2017 President of The American Institute Of Architects-Middle East, a Licensed Architect in The State of New York, and US Green Building Council Accredited.
Raya Ani is a truly multidisciplinary architect, with her work crossing over several disciplines that include architecture, urban design, interior design, fashion, art, and the environment. We speak to her about creativity, empowerment, inspiration, and ongoing development.
Emirates Projects: What inspired you to set up RAW-NYC Architects; what was your thinking behind it?
Raya Ani: I always wanted to have my own architectural studio! I wanted the freedom to create my own vision and run the business in the way I believe in. When you are an out-of-the-box thinker, this covers everything from how you set-up your practice and the studio’s business culture through to the design approach and how you deal with clients. I believe you create and push forward with what works best for you and what is in sync with your values and beliefs. For me, my studio is a creative environment where people feel motivated to perform to their best abilities and are in sync with each other.
EP: Did you have a mentor?
RA: I honestly didn’t have a mentor and, looking at it now, I realise why it was hard for me to find the right person. The fact is that I approach matters, whether design or business, in a way based solely on my own unique experiences and perspective. It is not easy to find someone who can understand you and is able to mentor you in the way you should be mentored. People give you advice based on their own experience, but that experience is not yours. I learned to listen to others, but then I have to decide on what works best for me.
EP: How do you empower your team to reach the same heights that you demand from yourself?
RA: When I see someone who has promise, I tend to support him or her so they can reach their full potential, but I do realise that not everyone is willing to work as hard or is as dedicated as I am. I know that I have high expectations for myself, and thus I have high expectations for others, and it is hard for some people to meet those expectations. However, those people who are driven and love challenges are motivated by my energy and enthusiasm. It is contagious.
EP: How do you encourage creative thinking within the firm?
RA: I support my team to have a unique perspective on every design matter. What I mean by ‘unique’ is very specific to the context we are responding to in terms of vision, programme, space, client, and the objectives of the project. We all start by doing research on different matters related to the project and we share, discuss, and then process those ideas.
EP: As a firm gets larger there can be a tendency for the ‘institution’ to dampen the ‘inspiration’. How do you keep this from happening?
RA: A good question! Let’s just say I am very conscious of what it means to get larger. For us, we don’t have to be large to do large projects so there is no need for constant expansion; we can undertake different types of projects, large and small, and be profitable as practice. It is about having the right people with the right skills, approach, and a great attitude towards working with others and dealing with challenges.
EP: Can you explain how you empower communities through architecture, urban design, and interior design, creating more sustainable and innovative environments?
RA: Empowerment is about giving people an active role in decisions that affect their lives. It is about being able to participate in and influence the creation of their environment. This covers all critical aspects of their lives and the spaces they inhabit on a macro and micro level, from what and where they eat, the environment in which they live in, sleep in, how they commute, how they socialise etc. It is also about empowering them economically through architecture that provides them with the space and the strategy to make a better return on their property and their investment.
EP: Do you set aside specific times to cast vision to your employees and others in the industry?
RA: For me, the whole thing is quite organic. I don’t necessarily plan it unless I am speaking, such as at a conference, then I would share my vision. But with staff or others, it comes out in meetings or when offering advice. And it can come out unexpectedly when an idea is triggered.
EP: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop, both as a person and as an architectural practice?
RA: Whether development is on a personal level or in