GAJ Partner and Lead Architect on school design, Jason Burnside has been setting the Middle East’s architectural world alight for some time now. It was in 2016 when Burnside took school design to a whole new level, with not one but two, staggeringly beautiful school designs.
For WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, it’s Burnside’s ability to create a building of beauty regardless of the plot size and location. His consistent and modern nod to the architectural elements unique to the Gulf and his playful use of light at both Arcadia Preparatory School and Sunmarke School, earn him a place on our 2016 Influencer list.
But it’s not just us who think Burnside is a little special. The unique Arcadia Preparatory School was voted runner-up in Design MENA’s Interior Design of the Year- Public Sector 2015, then in 2016 Ladybird Nursery, won Interior Design of the Year- Public Sector.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
This is my 16th year in Dubai and the 15th working for GAJ Architects.
What made you choose the education sector?
Like most things in life it came by chance! I had a colleague who specialised in school design but was on leave when the project came in and we couldn’t wait until he came back to start. It ended up on my desk and we have designing schools ever since.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
I am sure there are potentially a number of different challenges depending on your viewpoint as a pupil, a parent, a school’s designer or school developer/operator. For me balancing an efficient cost effective design that still enables teachers and pupils to be surrounded by an environment that creates better and more inspiring learning spaces is critical.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
Since moving to the UAE I have been fortunate to be involved with a number of interesting and critically recognised projects both large and small. But on a personal level being awarded the Middle East Architect of the Year Award was quite an achievement as the panel is made up of other architects and being recognised by your peers makes it special.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
I’m not sure I can answer that from a personal perspective as I work with a great team who help design and deliver our education projects. This year we delivered six different projects which I suppose is an achievement in itself. So far two of them have won design awards which is a bonus for all of the hard work that went into them.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
Literally, its walking the dog at 5:30am and getting the kids ready for school! After that work is a great opportunity to collaborate and engage with other creative people testing and questioning ideas. Most of the time this process doesn’t seem like work but it’s an essential part of how we resolve complicated designs. I am also lucky that I still enjoy doing my own drawings.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
At some point it would be great to get involved with some part time tutoring with an architecture school. Our profession is constantly evolving and reinventing itself and to be exposed to the experimental side of design would be a nice balance to the often pragmatic side that we deal with every day.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
To be successful at anything I believe you need to work hard, be determined and not be frightened to change your approach when things are not working.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education? It’s probably the challenge of working with the huge range of age groups that a school has and seeing how the students react to and interact with the spaces that we design.