protagonist of the film had reconciled identity with place.
The world is constantly in transition, with the built environment as the active impetus for the shaping of its future. As global issues become increasingly complex, design thinking must, in parallel, exhibit complexity. The answers will emerge through unconventional coupling of people, backgrounds, and ideas.