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Within Places and Across Borders

Izzat Haziq

Travel off the beaten path with Malaysian architect Atira Ariffin, who is based in Amsterdam, as she takes us on her many explorations across the globe.

Atira Ariffin has carved out a space of her own in the digital realm, as seen clearly on her Instagram page, which at current count has around 44, 600 followers. All decked up in an ensemble of cool and constructed garments, the Amsterdam-based architect heralds in an understated streetwear style that is unmistakably hers.

She also shares her travels around the world with her followers on Instagram - something that might have branched off from another of her passions - photojournalism. Here, the intrepid explorer shares her pick of the best architectural hotspots, her favourite place in Malaysia and many more.

Share with us briefly on how you started your journey as an architect.

I was hugely influenced by my father who is also in the construction field. I have been exposed to the architecture world since I was little, so I guess the experience subconsciously shaped my interest to be an architect. I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. After my graduation, I moved to Amsterdam in autumn of 2016 following a job offer from UNStudio, and I’ve been here since.

Atira explores the liminal spaces and abandoned architectures of the Balkan nation, Bulgaria.
What are the challenges in your career amid the pandemic and how are you coping with it?

As much as I enjoy working from home, the collaborative and visual nature of our work makes it extremely challenging to work remotely. If you imagine an architecture project as a giant puzzle set, it’s quite challenging not being in the same room to ensure that every piece of the puzzle can fit together. Nonetheless, after 7 months, I think we have gotten so much better in our workflow and communication, and have properly adapted to this new way of working, although sometimes I do miss working in a physical space with my team.

You’ve travelled extensively around the globe. What are the best places to visit for those who want to discover distinct architectural designs?
Atira and her husband in holiday mode at Zermatt, Switzerland

I believe that the interpretation of “distinct architectural designs” is very subjective and may vary from one person to another, so I will just make a list of suggestions based on my personal experience and preferences of the places I’ve visited.

First is Brazil. You can visit buildings designed by important architectural icons such as Oscar Niemeyer, Lina Bo Bardi and Paulo Mendes Da Rocha, and many others to get a taste of modernist Brazilian architecture. Next up is Bulgaria, where in the spring of 2018 my best friend and I travelled across the country in search of abandoned decaying brutalist architecture, which was prominent in the region during the communist era. This was one of my favourite “architectural pilgrimage” experiences. I also managed to squeeze a little architecture trip to Sri Lanka to visit a couple of buildings by Geoffrey Bawa during my honeymoon back in 2019. Lastly, Copenhagen and Helsinki, which I highly recommend especially if you’re a fan of architects Bjarke Ingels and Alvar Aalto. These are just some of my personal favourites but if you’re more into glitzy architecture, Dubai is pretty amazing, as well as Qatar, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York.

What are the top 3 destinations on your Bucket List, and why?

First off is Japan. I grew up with manga and anime so I have always wanted to experience the places and scenes I’ve read or seen in the manga or anime, to have a taste of Japanese culture as well as all the craziness within it. Second would be Egypt. I think it is a fascinating country to explore and experience. I would like to witness the remarkable ancient architecture (or the remnants) with my own eyes and to feel the presence of the space. Finally, it is my dream to travel across Latin American countries, including the Caribbean islands. There is just something energetic that draws me to that region, not to mention all the beautiful natural landscapes and rich culture.

One with the locals at the trekking region of Annapurna Massif in the Himalayas.
Where is your favourite local destination, and why?

Perhentian Island, Terengganu! I find it less commercial than Redang, which is why I like it a lot. I love the beautiful beach, the boat rides, the people, the dialect, the food. Everything moves at a slower pace there - it feels like a different world. I always feel recharged every time I go there. My grandparents are originally from Kota Bharu, Kelantan so we have a tradition with the cousins to go to Perhentian every Eidul Fitri.

How will you describe your experience when travelling from KLIA, klia2 or other airports in Malaysia?
Keeping it comfy as she takes on Sri Lanka.

KLIA often gives me a bittersweet feeling because it is the place where I always have to bid farewell to my family and loved ones every time I need to return to Europe after my short holiday in Malaysia. God knows how many airport staff have witnessed me scurrying past the e-gate to the security checks to the aerotrain with tears streaming down my face! But I guess they’re used to seeing so many different behaviours at the airport. Nevertheless, I always get a nice warm feeling every time I land at KLIA. “I’m home” - that’s the feeling I get when I exit the aircraft into the satellite terminal and it always makes me smile.

Do you see our airports as one of the best in the world? Why?

I have always been proud of KLIA because it was designed by one of the most prominent figures in architecture, Kisho Kurokawa. I think it is one of the most beautifully designed airports I have ever been to, and I love examining the design details. It is truly an architectural marvel our country should take pride in.

What are your tips for travelling on a budget?

When I was a student, I would stay at backpackers’ hostels and cook my own food to save budget. It’s the best way to keep your expenditures low, meet new interesting people and get local insights on places to see! I always like to ask the hostel staff for their cheap local eateries recommendations, and they rarely disappoint.

What are your backpacking essentials and must-haves?

Power bank (very important!), lip balm, and sunscreen.

What are the things that you look forward to once everything goes back to normal?

I really look forward to flying back to Kuala Lumpur to see my family and hug them! I miss them a lot, and I miss my mom’s home-cooked meals, too.

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