Kais Al-Rawi is an architect based in Los Angeles. He works at the intersection of Architecture and Engineering, at Walter P Moore’s west-coast Facades & Complex Structures practice. Kais is involved in a diverse range of projects from art-forms to towers, stadia and aviation projects. Born in Amman, Jordan; he is a graduate of the Architectural Association (AA) in London, and Ryerson University in Toronto. Kais serves as Programme Director and Lecturer for the AA School of Architecture’s Visiting School courses in Jordan. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Kais's unique approach and philosophy on design.
On becoming an architect
Much of becoming an architect for me comes from my family background, mostly my father. He is a structural engineer by training and has worked profoundly in a real estate development and construction. That said, I’ve grew up regularly visiting construction sites and witnessing projects develop. On another hand, I was fortunate to travel around the world while I was young. Seeing how architecture can define our perception of cities, I became intrigued in how influential the architectural design profession is and how much power design really has on cities, communities and everyday life. I certainly grew up determined to become an architect and didn’t really look into other career options.
On his influences
I grew up in the Middle East in Jordan; and for about the past ten years I have lived in Toronto, London, and Los Angeles with periodic visits to Amman. I’ve deliberately chosen these cities to frame my architectural career development. I completed undergraduate studies at Ryerson University in Toronto; and post-graduate studies in Emergent Technologies and Design at the Architectural Association (AA) in London.
Beyond the AA, I have become particularly interested in computational design processes, and further I am intrigued by design which is driven by nature. This aspect has strongly influenced the award-winning Cellular Complexity project. I also aspire to push this interest further through my teaching at the AA.
On another front, I am strongly fascinated by design innovation that results from an architect-engineer collaboration; and the value-added through this dialogue, particularly with the use of computational tools. This has become part of my everyday life, working with Walter P Moore in Los Angeles.
On his interest in natural systems
I find natural systems particularly intriguing and highly intelligent. To a large extent they are under-utilized in design, engineering and architecture — and I find tremendous potential within this realm and attempt to tap into this throughout my work, research and teaching.
I’m interested in looking beyond organic morphology; and to understand the inherent structure, performance and the underlying geometry that drives these systems — and what we can learn and apply from that.
In the Cellular Complexity project for example, we went as far as CT-scanning various organic objects at St. Mary’ hospital in London; really to analyse and understand internal structures and geometries through DICOM medical imagery.
For example, what’s fascinating about cellular structures is that they exist in almost everything from bread to bones and metals. They can have different geometries, behaviours and structures and can exist at various scales. The intriguing aspect is that most properties are driven by the ‘porosity’ of cells — which became a primary focus of our project, and how variability and gradients in porosity can contribute via the individual performance of a cell to a collective intelligence of a system.
On Starting Cellular Complexity
It all started at the AA in London while pursuing postgraduate studies at the Emergent Technologies and Design Programme. The three collaborators on this design-research are Julia Koerner, Marie Boltenstern, and myself. We have diverse yet converging backgrounds and skillsets. We are all architects but for example Julia designs 3D-Printed Haute Couture Fashion Pieces; Marie on other hand has been working in high-end jewelry which combines traditional craftsmanship with emerging technologies. It started as a design-research project as part of our dissertation, and has evolved in various stages to include installations and prototypes.
We want to get it built on a true building scale, that’s the ultimate goal. We have been developing the scale up since our early 3D-Printed Structures at the AA, to an aluminum façade prototype we developed for tex-fab at the ACADIA conference in Waterloo (Association for Computer Aided Design In Architecture); and further at the scale of an entire exhibition hall at the A+D Museum for an installation we designed for the AIA Los Angeles. Parts and components of the project have been exhibited in various cities including London, Houston, Austin, Salzburg, Waterloo, Los Angeles and Vienna. Most recently, we were awarded an AIA Merit Design Award, in the Built Projects category from the Los Angeles Chapter.
We have been imminently exploring digital fabrication and exploiting methods including Robotic Arms, 3D-Printing, CNC-Routing and Laser-cutting; in addition to traditional techniques including casting and vacuum-forming.
The installation at the A+D Museum is particularly interesting due to its reinterpretation transitions between a horizontal floor surface, to vertical wall surface. We have computationally developed and rationalized the design to consist only of flat parts, and develop a robust structure without the need for mechanical attachments or adhesives. The entire structure can be assembled, dismantled and flat-packed as many times as needed.
The intelligence in this mostly comes due to the joint, which to us is a very interesting aspect we have been studying — particularly the customization of joints through 3D-Printing which are able to combine with standardized elements.
On his toolset
I am particularly interested in algorithmic design tools which bridge between architecture and computer science. I often script using the Python language, inside of Rhino, and at the same time utilize GrassHopper. There is a certain level of data structure, organization, management and hierarchies which you can get through scripting which you just cannot get in other methods. It is particularly interesting to me, that if you were to model and simulate natural systems and their complexities — it is likely only possible through such methods.
At the same time I am really interested in a multi-platform conversation. It’s interesting to see and develop workflows for how to get things done using different software’s and the interaction of the tools and their interoperability — and I do this both in practice and academia.
Throughout teaching at the AA, we investigate the design potentials of culminating different tools together, for example: Maya and Rhino/Grasshopper. In practice, I get to collaborate and work with many architects and find myself developing unique workflows based on the toolsets the architect uses, what we use for engineering, what we deliver in — but also what the industry benchmark is for delivering documentation and models. I am definitely a believer in a finding the workflow that utilizes any and all kinds of software and tools which can get the task done.
On his work at Walter P. Moore
Over the past year and a half I have been working on façades, enclosures and complex structures for key U.S. and international projects in the aviation, sports and tall buildings sectors — in some cases art forms as well. Our team is strongly passionate about digital workflow and has set successful precedents in projects such as the new terminal for New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport where we worked with Leo A. Daly to develop structural and facade systems design and engineering.. Our process becomes critical to the ability to be adept to design options and changes throughout project development; and at the same time maintain rigour and robustness in the accuracy of our models, geometry, its workpoints and documentation. The computational processes also allow us to push for a higher-level of engineering and accuracy in analysing the performance of an entire building or facade rather than typical bays and parts.
I mentioned earlier interoperability and dialogue between platforms. I have been particularly involved in processes of developing ‘driver’ models which have the ability to generate a series of purpose-specific models including such for: design, structural analysis, visualization, clash-detection, environmental analysis, building information and documentation models. Each model serves its own purpose but links back to a driver model and can be regenerated as the drivers change throughout the project — and this is only possible within a computational and generative workflow.
On being an educator
I initiated a summer programme in Jordan which is part of the AA Global Visiting Schools. I direct the programme and have set-up an agenda which is based on Natural Extremities; with the aim of investigating unique ecological sites in Jordan, as part of a process to design and develop architectural and urban outcomes.
We bring together a network of international faculty, guests, and participants for a one of a kind learning and design-research investigation into Natural Extremities in Jordan. These include the Wadi Rum Desert, a UNESCO world-heritage site with spectacular geological formations; the rose-red city of Petra and its rock striated alcoves. Further, the hypersaline Dead Sea which lies on the lower point on earth; and the hyperbolic coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba to name a few.
There’s several facets into this course and being an educator. On one hand we are looking at architectural education outside of typical classroom and studio settings; but rather inhabiting the Desert or the Dead Sea for a few days. On another hand, it’s really about pushing the boundaries and having the time, expertise, resources and inspiration to experiment and research in design — which we cannot do in professional settings.
We operate in the same manner as the AA’ famed Unit System where we set a framework and focus and allow processes to unfold and develop over the course. Within the same year and theme, we offer multiple units which follow the overall agenda however specialize into specific tools and scales of architectural outcomes. A large part of this is to also really rethink how we can deliberately design in ecologically sensitive locations with natural extremities.
On changes for the next 5–10 years in architecture
I think there are several facets to what I look towards in the near future, and these include aspects on the design, procurement and technology fronts.
On a design front, I am excited to be part of an imminent generation investigating novel computational design concepts and methods and look towards this generation realizing their designs; at the same time I am fearful of the commodification of these same ideas and methods.
From a procurement point of view, I certainly await the day at which 3D Models will replace construction documents in architecture — and I believe that will be one of the key drivers towards innovation in the AEC industry. In my view, if a picture is worth a thousand words; then a robust 3D Model is worth a thousand drawings.
Technologically, I am interested in how emerging technologies in other fields, including robotics, drones, 3D Printing, projection mapping among others which will transform architecture, its programmatic requirements and our perception of space — its use, ability to transform, and its efficiency. I can foresee tremendous change ahead.