This is the foundation upon which Marziah Zad’s practice, Asrafi & Zad, operates. “Our projects attempt to promote equitable spaces, create inclusion through design and manifest our aspirations for the future.” Marziah’s work as Co-Founder of the Tehran-based practice focuses on how design impacts our sense of culture and identity through the use of advanced digital design practices which serve communities equitably.
In particular, Marziah says she has a fascination with iconic impact and how materials can move us in unexpected ways. “Materiality and texture are important tools to create connections. It’s important to reinforce and expand ownership by offering spaces that promote equity and include people from all walks of life. Stakeholder participation in the design process results in buildings that are iconic because they offer ownership through representation. Depending on the impacting scale of a design, that sense of belonging can transcend national and transnational borders.” She cites the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral and the explosion in Beirut last August as global examples of this experience of inclusive ownership.
A significant work in progress for Ashrafi & Zad is The Green Network Bridge Project which, Marziah says, has provided some great opportunities to learn more about stakeholder representation at scale. “The bridge is a 20,000 square metre green public space stitching two neighbourhoods – which are disconnected by a major urban artery – back together again. The design was challenging as we were adamant about stakeholder representation in the process which was exceedingly difficult at that scale. Nonetheless, now during construction, we are learning more about the challenges of working on a public domain project of this size with a lot of overlapping jurisdictions between municipal entities and construction disciplines.”
At all scales, Asrafi & Zad is using advanced design technology and systems for the benefit of communities, Marziah says. “We employ digital tools as a generative framework to synthesize between diverse inputs, producing a formal language that emphasizes place-making and identity. The output is refined by a continuous assessment of human spatial experience and the significance of integrating nature and natural tectonics in design. Through our experience in participatory and inclusive design, we strive to enrich the process by enabling end users to participate in key design decisions, instilling a sense of ownership and pride in the project outcome for everyone involved.”
The approach, she says, has helped bring communities together though a shared interest in improving the quality of their surrounding environments. “It also creates an inclusive and participatory culture between our practice and stakeholders and, most importantly, presents the community with the agency and autonomy to design and build public spaces to their own personal flair and taste. The participation offers the community a sense of pride and place-making through their involvement and engagement.”
Alongside her professional practice, Marziah works as an adjunct architecture professor for universities in both Spain and the United States and is pursuing an applied research agenda on the topic of Non-Developable and Complex Manifolds in Light-Weight Construction. “This research is a pet project of mine. I’ve been tinkering with the implications of using complex, doubly curved surfaces in design and construction for over half a decade... I have always been interested in structural engineering, especially as it relates to lightness. This research gives me the opportunity to be more experimental with structural solutions for projects in practice.
“But what has been especially fulfilling for me is the work I am doing as part of an international research consortium on the topic of adaptive housing for displaced persons. We call this project the ‘Architecture of Migration’ and the objective is to find ways for advanced technologies in lightweight structures to provide shelter for displaced persons with the potential of adapting to more permanent dwellings.”
Marziah attributes her desire to create a sense of belonging in her work to the transient nature of her relationship with geographical space. “I have never lived in one city for more than 5 years in my entire life. My father is Iranian and my mother is from Washington State in the US. She converted to Islam after marrying my father and I grew up in a Muslim household, but primarily in secularized environments. I think this combination of intrinsic opposites together with never feeling that I hail from a particular place has highlighted the importance of identity and belonging for me. On the other hand, experiencing the privileges of growing up in an upper middle-class family in the US juxtaposed against being a minority and living without those same privileges in Iran has instilled a passion for equity, representation, and spatial justice in me.”
Architecture was a clear choice as the vehicle to combine Marziah’s range of passions and life experience. “I think I always knew I wanted to be an architect. I always had an inclination for the creative disciplines, but I also cared a lot about how I could contribute in an impacting way to society. I also have this technical and nerdy side which loves problem solving, mathematics and physics. Somehow, I realized at an early age – I think I was 14 – that this was the field in which I could satisfy many of my passions.”
As passionate about technology as she is about serving communities, Marziah is deeply fascinated with the technical side of the field. “There is such a sense of satisfaction when, as a designer, you can develop a system that equally responds to diverse inputs ranging from solar paths and heating and cooling systems to locally sourced materials and optimized structural requirements; to know that I am setting up a system in which all those technical elements will be hidden away in the internal makeup. What people will take away from it is whether the space can enrich their daily lives or contribute to the safety and security of their children or create a sense of pride and belonging for the community. That’s what gets me up every morning.”
Looking ahead, Marziah is hoping to expand Ashrafi & Zad’s scope of work, as well as the geographical locations it serves. She also remains committed to a lifelong process of learning how best to serve communities. “I recognise that the only way to bridge unawareness is to bring awareness, and to create environments that promote interaction, engagement and inclusion.”
Marziah is eager to connect with readers who would like to collaborate on any aspect of her work. Visit https://www.ashrafizad.com, email email@example.com or visit Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia to learn more.