Dubai offers architects unparalleled creative freedom, says Egyptian architect Muhammad Habsah

With only a few years into his career, architect Muhammad Habsah, from Dar Al-Handasah, a planning and design consultancy belonging to the multinational Dar Group, has already worked on a range of award-winning projects. His design ‘Uptown Makkah’ took home the Future Residential Building of the Year 2016 at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin, while his concept for the Egyptian competition Science City was awarded the Best Unbuilt Project 2016 at the AIA Middle East Design Awards.

“Architecture is not about building shapes,” Habsah said. “It’s about responding to human needs, culture and identity. I plan to focus on a different subject of society in the Middle East every year. Uptown Makkah looked at how you can relate a residential project to its context, which, if you look at the architecture of Mecca, it’s not really context-driven. In the Science City project, I tried to apply the same design philosophy.”

Working in accordance to his design philosophy is a source of motivation for the young architect – in fact, it’s the whole reason he moved from his home country to the UAE, and settled in Dubai. His hope, he said, is to build structures that are inspired by the local culture, identity and heritage of a place, while also combining technology with the natural environment. “I want to integrate architecture with the landscape itself,” Habsah said.

“That’s hard to do in Egypt,” he added. “All of the buildings there are similar to each other and you don’t have the space to do what you want. In Dubai, there’s more freedom for an architect.”

Currently working on residential projects, Habsah’s quickly growing portfolio also includes hotel complexes, cultural projects and public spaces. Most recently, he delivered a concept design for a project that looks at improving the quality of life for displaced Syrians. The project starts at the country’s border and moves inward.

Hailing from a family of engineers, Habsah’s passion for architecture started when he was five years old. “My father would take me to Old Cairo, where there’re a lot of mosques and older buildings. I fell in love with their details,” he said. “My parents encouraged me. They told me, ‘If you want to go for it, go for it.”

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