Rising Star accolade for
Hamza's innovative work

UCA architecture graduate Hamza Shaikh is making waves. Not only in his chosen industry, but also in the worlds of social media and AI. Last year he was named a Rising Star by the RIBA Journal for his work combining these disciplines.

10 Apr 2024

Hamza graduated from UCA in 2017, has not long completed the final part of his architecture qualifications, and works at one of the world’s largest architects, Gensler. Before that, he also set up a t-shirt brand, Two Worlds Design, before beginning to use the brand’s platform to start talking about architecture across a blog-style Instagram account – which now has 35,000 followers – a YouTube channel, and a podcast, all of which seek to demystify architecture

“Once I realised I could do this through my actual university work itself, using the media expressions as a means to think out loud and share ideas, I began building a large social media following,” he says. “Because of the complexity of the discipline - the wide-ranging concepts, philosophies, sciences and perspectives within the field - I began documenting my learning experiences through YouTube videos, and later through a podcast series. At times I found this was a process of learning through teaching, and I found myself becoming a source of support for other students progressing through their architecture journeys.”

As well as branching out into social media spaces, Hamza is exploring the role that AI will play in his work as an architect. He says he never expected to get involved in AI, but his love for challenging himself, alongside his fears, have led to him pursuing it as an additional interest.

“The focus of my work with AI is on understanding experimental drawing methods and exploring wide-ranging forms of creative expression,” he says. “Generative AI has immense implications for the creative process, particularly in architecture, where analogue and digital tools of expression are always in a competitive dance.

“Exploring that threshold of competing forces, filled with discovery and new insights, is where I am most satisfied - finding harmony within the storm. That’s what 'Two Worlds' is about.

“Now that I work at Gensler, I feel privileged to explore this challenge alongside world- leading practitioners, machine learning experts, computational designers, artists and design technology leaders; I get to bring my expertise in hybrid creative processes to the mix.

Hamza Shaikh talking to a colleague who is not facing the camera

“This also shines light on the future of AI adoption: finding solutions that allow us to work in harmonious collaboration with AI, using it as a tool that facilitates and prioritises human agency. This is easier said than done, given the nature of some tech-oriented people, who are driven to blindly push all boundaries of innovation. However, this is what makes my place of work so exciting - we have a beautiful balance of tech-oriented and craft-oriented professionals, working together to create the best of blends. 

“Ultimately, the challenge we have in the architecture industry is no different to other fields when it comes to AI adoption. Simply put, we must find and create systems of semi-automation as alternatives to full automation. I do believe it will be challenging to develop semi-automation at the same rate that full automation is developing, but this is where policy, legislation and governance needs to come into immediate effect.”

Hamza is now working to create new workflows and processes that use a hybrid approach to design and its communication – making the most of AI, but retaining the human touch.

“Undoubtedly, this idea of 'hybridising' creative mediums stemmed from my time at UCA,” he says.

A drawing design of a space for worship by Hamza Shaikh
A rethinking of a place of worship, by Hamza Shaikh

Within the field of architecture, Hamza’s design passion is the reinvention or redesign of sacred spaces, like churches, to bring people together.

“I am fascinated by the Abrahamic tradition – the idea that fundamental commonalities of major religious beliefs are unquestionable. I dream of a day when, in the West (as I am a westerner), we discover this common identity,” he says.

“From an architectural standpoint, this new but ageless sacred identity (or lack thereof) has fascinating design/experience/cultural/philosophical implications. This will be my lifelong personal pursuit and dream, my purpose; to bring people together in harmonious peace, or to at least create spaces, moments and opportunities for it."

But with the constant and rapid advances in AI, Hamza expects much of his work to be focused in this area in future. “Many incredible people are working hard to innovate our way through this. I hope to be part of this endeavour for as long as it takes to see the outcome.”

Hamza says he has always had a creative disposition, but was often discouraged by teachers at school, who felt his interests wouldn’t lead anywhere. He found a warmer welcome at UCA.

“I loved UCA: the creative environment allowed me to discover that being an architect was more than just designing buildings,” he says. “I progressed onto my BA degree through the Art & Design Foundation course, where I explored all creative mediums, interfaces and expressions - from fine art to crafting to lens-based media. 

“I took this unrestricted attitude into my architecture studies and quickly learned that this, too, is an incredibly flexible discipline that allows for multidisciplinary influence and cross-creative expression. 

“When it came to the intellectual pursuit of architecture, being around so many extraordinary professors and tutors inspired me. Then, seeing the rapidly evolving technological tools required for practice showed me that there is a place for anyone in architecture, but mostly for those who are constantly curious.

“For the first time in my life, after all my struggles to remain focussed in my school years, I found a place to be obsessively curious and creative.”

His advice to current and future students? “Find or remember what you love, and explore how it can have a positive impact. Ask questions to exceptional people so you gain mentors, who can understand what areas you can improve for your pursuits. 

Take criticism with grace, knowing when there might be positive insights to be gained about your development to apply it immediately.”

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