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Hanif Kara in conversation with STIR on expanding the spectrum of design

Speaking with STIR, Hanif Kara elaborates on what receiving the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award mean while expanding on the ethos of AKT II.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : May 18, 2022

The fractal, fluidic and fantastical nature of contemporary architecture is only possible because of the careful alliance between creative forms and experimental engineering. With 40 years of experience, Hanif Kara, the co-founder of London-based design-led engineering practice AKT II, is a strong voice propagating the importance of intersectional practice. In recognition of his services in architecture, engineering, and education, Professor Kara received an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award (OBE) in the Queen’s New Year Honours List. The twice-yearly award recognises the achievements and contributions of extraordinary people across the UK. The citation of the three categories was “particularly satisfying” to Professor Kara, who has been a professor in practice of Architectural Technology at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University since 2012. In a conversation with STIR, he elaborates on what citation and recognition mean to him while expanding on the ethos of AKT II.

Professor Hanif Kara (OBE) in the Harvard Gazette Image: Courtesy of Hanif Kara

Founded in 1996 as Adams Kara Taylor, AKT II has grown into a pioneering interdisciplinary practice. The professor explains the intention of the studio’s practice saying, “I wanted to reorganise not only the value system, as it sees us, but also push our own disciple through a very deep understanding of how to make things.” It is this vision that has perhaps led the studio to be recognised as a creative force throughout the industry. The practice has constructed and collaborated with numerous architects internationally, including Zaha Hadid Architects, Foster + Partners, and Herzog & de Meuron to name a few.

Interior of the AKT II office | Hanif Kara (OBE) | AKT II | STIRworld
Interior of the AKT II office Image: Courtesy of AKT II

While taking us through his experience, Professor Kara talks about the difference he has encountered in different parts of the world when it comes to manifesting the physicality of the structures. Prefacing the conversation with the interest it garners in his practice, Kara discusses the extremes that he has encountered when collaborating with the on-location contractors. Ranging from skills that are better equipped to local construction methods to automation, he referred to it as an ongoing negotiation of technicalities, one which allows for learning on both ends of the spectrum.

Professor Hanif Kara (OBE) in the Harvard Gazette | Hanif Kara (OBE) | AKT II | STIRworld
Coca Cola Beatbox by architects Pernilla & Asif Image: Courtesy of Hufton+Crow

Working across the spectrum and with intersectional ideas was a recurring concept that emerged during the conversation. He discusses and expresses his thoughts on the prevailing separation of engineering and technical practices and the importance of not only dealing on a macro level with cities, but also on a more micro level, improving subtleties within a single unit. His interest in innovative material use and sustainable construction has seen Professor Kara and AKT II collaborate on pioneering projects that have often been considered too challenging.

  • The Twist by BIG | Hanif Kara (OBE) | AKT II | STIRworld
    The Twist by BIG Image: Courtesy of AKT II / Jan Friedlein
  • Bloomberg HQ structural render | Hanif Kara (OBE) | AKT II | STIRworld
    Bloomberg HQ structural render Image: Courtesy of AKT II

As an educator, the professor discussed his own experience with the evolving classroom. He highlighted that the proliferation and popularity of interdisciplinary practices mean that classroom also needs to employ interdisciplinary teaching methodologies. In addition to teaching Kara has been on numerous jury panels and was the first structural engineer to join the UK Design Council’s CABE commission, the RIBA Stirling Prize jury, the RIBA President’s Medal jury, and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) master jury. He continues to serve in all three organisations as an advisor and reviewer.

Professor Hanif Kara (OBE) in discussion | Hanif Kara (OBE) | AKT II | STIRworld
Professor Hanif Kara (OBE) in discussion Image: Courtesy of Goodayle Photography

Over the years AKT II has won over 350 design awards, including the RIBA Stirling Prize for Town House at Kingston University, designed in collaboration with Grafton Architects. The Town House also won the EU Mies Award 2022.

Tap on the cover video to watch the complete conversation.

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