BASEL AND BASMA live and work in Amman. Together in 2009 they established Atelier Uraiqat, specialising in unique architectural and interior design, object and furniture design and experimental projects that combine art and architecture.
In 2012, they partnered with Osama Najjar to form Uraiqat Najjar, a architecture firm committed to designing for the commercially-conscious client. In addition, Basma teaches at the German Jordanian University and Basel paints.
Starting our own studio was scary. We both worked for local architectural offices, but found this arrangement restrictive. We didn’t do a lot of planning, and had no back up plan. Nothing. It was scary, but at the same time, it was exciting. We had a dream. The first two years, it was just us, we did a lot of projects - all of the drafting and drawing, all of the project management - but we kept our experimental work happening too.
Craftsmanship is a bit weak in Jordan. Our main challenge is realising our ideas, within the limitations of local workmanship. Technology here is still very primitive, and the passion for workmanship is not good. For instance, in Lebanon they inherited their techniques, but it is not the same here. Most of the industry depends on imported craftsmanship, and it is very difficult to find someone reliable who can actually implement the work. We would love to keep making our products in Jordan, but we don’t want to compromise quality. It is very possible that we might start manufacturing in Europe and then import those techniques to be able to do it again here in Jordan.
A lot of opportunities come out of working in such a chaotic region. If we were in, say, London, New York, you know, we would be sitting behind a desk for another 20 years before we could have our own thing. We try this and we try that, and we do this and that. There is room for experimentation. We are young (30), but we have a very high standard for ourselves.
The first important job we got was a Mosque. It was very much a coincidence. Basel’s father is a contractor and the client asked him if he knew a good architect. He’s like ‘Well, I do know someone!’. We had just started, but they believed in us and were very enthusiastic. Mosques tend to have a very traditional structure, so we explored the history of how they have evolved. We experimented, and the outcome was very contemporary with a touch of Islamic patterns, but still functional. We enjoyed the project tremendously.
When you meet someone, a potential client, or when clients meet an architect, it’s either yes or no. We have to click, otherwise it doesn’t work. The relationship with a client is at minimum 2-3 years, so there is a lot of interaction. Trust builds with time. We have had clients come to us a bit sceptical, but decide to work with us, and then with time they relax and let us get on with the work. Some (clients) just trust us immediately, and say ‘go for it, do whatever you want’.
We do all sorts. Everything. In addition to the Mosque, we have done offices, interiors, residential, villas, apartments, buildings…anything that comes up. We usually like it when someone wants something totally different. It’s rare, but this is the moment we wait for. Our art and sculpture is very free - we have to consider the steel and how it works, but there are no other restrictions. Moving towards architecture and manufacturing, things are more fixed. For instance, the plots of land in Amman are often sloping, so you are restricted by the land. And of course, the client.
We are now a team of 5. We were afraid that introducing new people might negatively impact our working process, but we were very, very nicely surprised. It’s about chemistry. Our partner shares our vision and has good experience in the corporate realm - big companies, in Dubai, Abu Dabi and here. This differing experience complements ours, making the company unique. Our two employees came to us as fresh graduates. They are very talented and are as committed to the work as we are, and that’s brilliant.
We moved to this apartment 6 months ago. We had to re-do the polished concrete four times. This is standard flooring for many other countries, but here in Jordan it’s still new, so it was a struggle to find someone to do it. It was exciting though, to see the contractor trying something unfamiliar, and when they were finished they were very proud of the outcome. We thrive on the difficulties because of the surprises you get out of it.
We have two kitchens. We wanted an open kitchen, which is uncommon here because Arabs like to cook messy, smelly food. Usually the kitchen is just a different room in the basement or sometimes even outside, called the ‘dirty kitchen’. We wanted it all together, so most of the time it is open and you can share it with your guests, but if you need to close it, you can.
The style of Amman is very interesting because it reflects the socio economic situation. Everything you see around you has a reason; the economy, the techniques, the know-how, the available resources. Stone is used everywhere, as it is the most practical material in Jordan. It doesn’t require maintenance and has greater longevity. It’s not a design choice, more a functional one. Architecture has kind of lost it’s way here. It’s becoming more commercial, with mass production of housing blocks that are basically copies of each other. Function and quality are very compromised. This is our challenge - to maintain a strong commitment to considered architecture while remaining commercially viable.
Interview: Siobhan Frost
Edited by: Bec Worth