MEET ADIL Abdalla
Adil's ancestors belong to Sudan at the Upper Nile Valley. He was born and grew up in Egypt at its lower territories. His dad was a Sudanese Army Officer who served the Egyptian Kingdom; which had included Sudan prior to its independence in 1956. His mom had a mixed heritage from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia. This is why he was always drawn to multiculturalism.
During his time in Alexandria University in 1975, his closest Sudanese friends were architecture students. "I used to watch, sometimes help or disturb; during their design and drafting exercises. This was when I was inclined to architecture; which had kept evolving. Earlier; I had a passion for design, but in more of an engineering perspective."
If you were a movie, what is your story?
Egyptian culture is a dominant one, yet the scattered Sudanese communities there had their ghetto aspirations in many aspects. Unintentionally; I had stood on the borders among both, grappling the significance of each. Being a product of the middle class had enabled me to experience ups and downs of the typical urban families; where broken hopes provide ammunition for success rather than caps of failure. I was gifted by an extraordinary step father, who had drawn my ruling framework to visualize life and social qualities. I owe him a lot; the early reading habits, the ethics of the men, the hand-crafts, the strength of patience and self-confidence. My biological father had later put me on religious Sufi thresholds and inspired my military-like self-discipline. Throughout the journey, my Mom had the magical stick of love and pride; which had colored my choices and decisions. Surely, I do miss them; and their divine energies. Every imaginable thing in my excited journey was generated from these paradoxical combinations.
What has been your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
Most of my challenges were like anyone else’s; always around setting up the path and attaining dreams and being in comfortable zones. However; due to my diverse interests, I have a great problem to give equal attention to my blogs. The four of them cover cultural, urban, heritage and religious matters; which are not only my own views, but also storage or at-reach epistemic database. I allow 3 hours each day to manage them; which keeps my brain active and my soul alive.
How would you define your design style? What do you think has shaped the way you design?
Humane; interprets people needs and wishes into their new inputs, in order to keep the innovation evolving. Avoiding constraints and molds, allowing free spirit and engagement, and attempt to create affordably-constructible and democratically-public patterns.
Top 5 favorite designers / architects
The Archi-Philosopher Eric Kuhn; who had shocked everyone by an early departure.
The Urban-Composer Pedro B. Ortiz; who amuses everyone by the urban analysis
The Unknown-Architect Wissa Wassif, who unlocked secrets of earth architecture
The Ustaz Hassan, who taught me the deep secrets of early builders and buildings
The Preservation Professor Saleh Lamie, who taught me how to read the historical buildings
Name a mentor or someone who impacted your career and life. And how?
Ustaz Hassan, an Egyptian stone-builder; who taught me the deep secrets of how Mamlouk builders had practiced and how their buildings were constructed. He was in the building profession since his early childhood; gone through most categories of crafts, yet a simple person; who the professors were unable to compete with. This folkloric-based crafts and sense of humor reflects the seeds of Egyptian characteristics; which had granted them histories and enigmas as well.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Growing the capacity to build a team and ignite the shared energy and integration among its members. Don’t ask how; because I don’t know!!
Talk about a time you failed at something or thought you did – but how it molded you.
At 2012, everyone was talking about trading and investment. I joined a platform, I invested
$10,000; which eventually evaporated. It was may hardest failure: I’m not a Trader!
The hardest part of your job is….
To solicitate with the Management or the Client; because I have no strong sales or marketing skills. However, I work as per the book: do my homework, clear my heart, and pray!
The part of the design process you love most.
Defining the Scope. Many professionals don’t know that there are not specific referrals on Scope Management. No training course either. It is all about experience, skills to envision what Client wants, and how components will function. It is the indefinite Designer’s Challenge.
The part of the design process you least like.
Closing out; whereas people celebrate the outcomes of planning, coordinating and delivering; It means leaving my dear team and handing over my project to someone else..!!
Do you have a dream project? What is it?
To contribute to the Revitalization of the Stone City in Zanzibar; which would tell many stories about histories, folklores, cultures, ethnicities and peoples’ happiness. It was a hot spot among African, Indian, Arab, and European. A city of smiling people.
Is there something you would do differently if you ran a design school? What do you think there should be more emphasis of in design schools?
Architecture is not studios and pretty pictures, nor craziness or anarchy as well. it is the living people who from their spatial needs in cultural, yet economic forms. Student should gain their feelings from old dusty poor streets. Yes; innovation is triggered by the unprecedented envisions, yet architecture is a provider for 30% of the population who can’t afford.
If you wanted to teach and pass on design knowledge what subject do you think you would choose? Scope Management; which is the continuous challenge for all urban planners, architects and project managers. How successfully to interpret visions of a second party into a design that shall be constructed by third parties; with almost no provision for deviations or rectifications.
If there is one thing you want people to know or be inspired by from your story – what is it?
If you are not socially intelligent, make it or fake it. Then; eventually you shall be one.
What are you most excited about for what’s coming next?
Humanoid (the human-alike robot). I’m excited, scared, fearful and anxious.
Are there any other outlets you express creativity? How did that come about?
One famous Egyptian Architect, Hassan Fathi, had invented the term: Architecture for the Poor People, back in 1930. He has great designs, but none was sustainable, and all gone in few years after construction. In addition, People had abandoned the houses; which did not reflect their taste or experience. Therefore, I believe in extract the living experience, even with broken pencil and dirty papers. Just give back true thing to the true people.
Many charities were working among IDPs (Internal Displaced People) in Sudan. Schools had no furniture. Adil suggested the design and they accepted the solution. With the help of a welder and carpenters the furniture was constructed.
What makes you happy?
A heart-filled laugh of a small kid
What is your morning routine before you begin work?
Exchange fresh smiles and jokes with the colleagues
What music do you listen to when you work?
I listen to Oldies, Folklores and Relaxing music. I adore exploring cultures through their music. Gogosh, Siti Norliza, E.Rahman and Charles Aznavour are few of my preferred singers.
Favorite tools / software?
My Eyes, Hands and Brain. I belong to old school of design
What is an important lesson you’ve learnt over the years as an architect that you would like to share with other designers?
In 1990, I was working with the Red Cross at one of the refugee camps in Sudan; building movable classroom for the community. It was simple steel structure with thatches in panels, which can be assembled and disassembled in a short amount of time. I asked the community volunteers to apply specific (innovative) bricks patterns in the parameter walls. A young man challenged me that this is wrong, and we should follow the standard brick laying pattern. With everyone around awaiting my response, I had to calm down, compromise on a third option, and worked in some patterns he advised. I learned that when you design for people, don’t provoke their culture. It is to value for them beyond expression.
A Sudanese Urban Development Specialist, architect by graduation and project manager and real estate professional, Adil has contributed to more than 70 projects since 1985, with more than US$ 7bln in contracts, and much more in associated investments. These were primarily in Sudan, Egypt, UAE & Malaysia, while most of his career life was in Dubai, UAE.
This is a story about a man passionate about the built environment, history and culture. He has dedicated his life to planning cities, creating spatial contexts and advancing the urban landscape the way he visualizes it. A curious mind who reads endlessly and learns continually, Adil is a designer who's brain you would want to pick. He runs four blogs on the subjects he is interested in and has a wealth of knowledge about architecture, management, urbanity etc.
- Written and Edited: Kamsin Mirchandani