Ahmad Muezz is an architect and a musician from Jerusalem who started his own business in 2008. His name shone under the spotlight after designing the first modern building in East Jerusalem for the Office of the Quartet Representative (OQR). That project brought on many others, including many villas in the West Bank, and he has become celebrated for his simple and modern designs. Musically, he has been writing and composing his own English songs since college, some of which he has recorded and released as singles. Home sits down with the talented Ahmad Muezz to talk architecture, inspiration and design.
What inspires you as an architect ?
The human body! I believe that you should feel the design more than you see the design. It should speak to your senses not only your eyes. Fashion also can inspire me when it comes to interiors. It brings a lot of unexpected color combinations and patterns.
How would you best define your design approach and what elements do you find yourself incorporating into your designs the most ?
Well, I don't usually like to categorize my designs or myself; I mean, my mood usually leads the way when it comes to designing. For me it's like art, it's a way to express myself, so it can't have any limitations or restrictions but mostly it all falls under the modern approach and maybe the neo-classic. I kind of like modernism with a classic twist to make the space more interesting, and the color combination is my main ingredient. Actually, I like to describe my designs as "colorful." When it comes to architecture, I would say that I love modernism and I usually try to add a twist architecture, but when it comes to interiors people are more afraid. There are much more elements to work with and they are usually afraid of colors, especially that I prefer striking ones. To be honest, if I want to design what I actually have in mind for my clients, I think it would cost them a lot and I know they can't afford that budget so basically we have to compromise. looking at it now makes me feel so proud of the way it's evolving, but I think that designs should be studied a bit more. Some buildings are quite amazing but they don't fit in their context. Maybe the urban context should be improved in some areas as well; otherwise, it will be like a large eclectic zone. But for some areas that are being totally redesigned, like Abdali, I think they are quite interesting , and the color combination is my main ingredient. Actually, I like to describe my designs as "colorful." When it comes to architecture, I would say that I love modernism and I usually try to add a twist.
How often are you given the freedom to express your preferred sense of style ?
In architecture, the clients usually come because they kind of know my style, and they know that they simply want something different from what they are used to seeing in Jerusalem. Therefore, I have more freedom to express with architecture, but when it comes to interiors people are more afraid. There are much more elements to work with and they are usually afraid of colors, especially that I prefer striking ones. To be honest, if I want to design what I actually have in mind for my clients, I think it would cost them a lot and I know they can't afford that budget so basically we have to compromise.
What architectural values and messages are present in your work ?
Practicality, life and identity.
You recently visited Jordan. How would you describe the architectural identity of Jordan, particularly Amman ?
I lived in Amman for five years and looking at it now makes me feel so proud of the way it's evolving, but I think that designs should be studied a bit more. Some buildings are quite amazing but they don't fit in their context. Maybe the urban context should be improved in some areas as well; otherwise, it will be like a large eclectic zone. But for some areas that are being totally redesigned, like Abdali, I think they are quite interesting .
How would you describe the design of your home ?
I think I have to hire another designer to do it for me! Just kidding! But seriously, as a designer you aren’t quite satisfied with any concept. I mean you can decide for your clients and tell them to stick to one theme, but because you are in the business it feels really hard! I believe it is going to be a combination of modern, funky and colorful designs with a twist of modernized classical elements. I did not design the house I am living in now so I am unable to explore many ideas. I redesigned parts of it with a minimal budget and I had to live with the partitioning as is, but if it were actually mine I would have done a lot !
Your working space ?
For me, a working space should always be vibrant, modern and colorful to boost energy. I love spaces that have many modern elements, dynamic and extremely open, unlike my living space, where I prefer more privacy and intimacy
If you had to pick five projects, each particularly reflective of who you are as an architect, what would they be ?
Architecturally, I would say the first one would be the OQR building in Jerusalem. It reflected a modern theme in the area that was a bit unexpected in Jerusalem and it made a good name for me. I also would mention three villas in Jericho that are now under construction that clearly reflect my style. As for interior design, Tony Blair's apartment was the project that led me to explore the real interior designer in me and helped me get where I am today. I always like to mention my first project, which was a coffee shop called Zamo's that was a lucky charm for me. The owner didn't execute more than 60 percent of what I wanted then but at that time, it was a good project for me and brought many projects afterwards.
Which one of your projects do you feel falls under the category of most rewarding ?
Definitely the OQR building .
If you could design a dream project regardless of scale, location or budget, what would it be ?
My dreams are not actually that huge; I love designing villas and town houses but if I want to think of a real dream project, I might say a complete housing project in Dubai. I would love to leave a signature there. Dubai is now the capital of design in the Middle East and a project there would be an extreme boost. I also dream of presenting an HOME december 2013 49 Arabic reality TV show that deals with design and designers, something similar to White Room Challenge or Extreme Makeover - Home Edition .
Tell us about your firm. In what ways do you feel the projects and services you provide have contributed to the region’s architectural scene ?
In Jerusalem and due to the restrictions and the political nature of the country, clients are always looking for minimal designs and maximum space. Budgets are always low and most people are not exposed to the world of design and architecture. Therefore, design in our case becomes insignificant and as a result, the projects in Jerusalem, unfortunately, lack style and identity. As you look around you can see nothing but typical buildings; we are trying to change that idea in every way possible. We designed the first modern building in the area of Sheikh Jarrah, which is an area of extreme conflict, and we did put our first signature in there and it led to other three big projects that we are now working on in the same neighborhood. So our work does not only involve design and looks, it also includes a statement of saying we are here and always will be. We want to build a modern Palestinian identity to prove that Palestinians are staying and even evolving in the best ways possible .
As chief architect, what have been the rewards and some of the challenges of establishing your own practice ?
Starting your own design firm at a young age is a challenge by itself; people won't be able to take you seriously in the beginning. You have to work a lot to prove that you can do even better than what the older architects and engineers in your region can. Finding the right first project is never easy, and as I said before, the mentality of the people in my country is not easy at all and they can't absorb new ideas and concepts, but once you prove your point everything changes.
What’s next for you ?
My next major project is furniture. My first line will launch early in 2014, and hopefully will be available around the Middle East. In addition, we are now thinking about opening new offices in Amman and the UAE.