Tarek N Qaddumi looks more like an enthusiastic child than an acclaimed architect when he starts talking about the buildings he has designed. He waves his arms around, his eyes grow huge behind his glasses, with his tongue sometimes catching on the words as it tries to keep up with his thoughts, which are racing.
We are seated in a building he designed - the Al Manara complex on Shaikh Zayed Road just opposite Times Square Mall, which is not the typical in-your-face Dubai high-rise, rather a modest-looking, modern, two-storey structure. When that's mentioned to him, he says, "It's what I'd call simple and functional."
Instead of gleaming steel, Tarek has used strips of copper that offset the green tinted glass, giving it a warm, stylish, lived-in feel.
"Copper is such a beautiful material," Tarek, 38, says. "It is metallic, but in time it will turn green. It will denote the passage of time, and impart a lovely vintage look."
It's obvious that the Dubai-based Palestinian is an ardent environmentalist. After working in Los Angeles and Paris, he returned to the UAE in 2005 and set up TNQ, a company that has been involved in a number of major international projects. His design for Al Manara, home to Jones the Grocer and Brookfield Multiplex regional offices, was recognised at the 2011 Middle East Architecture Awards after it was shortlisted for the Best Overall Building of the Year. Although it didn't win, it garnered a lot of attention.
"There is certainly a shift in the nature of projects that are being currently considered in Dubai," says Tarek. "Developers are more careful while considering the type of development, taking into consideration an end user's perspective. Al Manara is a project that was purpose-built to house the flagship store of Jones the Grocer. It marks a departure from the mall culture in the UAE and movement towards an interest in stand-alone businesses."
Tarek says he decided to create an internal space that would complement the venue's function as a social hub for the area's residents.
His passion is "socially sustainable architecture" - buildings that serve a purpose and can make a positive contribution to the social fabric of a city. "Al Manara, for example, serves the purpose to provide a social space for the residents of the Al Manara area so they don't need to head to a mall for a simple morning coffee," he says.
Considering the bustling crowd that packs Jones the Grocer on the Sunday morning we met, Tarek is spot on. He sits down with Friday to tell us more:
"I look at each project as a possibility to explore people's aspirations, dreams and hopes for the environment. We know the bricks and mortar side of it, and we know we can build to a person's requirements or needs. But we all have our aspirations, and that's where I always try to push myself. I am always searching and asking and exploring.
My aim as an architect is to produce works that give us the respect we require. My work has to be contextual and appropriate in the context of its environment and society and economy. You have be a bit futuristic too, and anticipate what may or may not happen in this line of work. A building must be adapted to its physical environment - sun, wind, view, orientation - as well as socially. Architecture has to be accessible to everybody.
When I was six I wanted to be an artist. But even then I could sense the reactions from elders were not very favourable, so I thought about what I could do where both my and their aspirations would be met. Even then, I was fascinated by cities and I don't know at what point I came to the conclusion, but I remember telling my grandmother when I was eight that I was going to be an architect.
I was born a Palestinian in the US, but grew up in Dubai. My dad moved to Dubai when I was two. I graduated in 1990 from The International School of Choueifat in Sharjah. I did my BSc in architecture and Master's in architecture from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour in the US.
I then moved to Los Angeles to intern at Morphosis Architects, a coveted position. I was fortunate to work directly with the firm's principal and 2005 Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne, a modern day legend in contemporary architecture known for the unusually-shaped Phare tower in Paris, among others.
To this day, I remain motivated and influenced by Thom's work and devotion to the profession. His influence can be seen in my constant effort to challenge established boundaries and expectations of form.
Following the internship, I began working with urban planner Doug Suisman on a project to re-develop Grand Avenue in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The plan links the many institutions along this emerging cultural corridor, including the new Los Angeles Cathedral by Rafael Moneo and the Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry. This project brought home to me the responsibility that planners and architects share in establishing a solid rapport between public infrastructure and individual developments to achieve a viable community.
In 2000 I became a senior architect and then project manager on the Jean Mermoz Hospital in Lyon, a major health care development for France at the time.
Following the completion of this project in 2002, I collaborated with several renowned architecture houses in France, such as Phinéas and Jakob Macfarlane. In 2003, I joined the Paris office of the international architecture and design practice Samuel Créations, a Swiss firm specialising in high-end hospitality projects. After completing the design for the renovation of the historic Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, I moved east to design the Dubai World Trade Centre Hotels in Dubai. On a visit to the region with the company's founder Samuel Paillat, we saw an opportunity to set up offices in Dubai. In 2005 I struck out on my own with TNQ.
While a very competitive economic climate may seem restrictive for an architect, it is precisely in such instances that the architect's creativity is challenged and the value of good design could be realised. This environment certainly encourages more innovative ways to approach the design of space, and a more measured and calculated approach to experimenting with materials.
There is also the aspect of social responsibility and sustainability, which is about the building being relevant to it's neighbourhood and society. We worked on Najwa, an ecological resort in Wadi Rum in Jordan, an hour's drive from Amman. The entire project was based on sustainability, business as well as social factors.
We didn't think it was reasonable to hire people from Amman to work there because it would mean they would have to relocate to Wadi Rum or drive there every day. The natural conclusion: we trained the people around the reserve and they became great hospitality experts. So, the place became sustainable because we used the locally available resources and people. It gave them the pride of retaining their place and gave them gainful employment that stopped migration from the area.
We are also building an 842-unit residential project in Sharjah. We use a grey water system, recycling water from the showers and wash basins into water-cool chillers, rather than using air-cool chillers which uses more energy. While it may cost a little more initially, the long-term savings are going to be huge.
As a child I looked up to my father, Nader, as most children do. He left Palestine when he was 18, studied in the US and along the way found he couldn't go back home because of the political situation. He came to Dubai in 1976. For me, his has always been a story of perseverance and making the best of what life had dealt him. In his 30s he went on to launch one of the largest insurance companies here, Oman Insurance. He taught me to be responsible, conscientious, and to take a serious approach to work.
When I was a child we used to go back to Jordan to visit my parents' families every summer and I looked forward to my time with my maternal grandfather, a very wise and well-respected gentleman. He recognised the common interests between us, a love for the outdoors and nature. He was a landlord and used to grow wheat. It used to be harvest time when I visited him and he'd make sure to take me to the fields. He bought me my first horse, and so I began my first long-distance relationship with one!
Back in Dubai, I joined the equestrian centre in Nad Al Sheba at the age of eight, and used to ride there until I left for the US after school. I joined the University of Michigan equestrian team and competed in reining - an event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse, dressage and show jumping.
My grandfather also loved literature and poetry, traditional medicine, and he would tell me stories about the region. He belonged to the old generation that believed in preserving the past, including old architecture, and maybe that was part of the reason I started loving buildings. Building modern structures means I am proud of who I am today, but not forgetting what I was and what it might be in the future.
I met my wife, Dalya, in Dubai and we have two children - Rashad, seven, and Sadene, four. As a parent, your responsibility grows every day with the questions they ask you, and the way you reply, which will affect their growth.
I've often been called a dreamer, and my joy in life comes from two things. One is seeing the dreams of my family being realised and manifesting a lot of these dreams in buildings.
Sometimes I see myself obsessing over existential questions - the whys, whats and wheres of life. Issues that concern me are the issues of world poverty, inequality and injustice.
I've always been interested in public buildings because of my interest in people and their relationships with buildings; the city and its relationship to buildings; and the impact these buildings can have on the city and society.
On a personal level, my motto is to keep architecture real, enjoy the real value of family and friends and the simple pleasures of life.
My son does what kids generally do in Dubai and one day when I saw he was skiing rather well I told him we'd go to a real ski slope and showed him a picture of one. He said, "You mean, outdoors?!" That's the great reality of our life in Dubai. We stay in a place that has amazing facilities for kids, and yet one of his greatest pleasures is to wash the cars on a weekend. I think we should realise that, and not skip these simple things in our relationships with friends or family. At the end of the day my ambition is to see that my interests and concerns remain real and the relationships I have remain based on genuine concern.
My dream building would be one that is ultimately understood by people. The dream side of it would be when the user thinks, ‘I get what he's taking about, I get what he's trying to do'. If it sparks the thought, a reaction, an emotion, that would be my dream fulfilled.