Dubai-based architect Tarik Zaharna is the founder of T.ZED Architects, one of the most avant-garde practices in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His acclaimed projects include the KOA Nasab, a mixed-use development in Dubai, which reinterprets vernacular architecture elements in a contemporary manner. Having worked on a myriad of projects across various sectors – ranging from cultural institutions to residential and hospitality spaces – Mr Zaharna is routinely named as one of the top architects in the region.
After growing up in Luxembourg and then attending boarding school in Brummana, Lebanon he decided to pursue architectural studies in London. Upon graduating from the Bartlett, UCL, he worked with renowned architects such as Peter Wilson of Bolles+Wilson as well as Joe McDonald of Urban A&O, New York City. He shares that his collective living experiences in Luxembourg, Lebanon, the UK, Germany and the US have enabled him to embrace change and diversity. “Perhaps, this is also what I love about being a practicing architect: the opportunity to meet and learn from people of varying skillsets, and to never remain stagnant,” he describes his philosophy.
As a result of a visit to Dubai in 2008, he identified an opportunity to apply a more niche approach to architecture that he had honed over the past few years. Subsequently, he worked at a few local design firms as well as co-founded a practice before finally establishing T.ZED Architects in 2015.
In addition to his passion for designing buildings, spaces and experiences, Mr Zaharna believes that the process of making and exploration is not just a significant part of his practice, but a privilege that alleviates any pressure of always needing to be correct.
In this feature, a part of DE51GN’s “A Day in the Life of” series, Mr Zaharna shares his innermost creative thought process that hinges on his daily routine.
4:30am to 5am: I am a true believer in waking up early. In fact, if ever I do wake up after the sun has risen, I almost put the day down as a write-off.
5:45am: After walking or running with my dog, I take some time to read and go through some design work and look at my schedule for the day.
On weekends during the cooler months, my wife Tina Moujaes, who is a fashion designer, and I like to explore the other emirates within the UAE with our dog. We were pleasantly surprised to find some dog-friendly beaches that allow us to spend the day in the water and on the beach. This always makes for a full, satisfying day of activity and recovery. Returning home after a day at the beach or in the desert, I feel recharged and inspired.
With Ludovico Einaudi playing in the background at home, I spend time sketching either spaces that I imagine in the abstract or projects that I have been thinking about in the back of my mind all day. In full transparency, this is something that I keep working through as it seems easier than it is. I try to communicate feelings in my sketches. So, it is always frustrating when the result does not reflect this, or if the wrong message is communicated. What I have found is that pen (or pencil) on paper works best, and not to over-think. Sketches, as with words, should flow.
6:45am: I start my design work about this time. On Sundays and Wednesdays, I train in the morning, while the rest of the week, I train Jiujitsu in the evening after work. I often compare architecture with Jiujitsu. Architecture should be just that: assertive with a passive presence. It might sound like an oxymoron, but design and architecture are not disciplines to be taken lightly. My love for the practice, I believe, goes hand in hand with the practice of the gentle art of Jiujitsu. Both require discipline, both require problem-solving and creative thinking with effective precision all wrapped up in a noble respectful practice. Perhaps, I pursued architecture as a reflection of what I perceive to be an all-encompassing, ideal character, after all.
8:30am to 9:00am I take calls and meetings with the team. I try to balance my day out with design work, site visits, and client meetings.
More often than not, I skip breakfast and lunch. I appreciate structure and routine as I believe this allows for more clear thinking. Having said that, I always welcome a pleasant disruption in the day to catch up with friends and clients over lunch. If I am at the office in Dubai Design District, I will take any opportunity to head to The Lighthouse for their incredible seafood risotto. If the office becomes slightly overwhelming, Eleonora, our head of strategy and development, and I head down to Frame cafe for a de-brief and a strong coffee. We really take this as an opportunity to dream about the next steps for the office and this is where a lot of our ideas for the practice’s strategy originate – most certainly the idea of setting up in Europe next.
4pm to 5pm: This is the time when I meet with new and existing suppliers with who we are working on several projects.
5pm to 7:30pm: I get some more work done during this time when the office is much quieter. Having big plans always keeps me motivated as I enjoy being challenged constantly. Only recently have I made it a priority to also take some time off as I have realised that this really does improve overall performance and creativity. Every so often, I go into ‘disconnection mode’ and am learning to become stricter with that. If I don’t have the opportunity to travel, I enjoy active time off where I spend my free time reading, sketching, and learning a new activity. If, however, time allows for travel, I tend to keep things simple: nature, my bicycle, isolation, fresh air, and good food. Recently, Tina and I have made Val d’Orcia, Italy our own destination to disconnect and we haven’t looked back.
Returning from a trip abroad provides me with a fresh perspective on things I may have previously struggled to resolve. It also realigns my thinking and helps me organise my thoughts. We pick up good habits like walking, observing, and admiring when our minds are not being strained and rushed. I try to adopt this approach into my daily schedule, however, it only lasts for so long before returning to a more rigid routine.
8pm to 9:30pm: On days when I am not training in the evening, after work, Tina and I try to spend time together, and unwind before enjoying a late dinner.
10:15pm: After dinner, I (re)organise my schedule for the day after and attend to any pending items I haven’t completed on my “to do” list for the day.
11:45pm – 12:30am: I am in bed again ready to start the next day with new vigour.
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