“It should be capable of adjusting to context, heritage, social behaviour, comfort levels, environmental changes and material sensibilities.”
In a year when our available physical interactions with the world are ever-changing, this flexible approach to design is proving both timely and successful for Riyad.
A global citizen, Riyad completed his studies in Iran, then spent a number of years working in academia and architectural practice between New York and Hong Kong before ultimately settling in Dubai. “Coming from a family of architects and entrepreneurs, I’ve always wanted to start my own practice, especially from the region that I was born in.” It was there that he founded the Middle East Architecture Lab (MEAL) and Middle East Architectural Network (MEAN).
“The two organisations have a synergetic relationship. With MEAL, we can stay updated with academic research and experience with the latest technologies. And with MEAN, we are able to apply that knowledge to projects going into construction, while maintaining our ethos of using technology as a tool to leverage our ambitions of designing contextual, spatially delightful architecture.”
His passions, he says, lie in the space between design, technology, material research and computation. Last year, he successfully explored these intersections in MEAN’s ‘Deciduous’. “The Deciduous pavilion was very experimental in nature and, by designing and building it, we were able to investigate the potentials of robotic manufacturing. The pavilion was constructed with 3D-printed parts using plastic filament made from 30,000 recycled water bottles; its base was 3D-printed in concrete. The detailing for a hybrid concrete/plastic 3D-printed structure was new and innovative.”
When he’s not hands-on in architectural design projects, Riyad’s deep curiosity and passion for research continue in his work with the academic sector. “Architecture Association Visiting School Dubai operates under the MEAL platform. Through AA, we widened our audience by working on projects such as a residency with Apple, workshops in internationally acclaimed firms such as Parsons and smaller, but equally fulfilling, workshops such as one we ran with a small-town university in India.”
Most recently, MEAL launched online programme ‘Live Academy’ in response to the Covid-19 crisis. “We had multiple projects put on hold in late March due to the uncertainty brought forth by the pandemic. We needed to find a way to generate income. Live Academy was conceived in lock-down and allowed thousands of people around the world to attend lectures and classes given by some of the most forward-thinking architects and designers over Zoom.
The Covid-19 situation changed our schedules, modes of working and our priorities towards self-development, global connectivity and idea exchange. The project was very successful as it seized a perfect moment for its existence.” Riyad counts Live Academy as a success in multiple ways and plans to run the programme annually. MEAL has since made all of the recorded sessions available for purchase.
His design work has also proved prescient with regard to the emerging trend of working from home. Two weeks before Covid-19 forced much of the world into lock-down, MEAN won a competition held by Swiss furniture company, USM, which challenged designers to develop new, creative ways to respond to current lifestyle trends and the future of work. “We won the competition in time for the lock-down, which was a perfect time to rethink our proposal as a solution for the current situation.”
So what’s next for the busy architect, designer, academic and entrepreneur? “At the moment, we are slowly going back to normal, recovering from Live Academy and working on a design for a new typology of a house and a private commission for a 3D-printed bespoke chair. In the longer-term, I would like for MEAN and MEAL to continue growing, and to have a more positive effect on the world that we live in by producing work that is authentic, innovative and impactful.”
Connect with MEAN at www.m-e-a-n.design or on Instagram; connect with MEAL at www.m-e-a-l.build or on Instagram.
To learn more about Live Academy head to www.liveacademy.tv.