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A new generation of MENA architects take on sustainability & diversity

Article-A new generation of MENA architects take on sustainability & diversity

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Cityscape Intelligence’s Teneshia Naidoo sits down with Eng. Aya Nafi, Architect, Engineer and Urban Planner, at Jacobs, Qatar to discuss her thoughts on how sustainability is changing the architecture industry in the MENA region, how Zaha Hadid inspired her, and how her proudest achievement to date has been working on the biggest sporting event on the globe, the Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022.

What attracted you to the architecture industry?

This is a question that I always like to answer as it takes me back to when I was 12 years old.

I discovered my talent in writing and painting which I inherited from my mother, a writer who inspired my creativity. I believe that while writing can express people’s thoughts, architecture can translate people’s needs into designing neighbourhoods and buildings.

My passion for painting and writing shaped my environment and sparked an interest to pursue a career in architecture because it’s central to the space that people inhabit, their structures, buildings, and cities.

On a practical level, the secret behind staying motivated in imagination and creativity in design was always because of my practice in painting and writing. While on a human aspect, when I decided to be an architect, one of my dreams and goals was to give back to the community through voluntary service and work to renovate and design houses for people who lost their houses due to unforeseen circumstances.

Painting by Aya Nafi

A painting by Eng. Aya Nafi which keeps her motivated.

You have been involved in many projects, what would you say is your favourite and why?

Every project I have been involved with has had its own character and has influenced me differently.

Although, each project had its challenges and its obstacles, they’ve all expanded my professional and personal horizons, speaking to me in one way or another.

However, if I want to say which one is my favorite. I’d definitely say the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 project. As a proud resident who was born and raised in Qatar. Working for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 project was not only a special opportunity that gained me a unique experience, but I worked on the project with pride. I’ve realised, the country I was born and raised in is hosting such a historical event that will take place in a few months and I am proud that this will be recorded in my archives.

On the other hand, from here my interest in the field of real estate has expanded from the executive to the operational stage which gave me the knowledge and experience to overcome the obstacles and challenges that any real estate project may face at the local and international level.

FIFA 2022 Qatar

Eng. Aya Nafi, celebrating the 500 days to go next to the trophy for the Qatar FIFA world cup 2022.

How do you feel sustainability is progressing in Qatar in the architecture industry and what more can be done?

There has been rapid progress in the green building sector in Qatar with the emergence of many world-class sustainable constructions in recent years, and it is really promising to see Qatar recognising the importance of green architecture and the lucrative benefits associated with it.

In addition, Qatar is making huge efforts towards realising its vision 2030 and 2050 when it comes to sustainability in architecture.

My family has been in Qatar since 1956 and as a third-generation resident of Qatar, I’ve been brought up knowing the value of sustainability. My family used to narrate a story on how sustainability was part of their way of living and how the neighborhood the freej style was shaped in a way that enhanced the socio-cultural interaction, which is one of the mission elements in building the sustainability in the architecture industry.

I’ve come to relaise that in order to build and develop a sustainable building or city, you need to build a society holding sustainability at its centre, and that’s what Qatar is progressing by integrating sustainability approaches into the curriculum to build a generation that believes in the importance of sustainability in architecture as well as other industries.

The architecture industry has traditionally been heavily male dominated, do you think it is changing in the MENA region? Are we seeing more young and upcoming female architects entering the industry?


We have seen an awareness from the local industry when it comes to the importance of female representation in the field of architecture and real estate.

For instance, today if you ask any woman, how do you imagine your future house? You will find that she accurately describes its uses and necessities with all the precision and the technicality that you would find in an architect. As the female is the element of arrangement and organization in the Middle Eastern house, and from here comes the distinctive feminine essence and importance of the presence of female architects in the industry.

Who would you count as your mentors and icons in the architecture industry?

Zaha Hadid is one of the great architects that I look up to and get inspired by. I am inspired by her and others like her in the Arab world who are able to break down barriers in the school of architecture. As she has linked architecture to writing in one of her articles. She has mentioned how her designs resembled paintings and drawings that have inspired her throughout her life.

I believe that the root of any creativity or motive comes from painting and writing that is eventually cultivated and shaped into a unique design.  

Studies repeatedly prove that diversity is overwhelmingly beneficial in business. How would the architecture space benefit from having more women in positions of power?

I believe that the answer to this question is already mentioned in the question. The word is diversity. The human mind is one of the miracles of this universe and has a balance in power and mentality between men and women.

These minds must be given its own space, characterized by creativity and its own unique structure, which is the basis of any successful business. As the world of architecture benefits from having males in positions of power, it will definitely benefit from having more women.

What advice would you give any aspiring female architects reading this?

I want to remind all aspiring female architects that they should have their own goals and ambitions and they can be part of a changing world. Architecture is a vast and limitless world and even though faced with different schools of thought, it has influenced countries and the way people live. So, aspiring female architects should not limit themselves within a specific framework or underestimate their creative potential but accept the challenges at hand and aim higher. And finally, it is important to celebrate even the smallest wins because these small wins will be a source of motivation.

CSG Expo Dubai 2020

Panel discussion at EXPO 2020 venue at the Cityscape Global Summit 2021.

As an architect, what are some of your favourite landmarks in the Middle East and in the world? Why these landmarks?

The list doesn't end with my favorite landmark but if I has to choose the closest to my heart in the Middle East and in the world, I would choose Petra one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, located south of Amman, the capital of Jordan. As an archaeological site, Petra has beautiful rock-hewn architecture and an advanced water management system. This is quite impressive considering the area is in the desert. The land around Petra has been home to humans from as early as 7000 BC, which makes me very proud that I am a daughter of a country that is steeped in ancient history in architecture.

Landmark Architectural Image

Eng. Aya Nafi at the Petra in 2021

Eng. Aya Nafi, Architect, Engineer and Urban Planner, at Jacobs, Qatar

Aya Nafi’ a Jordanian Architect and urban planning, was born in Qatar, and achieved Bachelor degree in Architectural engineering from Applied Science University in Jordan in 2015. A membership in Engineering and Consulting Offices Accrediting Committee (UPDA), MME, state of Qatar and Jordan Engineers Association. Was involved in many interested projects, in (2016 –2017)  in Qatar University as a research assistant in NPRP Research Grand, Towards an Eco-Districts Strategy for Sustainable Urbanism in the Gulf Region. Greater Doha as case study. awarded by Qatar National Research Foundation (QNRF). Joined Jacobs in [2018 – Present], worked in several unique projects in Updating Transportation Maser Plan for Qatar, consultant services for the Ministry of Transport & Communications (MOTC), and in the FIFA World Cup 2022™ program.


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