President's Design Award: Designs of the year

Engineer wins Design of the Year award for first time

Teheran-born Dr Hossein Rezai (far left) collaborated with architecture firm CSYA for a decorative latticed facade for the Tokio Marine Centre (left) in McCallum Street.
Teheran-born Dr Hossein Rezai. PHOTOS: ALICIA CHAN, WEB STRUCTURES

This year's Designer of the Year award has gone to an engineer, but one who works in the design field. Specifically, he helps architects turn their abstract plans into reality.

Dr Hossein Rezai, 60, is the Teheran-born founder and director of Web Structures, an international design engineering consultancy with an office in Singapore.

He has an intuitive understanding of design that leads architects to rope him in early in the process and trust him to propose new ways of building things.

This is unlike the traditional, more utilitarian role of an engineer, who is more often brought in later to ensure building codes are followed and the structure is sound.

Dr Rezai puts it this way: "The traditional approach is that the developer or architect sets out a problem and everyone else (has to) solve it. It becomes a 'them' and 'us' situation."

But he wants to be part of the initial conversation with architects and developers before the problem is laid out. "We want to get into their minds and find out what they want to do. Sometimes, they may not know the possibilities that exist."

Teheran-born Dr Hossein Rezai collaborated with architecture firm CSYA for a decorative latticed facade for the Tokio Marine Centre in McCallum Street. PHOTOS: ALICIA CHAN, WEB STRUCTURES

The Designer of the Year award can go to any excellent practitioner in a range of design fields, including architecture, fashion, advertising design and visual communications.

Dr Rezai is the first one to win the Designer of the Year title in the engineering design discipline. The other two winners this year are architects.

In its citation, the jury for the award said: "(Dr Rezai's) understanding of structural behaviour and systems allows him to manipulate structural form and expression to create seamless harmony with the design intent of the architect.

"He brings a creative solution to each project - improving how it can be built, while not losing sight of the greater whole."

Dr Rezai often proposes solutions that are practical yet fit into the architect's aesthetic.

For the 21-storey Tokio Marine Centre in McCallum Street, he collaborated with architecture firm CSYA to come up with a design which would "address architectural and structural design intents". The building sports a decorative latticed facade that supports the structure.

The Assyafaah Mosque in Admiralty, a project by Forum Architects, also marries function with design.

The beautiful reinforced concrete arches in the prayer hall on the ground floor also act as supports for three levels of classrooms and other spaces above.

Born in Teheran in 1956, he moved around a lot as his father's civil servant job took the family around the country. His late mother was a headmaster.

As a teenager in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s, he was surrounded by constant construction, which shaped his belief that new buildings were a tangible measure of a city's progress.

On his career path, he says: "I saw that the areas of science, technology and engineering had much innovation. I wanted to do something where I would provide and add assets."

After he completed his bachelor's degree in civil and structural engineering at the University of Tabriz, he left for London, where he did his PhD in structural engineering at the University of Westminster.

He also did a post-doctorate research programme and later worked as an associate at engineering consultancy firm Trigram Partnership.

There, he got involved in a project for a telecommunications tower competition that was to be built in Singapore.

The project never materialised, but the design caught the eye of CSYA's principal architect Sonny Chan, who started working with Dr Rezai on some projects.

At the same time, his firm started getting more work in Singapore. In 1994, he moved here with his Italian wife and two sons to set up the Singapore office of the London firm.

Two years later, he set up his own company, Web Structures. Now, it has three other offices - in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and London. The company has worked onbuildings in countries such as Mongolia, India and Thailand.

He firmly believes that good design does not need to be costly.

"If we're using what is necessary and cut out the extras, it is inevitable that a well-designed building is one that costs less."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline Engineer wins Design of the Year award for first time. Subscribe