* DESIGNER OF
THE YEAR 2016

Dr Hossein Rezai

Director
Web Structures Pte Ltd

Dr Hossein Rezai has come a long way from when he first redesigned a toy car when he was just five years old. He was awarded a PhD in 1985 for his work on reinforced and pre-stressed concrete structures and proceeded to pursue his research interest on a post-doctorate research programme. He founded Web Structures in August 1996 to practise his passion for applied engineering design and realisation of many impressive structures in over 26 countries. Dr Rezai is one of the initiators of the concept of fusion engineering, which reconciles the seemingly contradictory agendas of good design with cost efficiency.

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‘‘The first of my designs that I can remember was when I modified a toy car my dad bought me when I was five years old. I swapped the wheels of a bigger car onto the smaller, newer car, much to his amusement and dissatisfaction. He thought I had ruined the new car.’’

Insights from the Recipient

How should design improve lives?

In every aspect. We must appreciate that everything is designed by someone. It is not only about aesthetics. Taking the case of engineering design, for instance, or advances in water reticulation, sanitation, roads, bridges, the phones you have in your pocket... These are all things that have been designed by engineers, and that have improved the quality of our lives throughout the years.

Insights from the Recipient

What is the relationship between engineering and design?

Dr Hossein Rezai: Engineering is an integral part of any design process. Without engineering, there will be no design. In fact, if it is true that (as French write Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote) "perfection is achieved not when you can't add anymore, but when you can't remove anymore", then engineering is the perfect design.

Describe how engineering has made a significant contribution to realising two of your building projects.

Dr Rezai: Troika, a mixed development in Kuala Lumpur, is a successful example of structural design being congruent with architectural design intents. The architects, Foster and Partners, said the design was about planes so we conceptualised a structure based on vertical and horizontal planes. There are beautiful things happening within Troika's structure – the seemingly impossible slender shear walls, the apparently thin flat plates spanning across large distances between the shear walls. These are all beautiful feats of engineering that integrate and celebrate the sum of its parts.

The Tokio Marine headquarters in Singapore is one of the most sophisticated structures around, not only from a structural design viewpoint, but also from how it integrates the architecture of the building. The architect, Sonny Chan, said that he imagined this building to be a jewel in a forest. So, we set out to create the forest in the form of leaning columns in the perimeter, while the building inside is the jewel. We then made these two components integral parts of the overall structural system.

How should design improve lives?

Dr Rezai: In every aspect. We must appreciate that everything is designed by someone. It is not only about aesthetics. Taking the case of engineering design, for instance, or advances in water reticulation, sanitation, roads, bridges, the phone you have in your pocket... These are all things that have been designed by engineers, and that have improved the quality of our lives throughout the years.

Singapore was designated UNESCO Creative City of Design in 2015. How might you or other Singaporeans contribute to this creativity?

Dr Rezai: Creativity is an attitude. It is this attitude that drives the desire to produce something new rather than reproduce existing tried-and-tested ideas. The contributions we can make to the agenda of creativity is to adopt this attitude and to go against the tyranny of habit. If we do what we have always been doing, we will get what we have always been getting. Innovation requires an intention to do new things or to do old things in new ways. That creates a sense of discomfort, what I call 'design anxiety'. If you have that anxiety, then you are in a creative sphere. If you're walking around with no anxiety, then you're not in the sphere.

Which social gap would you most like to address with design? How would you do it?

Dr Rezai: The social gap I would like to address through design would be 'inequality'. I would like to achieve this by empowering this disadvantaged. I believe it is possible to achieve a sense of equality in our society through integration of technology with our designs. You see, technology and engineering enable us to multiply the benefits available to us, and allow us to spread them as uniformly as we would like to. In our quest for equality, technology and engineering are crucial.

Citation

Jury Citation

Dr Hossein Rezai uses structural engineering design principles that complement the conceptual essence of making things. His understanding of structural behaviour and systems allows him to manipulate structural form and expression to harmonise with the design intent of the architect. This ensures the creation of the most sustainable, productive and optimised solutions that stretch the boundaries of conventional engineering design. As such, architects have described him as a dream collaborator. He brings a creative solution to each project – improving how it can be built, while not losing sight of the greater whole.

Whether it is the Tokio Marine Centre – a collaboration with Sonny Chan and CSYA, with its concept of external columns that create an exoskeleton structure to support the building vertically and laterally, or the Assyafaah Mosque – a collaboration with Tan Kok Hiang and Forum Architects, which employed an innovative reinforced concrete arched frame to create a column-free prayer hall on the ground level whilst supporting three storeys of classroom and ancillary spaces – Dr Rezai has consistently demonstrated an admirable ability to innovate and deliver outstanding results. Attention to detail and deep technical knowledge of materials are recurring traits in all his projects.

Dr Rezai's humble approach informs and influences the holistic vision of his practice. His aspiration for engineering to achieve a higher purpose in the mundane, the everyday and the ordinary, is a distinct feature in his built projects, both local and international.

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Nominator Citation

TAN KOK HIANG
DIRECTOR
FORUM ARCHITECTS PTE LTD

I have known Dr Hossein Rezai for more than 15 years. He is both an astute academic and a consummate practitioner who has achieved the highest academic accolades from universities in Asia and Europe. He is also one of the most prolific engineers I know.

Dr Rezai navigates the concepts of safety, serviceability and 'buildability' with ease, and he is also able to imbue his design with the higher purpose of elegance, space and user experience. He intuitively understands architecture and, with his deep understanding of structure and materiality, he is often able to augment and challenge the architect's thinking in a positive way.

In several of my award-winning projects, like the Shophouse at Boon Tat Street and Assyafaah Mosque, Dr Rezai astutely mobilised structural principles in the pursuit of shape and space formation to suit the architectural intentions. He similarly demonstrated this ability in the Kuala Lumpur project, Troika, working with Sir Norman Foster, as well as with Sonny Chan on the Tokio Marine Centre in Singapore. His recent work on the Mediacorp headquarters in Singapore with Fumihiko Maki is yet another addition to the over 500 projects to which he has brought his concept of fusion engineering in the past 25 years and across 26 countries. These are examples of true applied structural excellence.

He has taught, given talks and published extensively about the seamlessness and ethics of architecture and engineering to architectural students, and he has been recognised with awards from institutions in Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Dr Rezai is also the first practitioner in Singapore to have been invited to join the Master Jury of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the 2016 cycle.

I hereby nominate Dr Rezai for the Designer of the Year under the engineering design discipline of the President's Design Award.

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