MFx16: Meet Zahid Alibhai


Zahid Alibhai
Master of Architecture
Cornell University, 2016
Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin, 2010

What motivated you to study architecture?
I believe that the built environment is one of the most influential ingredients in our lives because we have no choice but to interact with it on a daily basis. Thus, proper design can create a better life quality for many societies when the user is understood from a social and cultural perspective. I also believe that architecture should be a marriage of design and engineering, such that when both are reliant on each other, society benefits on an entirely new level.

Sarah Wigglesworth Dining Disorder

Sarah Wigglesworth Dining Disorder

Where did you grow up?
I grew up right outside of Houston, TX.

What do you like doing aside from architecture?
I'm extremely passionate about cooking and baking. Like architecture, I believe food has an enormous influence on society, culture, and geopolitical identity. I also enjoy woodworking when I have time. 

Walnut Sake Box

Walnut Sake Box

Wenge and Maple Bangles

Wenge and Maple Bangles

Analog or digital?
A mix of both. I usually sketch my ideas on paper first and transfer to digital from there.

Where do you plan to travel to next?
In the immediate future, I'll be traveling to a couple of spots on the Mexico/US border for my upcoming thesis.

Do you have your own research or focus within architecture?
I enjoy learning about the crossovers between food and architecture. The development of a building for architects is very similar to the development of a menu for chefs, the main difference being permanence. I also did my undergrad in Architectural Engineering, so I'm partial to designing structural systems, energy efficiency strategies, and mechanical systems alongside architecture.

Is there something particular that fuels your creativity?
Good food.

What's your design process like?
When encountering a new project, I enjoy problem solving on my own without researching first. When I get to a stopping point or get stuck, I'll go back and do some precedent research. It's a good way for me to gauge my personal creativity against what's already been developed. After I do some research, I'll narrow down my focus to what solves the problem(s) accordingly and develop a design from there. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and think of a detail that influences the bigger picture. For me, incorporating the user, site constraints, and engineering systems from the beginning is crucial to designing something that responds to a given context. 

What's a valuable memory or experience from architecture school so far?
My class is a bit of an anomaly in that we have a very diverse background; only 6 out of the 23 people had an architectural background entering the program. My most valuable memory is being alongside classmates that understand architecture is a group process that involves many other disciplines, not a one-person show.

What are you listening to lately?
Mostly old-school hip-hop. Lots of A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Talib Kweli, and Michael Jackson.

What inspires you?
Smart design. When architecture responds to its given context, I believe it highlights good engineering and design. Also, thinking of what to make for dinner.

What are you reading?
Building Construction Illustrated by Ching. Always.

What do you think the future of architecture is?
Site specific design in underdeveloped countries. A major challenge when designing in an underdeveloped country is providing the most beneficial designs for the least amount of cost, leading to an extremely honed design. Once developed countries understand the power of architecture has when designed to a specific site and society, people will begin to wonder why we've been building cookie-cutters everywhere.

How do you feel architecture improves the world or solves a problem?
When architects consider the user throughout all stages of design, architecture becomes a tool that assists people in their daily lives, rather than an object that takes up space. I also believe that architecture can improve the world by reducing consumption through passive design that takes advantage of local conditions.