Q&A with Kourosh Mahvash | Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

Q&A with Kourosh Mahvash

Why did you decide to become an architect? 

From a very young age, I and many others aspired to become engineers, since back in Iran, engineering is seen as a prestigious profession, and interestingly, in Iran, architecture is called architectural engineering. So, for example at the University of Tehran, it was not the faculty of fine arts, but my degree said faculty of engineering, so it is a zone between art, architecture and construction which really fascinated me as a young student and was the reason why I decided to become an architect.

How long have you been an RAIC member and what do you see as the value of your membership?  

I have been a RAIC member since early 2013, which is about 9 years. And the advantage for me is that because I was always interested in the research and academic side of architecture, yet I didn’t want to go and pursue licensed architecture, especially given that a lot of smaller-scale design work that you could do does not necessarily require a license. But what I found when I was working as a researcher for SMA architecture design in Vancouver was that because I was working for a firm, I could become a RAIC member. And through being a RAIC member, I found a very strong connection with the architectural community. If foreign architects want to get licensed in Canada, there are significant bureaucratic and administrative barriers that are complicated and cumbersome for them to work through.  The Canadian Architectural Certification Board regulates and approves foreign degrees, but it is difficult to navigate, time-consuming and expensive. So, in order to belong to the architectural community, the process to join RAIC was much faster and quicker.  As long as you are working in an architectural firm and have an RAIC member supporting your application, the RAIC would acknowledge your foreign degree and work experience in Canada so you could become a member of the RAIC.

Why do you volunteer for the RAIC? 

For me it is important to be connected to a professional community and volunteering helps you get closer within that community to like-minded people who think like you. So, volunteering gives you more opportunities to get even closer to a professional community, moreover, it’s also fun, and I find it a social activity which makes you get engaged in the process. For that reason, I have been really enjoying my time here and it has been a wonderful experience.

What do you find most challenging about working as an architect? 

As I said, I am not a licensed architect and I am very much focused on research and academia so I teach design and architectural design part-time, hence, I think the most challenging part is that design is something that is a principle and that you can find it everywhere, but the architectural design is different. Of course, there are issues with place and culture and identity and how those would be reflected in different places. But something that always puzzled me was how is it that foreign trade architects are not recognized here. For example, my own supervisor when I was at Dalhousie University, was a licensed architect in the UK, how is it that his UK license was not being recognized here and he was a graduate of the AA and had worked for some of the most reputable architects such as James Stirling and Ian Ritchie. I think that is a huge burden and a big barrier for many architects who want to be involved in architecture here in Canada but have so many bureaucratic hurdles to deal with before they can meaning contribute to the profession. Good design is universal, and it shouldn’t matter where someone studied especially if their skills have already been recognized elsewhere

Why is this area of advocacy important to you? 

As you know I am on the Promoting Equity and Justice Advising Committee because it is close to my heart. As you know I moved from Vancouver to Waterloo back in 2016 to do my Ph.D. studies. Yet prior to moving here, I used to live very close to the downtown east side, in an area called Gastown and there I was a sustainability consultant, and while working, I always heard that sustainability consists of environment, social and economic, but I always wondered, where is the social part? As a result, I really got curious about that, and living in that part of Vancouver made me witness daily the kind of social issues that most cities are struggling with and again most cities are not providing enough of a solution. So, I would see tons of social challenges such as addiction, and affordability issues, which got me inspired to study social issues within architecture from a doctoral studies perspective. Therefore, when I saw the opportunity for this committee last year, I knew that I wanted to be involved with it since it is an issue that is close to my heart. But I have been fortunate to not be subjected to these injustices, nevertheless, in the end, I am an immigrant, I am a person of colour, and I am considered by some people as a foreigner, so these issues are something that I would be affected by. Consequently, I think it was important that I could bring this perspective of a person of colour to the attention of the RAIC and reflect on my experience to show what it means to be a minority in the architectural position

What do you think will most change/shape practice over the next five years? 

I really think this inclusivity, social justice issues and diversity, are things that were not discussed intensely 10 years ago, so I think the real change would happen in the next decade in these areas and issues that not only affect our profession but are something that society is talking about. Also, I am very optimistic that these issues would have a much more visible presence in our discussions, in our profession, and hopefully in what we produce as a built environment.

What role do you see the RAIC and architects playing in terms of [climate action / TR / procurement reform / etc.] 

I am glad to see that RAIC has already initiated a lot of these task forces or committees to at least discuss these issues, so I think that those are wonderful initiatives that the RAIC has started. But what I think what important is, what is next, and what kind of actual tangible steps and actions would RAIC take, because it is something to acknowledge that something exists, but it is much more important and difficult to start implementing real change based on what we acknowledge.

What do you like to do outside of architecture? 

I really love driving, although I am not a car enthusiast, but I love driving because I find it calming and meditating, especially when you are in the countryside, but I know it is not climate friendly and I am not proud of it, but it is my guilty pleasure.

What advice would you have for those looking to get more involved in advocacy causes related to architecture? 

Get involved and let your voices be heard so speak out, and it doesn’t matter whatever cause you care about, just speak out, and luckily RAIC provides a lot of forums for that, because if we don’t speak, how can we expect any change, change happens only when we actively and proactively push for it, and the first step is to let people know what we think.