Rising high with Saudia innovations- Zahyr Siddiqi

By Zahyr Siddiqi

There is always scope for progressive practices to contemplate professional activism, intellectualism, and juxtaposing of priorities either in the form of writing scripts, research papers, designing and interacting with like-minded professionals and other worthy persons.

Being on the creative side, I try inspiring and influencing my contemporaries with my experienced design ideology ‘Instant Architecture’ to make others feel the importance of the subject. It is a simple exercise of interactive human behavior. It can be summarized as a higher level of persuasive activism.

Most often people converse with like-minded people. Therefore, they almost never hear the other side of the subject. My collective decisions are mostly based on functional aspects which lead to popular acceptance.

MS Education Academy

Since my corporate professional career began, I was fortunate enough to be associated with great peers and associates of variable qualities and backgrounds. I preferred to gain professionally from them and convert those gains into design opportunities.

The Saudi Airlines (SV) Corporation in Jeddah, with whom I was associated for over 45 years, have had a well-attuned policy to seek out talented local sons-of-soil personnel and groom them for higher executive leadership positions. I framed my persuasive design activism as befitting and matching the company’s objectives.

Excellent Saudi manpower

In the Saudi Airlines division of Facilities Engineering (Fac Engg) where I was involved only a small percentage of Saudis were there. But they were educated at the prestigious universities of the Western world.  They were technically well-versed and ambitious enough to progress. This made the task easier for me. As a firm believer in futurology, it was inevitable for me to befriend some of those who exhibited classy corporate leadership qualities, professionalism, and work ethics.

As the airline rolled out its expansion schemes under the ambit of their nation’s boom period (the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s) the practice of helping each other made us regroup to phase out the well-entrenched outsourcing of projects in favor of in-house architectural and engineering A&E design production. Through this way they all had the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder and for me the opportunity to see my architectural designs moving towards realism. This new turn of events saw younger cadres take stock of the corporate leadership faster.

The role of Capt Ahmed Mattar

As days passed by, the newer corporate mantra cropped up as envisioned by Capt Ahmed Mattar, the Director General and CEO. He was a son of the soil. He was a dynamic B747 ace pilot and a born leader. He wanted to carry out tasks by and through Saudia manpower for Saudi Arabia.

The captain made every division in Saudi Airlines to be on its toes. He made the planning and research cells put in extra efforts to update their own data banks, to prepare programmes and briefs to procure successful proposals.

While the country was accelerating toward advancement, the major public institutions were also working harder to achieve the new targets.

Riyadh Diplomatic Quarters

The Capital Development Authorities identified a plot of land in Riyadh Diplomatic Quarters RDQ and invited Saudi Airlines to make its presence felt in the master plan.

Saudi Airlines Marketing Department headed by General Manager Abdul Hameed Jahdali, a British-educated Saudi, the client division of Facilities Engineering Department headed by General Manager Engineer Shaker Nazer, a Saudi educated in the US took the initiative and formed a Special Expert Team to design the state of art Reservation Center Facilities on par with many world airlines. The ‘Special Expert Team’ SET was formed under the aegis of the Facilities Design Department, headed by Senior Manager Eng. Saud Hashmi, another America-educated Saudi engineer.

Earlier on, I was credited with a couple of Saudi Airlines iconic projects including its SV-HQ Building, Jeddah, for the architectural design concepts, Fac programming, design development/production and construction package delivery. I was included in the SET as its lead Project Architect, overriding many other senior and experienced American and European architects in the department. The SET traveled the world over and visited many airlines for research to study new reservation methods and techniques. I got the privilege to prepare the specialized reservation facilities programme which was eventually adopted for its design package.

After developing the reservation center facilities programme, we visited the allotted proposed site in the Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter (RDQ) masterplan in Riyadh. I was taken aback by seeing many factors contrary to Saudi Airlines’ image. There was not enough scope left to design state-of-the-art facilities.

Becoming part of Riyadh Master Plan

We presented the Saudia site evaluation report including requirements. The RDQ authorities readily obliged Saudia with favorable options to pick and choose what Saudi Airlines feel the best.

Finally, the plot of land we chose received approval from the RDQ authority with a design brief to initiate the process within the urban design criteria (UDC). It was said to be on the NYC port authority quality guidelines. The proposed plot of land had everything a good design aspires for. It was not limited to tree-lined vista-type roadways, corner plots abutting monumental rotunda fountain roundabout providing natural design axis, the scope for landscaping, urban connectivity, and infrastructures.
Saudia Facilities Design team headed by Eng Saud Hashmi with me as its main design Project Architect went in full swing and presented my architectural design concept which eventually received overwhelming approvals to initiate the construction package preparation. The word went around the corporate circle that Fac Engg dept made a great competitive breakthrough to score a free plot of land for Saudi Airlines in the most expensive and prestigious neighborhood of RDQ in the capital city of Riyadh.

Capt. Mattar shows keen interest

At one social gathering, I met Director General Capt. Ahmed Mattar. He inquired about my current projects.  I briefed the RDQ project progress and how we got the land including the design approvals. He was pleased with my briefing. My relationship with Capt. Ahmed Mattar was old. They began when I was a beginner, and he was a mid-level Manager flying. I was assigned to work with him to prepare his division’s Flight Operation offices layout, the longest layout of any of my designs, composed of half a km of multiple types of old airport terminal facilities. The design layout proved successful to bring about the scattered flight operation departments under one roof with smooth workflow among its variable sections. The DG-CEO moved on wishing me all success for the project.

As days went by, I got busy with the other priority projects thus shelving the RDQ design package. In yet another interaction, I came across Capt. Ahmad Mattar. He enquired about the RDQ project. I sheepishly told him that owing to the paucity of funds the ready-for-construction package could not progress. He was surprised. He instructed me to remind him the next day, which I did.
The following days, my GM – Fac Engg. Eng. Shaker Nazir & Senior Manager – Fac Design Eng. Saud Hashmi, the two most celebrated members of the Saudia executive hierarchy, called me to show the RDQ project funds requisition. They approved the fund’s requisition for immediate construction. Although the GM and Senior Manager were happy. But they wanted to know how I got that approval while many influential departments were left in the lurch for holding back the RDQ project for so long.
The construction of RDQ facilities progress was smooth. It was managed by Saudia Fac. Construction department.  It got completed and eventually occupied for operation. Its well-proportioned pro-vernacular architecture in modern idiom was appreciated by many professional organizations as well as the media for its contemporary characteristics integral to urban landscaping.

Reservation Centre

The new SV RDQ reservation centre facility’s functional interiors had achieved goals far beyond expectations with distinct spatial and quality finishes solving the perennial health problems among the VDU workforce. Among other things, they were appreciated for related to balance acoustics, soft reflective lighting for vision clarity, and workstation clustering for effective workflow and organization.

Recognition from the Agha Award panel

As the bouquets and accolades still coming in, a surprise letter came to our GM – Fac Eng. division, recognizing the new Saudia RDQ project building as worthy of nomination for the world-famous Aga Khan Award for Architecture excellence AKAA’2000, among the costliest awards in the field of world architecture. The MIT/Harvard-based AKAA’2000 award committee chair requested a set of guidelines to be followed for its presentation to its Award Jury in Geneva. We in Fac Design department prepared the required dossiers including the project design team organization, pictures, and catalogues for submission to the AKAA award committee for study and action.

Through proactive ‘Instant Architecture’ approaches and project successes, the DG/CEO and all the above-named executives later became family friends. Those golden days will remain imprinted on my mind forever.

Zahyr Siddiqi is a well-known architect/urban planner.  He is originally from Hyderabad and made his name in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He now lives in Bolingbrook, IL USA

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