Dr Rasem Badran

Palestinian-Jordanian architect Rasem Badran pinpoints three life milestones

The renowned architect tells Round City about the life-changing experiences he had that impacted who he is today.

Born in Jerusalem in 1945, Dr Rasem Badran was brought up in a creative household – his father, Jamal Badran, was an artist and master of handcrafts, while his uncle was a photographer. The two elders had set up an art space in Ramallah, where the family was from. Often surrounded by paintings, drawings and photographs, Dr Badran formed, at an early age, a sensitive understanding of transforming the intangible into the tangible.

In his rural environment on the edge of Jerusalem, Dr Badran could often be found creating his own artwork, which consisted largely of paintings and sketches of automobiles, technology and motors. An early passion of his that later transformed into designing buildings, Dr Badran’s childhood creations were impressively mature and detailed; they were also foretelling of the watercolour paintings of urban landscapes that would come to define Dr Badran’s artistic talent later on.

This for me was the discovery of the world.” – Dr Rasem Badran on mastering perspective

Mastering perspective in his childhood was, according to Dr Badran, his first real milestone. Learning how to draw a roof from inside a building by the time he was five or six, Dr Badran’s self-taught skill in spatial understanding formed the foundation for his prosperous career as an architect.

Al-Bujeiri Development in Riyadh (2000-2015)

After receiving his early education in Ramallah, Dr Badran went on to Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany, from which he graduated in 1969 with a diploma in architecture. As his homeland faced occupation and conflict, his surroundings in West Germany were also rife with turmoil. This period would come to define Dr Badran’s second major milestone: reform, revolution and nostalgia for Palestine.

Having participated in the students’ reform movement in the 1960s, which fought against the authoritarianism of the West German government, as well as the poor living conditions of students, Dr Badran developed a deep understanding of how the built environment affects the emotional and psychological well-being of its users.

He was convinced that I was the architect who could do something influential for the Middle East.” – Dr Rasem Badran on meeting Dr Rifat Chadirji

Immediately after graduation, Dr Badran worked on two projects in Germany: the Munich Olympic Stadium Complex (1969-1972) and Elementa Competition (1972). While his first two projects were outside of the Middle East and North Africa, they would also be his last that existed beyond the Islamic world. By 1973, he had returned to Jordan, and began work on a housing project for the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs (1973-1982). The beginning of many projects in Jordan, his work in the 1970s and early 1980s caught the attention of established architects from the Arab world, namely Dr Rifat Chadirji, who would call on him to enter the design competition for the Baghdad Grand Mosque in 1982.

Moving back to Jordan marked the third major milestone in Dr Badran’s life and career – what followed was the nonstop commissioning of landmark projects, competition wins and the architect’s gradual, yet formidable establishment of his public and professional identity. After winning the Baghdad Grand Mosque competition, and designing multiple cultural and religious institutions in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, Dr Badran’s name became synonymous with modern Islamic architecture, and he is largely lauded as its pioneer.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Dr Badran continued to design projects across the region. During this period, his international recognition spiked – in 1995 he won the Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture for the design of the Grand Mosque of Riyadh and the redevelopment of Riyadh’s old city centre, in 2001 he won the Arab Architect Award, and in 2007 he received the Al-Hussein Order for Distinguished Contribution of the First Degree for his efforts in the enrichment of modern Islamic architecture.

Grand Mosque of Riyadh

Throughout his career, Dr Badran has always approached architectural projects with a larger purpose than ‘building a building’. He has always prioritised humanity – his buildings have always been for the people, for the community and for the history of both. Through his designs, he hoped to spark passion between user and place. Devoid of a homeland he can return to, Dr Badran’s modus operandi has long been to establish a homeland for others and all that entails: connection, belonging and love.

I tried to create homelands for everyone. That was my dream.” – Dr Rasem Badran on his legacy

Humanising living spaces and designing ethical buildings are part and parcel of Dr Badran’s work. In doing so, he strongly considers a project’s context and ensures its connection to its surroundings. His work honours principles that benefit society, the environment and the people, which can be seen in projects like the Justice Palace and the Grand Mosque in Riyadh (1985-1992), the King Abdul Aziz Historic Center in Riyadh (1996-1999), and the Al-Bujeiri Development in Riyadh (2000-2015), among many others.

Exhibitions of his work have been held across the world, from Venice to Mumbai, Jerusalem to Stuttgart. He has also been (and continues to be) a member of a number of juries including: Tamayouz Excellence Award, the Hassib Sabbagh & Said Khoury Engineering Award, the iSustain Initiative, Artists in Concrete Awards, and many others.

As he moves forward, Dr Badran’s continuing legacy will long be felt in the urban fabric of the Middle East. Despite the ever-changing currents of the region’s societies, his buildings will continue to record and reflect the language of the place and the behaviour of the people.