Bringing passion to his work: Get to know Shabbar Sagarwala
At Kasian, we are proud of the diverse skills and deep sector experience that our various team members bring to our projects and overall community. It is this diversity that empowers us to create a deeper connection between people and place, in turn transforming not only landscapes and buildings, but communities.
Our employee Spotlights serve to introduce some of our high impact and passionate team members, highlight their unique skills, and share their reflections on how design trends are evolving in our changing times.
Spotlight: Shabbar Sagarwala, Principal
“A project is a dialogue with many different constituents and stakeholders. As architects it is critical that we build this dialogue.”
Shabbar Sagarwala joined the Kasian team in February 2023, bringing with him almost two decades of professional expertise and six years of academic and research experience. Shabbar has recently returned to Canada after spending nearly a decade living, learning, and working abroad in Japan, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.
Shabbar has worked on a wide range of award-winning projects, including:
• Stage Felissimo in Kobe, Japan, is a mixed-use development with a diverse range of spaces for creative industries and the general public in the podium and a tower with flexible format offices above. The project was recognized by DFA Design for Asia in 2022 with a Merit Award for Spatial Design and Workspaces
• Globe Live in Manila, Philippines, is a lifestyle retail hub and entertainment arts venue that won the 2019 Outstanding Property Award for Architectural Design in the Commercial Retail/Department stores/Mall category, the 2019 Good Design Award for Architectural Design, and the 2019 World Architecture & Design Awards, Second Award in the commercial category
• Nissan Crossing in Tokyo, Japan, is a mobility innovation showroom which won the 2017 Architizer A+ Jury Award in the Architecture + Technology category, the 2017 IDCS Design Excellence Awards as Project of the Year and Gold Award for Best Exhibiton Design, and the 2016 International Design Awards in Silver for the Interior Design: Commercial category.
Shabbar shares some insights on his architectural journey.
Question & Answer
Q: What drew you to architecture?
SS: I was exposed to art very early on – I got into pottery as a child and then auditioned and was accepted into a specialized art program in high school. Through that program, I was introduced to architecture and illustration, which piqued my interest in space and form. Art was the avenue through which I arrived at architecture.
Q: What do you love most about the work you do?
SS: I love to see life brought into the buildings that I am working on. Starting with the design stage, continuing with dialogue and engagement with stakeholders, following through with the design intent, and then finally bringing it to life with people using it. Taking these early concepts, translating them into a tangible form, and making it part of people’s lives drives my passion for design.
Q: Can you elaborate on your experiences working in disaster recovery in Japan?
SS: I was in Japan in 2011 when the Great East Japan disaster struck. I later visited the tsunami-affected Tohoku region, spoke with survivors from the coastal towns and got involved in organizing a symposium that brought together international researchers and students to develop approaches for disaster resilience and reconstruction. My experiences in the aftermath of the catastrophe opened his eyes to the importance of designing and building for disaster readiness.
A key professional milestone of mine was applying this knowledge on post-disaster reconstruction to a project in Kobe, where the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake destroyed the historic centre and its waterfront. Parts of Kobe’s port are still submerged and left in their existing form as a memorial to the victims of the earthquake.
The project I worked on helped to rebuild and revitalize the waterfront through the introduction of facilities for creative industries and incorporated an elevated pedestrian deck with a tsunami break, connecting public open spaces along the historic port and nearby Meriken Park.
The reconstruction of Kobe’s waterfront demonstrated to me how well-prepared Japan is for earthquakes now. Their buildings are built to very high standards, due in no small part to the constant threat of natural disasters, which regularly lead to infrastructure improvements and enhanced construction standards. If we look at the aftermath of the 2011 quake, most of the physical destruction was due to the tsunami which struck afterwards. I think the same level of earthquake readiness needs to be applied in Canada, particularly on the West Coast which is due for a seismic event. There’s a lot we can benefit from Japan’s experience with disaster mitigation and it’s critical that we get prepared sooner than later.
Q: You have expressed interest in building a more transit-oriented and sustainable way of life. Can you speak to that in greater detail?
SS: I recently worked on a mixed-use redevelopment in Shibuya, in the centre of Tokyo. This project encompassed over 2.7 million square feet within three towers, a podium with direct transit access on three levels, an elevated public thoroughfare, and several interior and exterior public spaces. Most people in Greater Tokyo commute by public transit due to its high level of efficiency, dependability, and convenience. That meant we could design a highly pedestrianized and interconnected development without giving over large areas for automobile infrastructure. We were able to prioritize transit-integration and a more human-scaled development which is also quite environmentally sustainable.
Coming back to Toronto I’m struck by how Canadian cities are fundamentally built for and around the automobile. We are at a critical inflexion point now as climate change, congestion and affordability make the status quo unsustainable.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
SS: My leadership style is very collaborative – I prefer to act as a coach rather than tell people what to do. I lead by example, engage my teams, and encourage everyone to work through their ideas collaboratively. I like to get my team involved as much as possible to ensure they are getting experience in the different aspects of architecture, from concept all the way to construction administration.
Q: What drew you to Kasian?
SS: Kasian is an innovative and collaborative firm with a reputation for professionalism. Their built work is extensive across sectors and gaining exposure to and learning from different specialties was attractive to me. I also see huge potential being in Toronto as it is developing so fast, with immigration rates increasing and investment pouring in, there are many opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the city’s future.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the mentors you have had throughout your career?
SS: I’ve been fortunate to have some fantastic mentors in my professional and academic career, people who were very generous with their time and their energy and gave me a lot of responsibility early on. I’m eager to pay that back by helping the next generation of architects grow and learn.
Q: What do you enjoy outside of work?
SS: I’ve been an avid runner for the past 13 years. I’ve participated in several marathons, including the Tokyo Marathon, the Vancouver Sun Run, and the Singapore Green Corridor Run. I enjoy having that time and space to think when I run.
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