We recently caught up with MArch graduate, Waseem Hamada, who has recently set up his own practice, CAZA Projects. Waseem shares his advice for new students and the inspiration behind setting up his own practice.
Why did you decide to study your MArch at Kent?
Having studied my Part 1 at the University of Plymouth, when looking for a new school, I was interested first in the quality of its studies and the immediate context of the school. As I was still abroad, I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the school on the open days so it was a decision I had to make purely from what I could gather about the campus style nature of the school, the vast number of clubs/societies etc on offer, the green spaces which was also very important to me. Huge contrast to my experience at Plymouth, which felt like a fragmented campus.
Another huge plus is Kent’s proximity to London, made it very easy for me to catch early morning interviews in the city or go to work whilst still living in Canterbury, that of which may be a reality for Canterbury residents. Canterbury does also enjoy great transport links to Margate, Herne bay, Whitsable – something to break the monotony in between class days.
Where has your career taken you since leaving Kent?
It’s been a trip! Just before graduating from the MArch programme, I found work at an architectural firm in central London working on interesting projects: a new build 725-home mixed-development scheme in Southwark and a new M&S flagship commercial store on Oxford street.
I think it’s important to mention, as an international student, I felt that in hindsight there seems to be an invisible pressure to pick the firms you wish to work for very carefully. I am pleased now that the government have reinstated the two years of postgraduate work programme which is an imperative experience for all international students to take advantage of.
During Brexit, a lot of projects at the firm were on hold and the market as a result suffered. Coincidentally I received interest for a project in Sudan via a client I met while I was doing my year out in at a firm in Sudan, after graduating from my BA in Plymouth. It is imperative to network as much as you can through all phases of your professional career because this was the catalyst that inspired my own architectural startup.
This new project in Sudan developed quite substantially after meeting the client; this is what inspired me to focus on the MENA region. Rare that a first project after leaving school can catapult in this manner, but is the nature. I think in general, there’s more room to try new things that local real estate developers are scared to do simply because it’s new but has worked in the context imof the UK makes the African continent an exciting prospect. I will say that networking and having strong links with figure heads, business owners and even in politics would open interesting doors.
Congratulations on setting up your own practice, CAZA Projects! What inspired you to do this?
For me, leaving employment to start my own practice was a paradigm shift in everything that I understood about the industry, but also revealed key skills that would now want to continue honing. To be aggressive about business development is something you would only be given the opportunity to do if one was to follow the traditional route that most architects take these days: complete your MArch, finish your required experience to gain your part 3 and continue working under employment until one takes the jump to practice.
It’s a good gamble, to start this now. The risk, although high at first, as is the nature of any entrepreneurs foray into an uncertain world, the rewards can and do justify the intent.
What kind of practice is it? And what kind of projects do you work on?
Our practice is located in Khartoum with four major projects in the capital but now we we working to seek projects in Tanzania, Zanzibar and Morocco. We are also quite multidisciplinary as we have in-house structures, interior design, landscape/urbanism and visualisers abroad.
Our portfolio currently consists of high-end residential projects: multi family residential compound development and two large villa projects, most of which are multidisciplinary in scope. This is something we’ve always pushed as it controls the design process and avoids potential clashes.
It is the trend to start with residential, and since we are a young practice, we are working hard to make the jump to different sectors; large mixed-use residential schemes and commercial projects is something of a passion I fostered at Kent.
What advice would you give to a current student who is looking to start their own practice in the future?
Don’t underestimate the power of networking. It is something that you have to give at first without immediate expectations. It might come to help you later on. Employment is imperative to set you up – follow the RIBA requirements with regards to Part 1, 2 and 3. But don’t feel like you have to wait for the perfect moment.
My journey into setting up a practice was going through the adversity of unpredictable circumstances – first Brexit, now COVID-19, but these should be seen as opportunities to start your own practice/brand. With current market conditions predicting recovery well into 2021-22, it may provide just the encouragement needed to venture out independently.
Be prepared for challenges, obstacles, and even some failures. It will be uncomfortable at first, volatile but once you get into a groove it would be worth it in the end. (Not meant to make it very let’s get up and go motivation success story but it’s the general gist).