Urban activists
Identity|November 2020
Kuwait-and Porto-based Studio Toggle, run by architects Hend Almatrouk and Gijo Paul George, is one of the young practices currently developing a fresh architectural language for the Middle East. In an exclusive interview with identity, the duo discusses how the practice interweaves architecture, urbanism and activism, while staying true to context and the vernacular.
Aidan Imanova
How was Studio Toggle formed? What did the two of you want to bring to the region and the architectural sphere when starting your firm?

Gijo Paul George (GPG): Back in 2011, during our graduate studies at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, I had an opportunity to collaborate with Hend on a competition that called for the redesign of the façade of the Pushkinsky cinema in Moscow. Our proposal, ‘Rossiya’s Flourish’, made the shortlist and was published widely on the internet. This made us realise that we work well together and that the results of our collaborations always ended up being more than the sum of their parts. We started Studio Toggle in 2011, while we were still students in Vienna, and in 2012 we moved to Kuwait to work on our first residential project. In 2016, we expanded by opening another studio in Porto.

Hend Almatrouk (HA: Like Gijo said, the effortless ease of working with each other and the fact that our architectural and ethical visions aligned perfectly, gave us the reassurance that collaborating with each other was a no-brainer. Our agenda was always simple. We established Studio Toggle to focus on logical design and problem-solving techniques. We wanted to bridge the gap between architecture and urban design, creating spaces that are accessible as much as they are beautiful. With my specialisation in experimental architecture and Gijo’s focus on public urban planning, we believed we were equipped to do just that.

What is Studio Toggle’s design ethos? What do you feel you have contributed to the region in terms of elevating the built environment?

HA: The three pillars of Studio Toggle are architecture, urbanism and activism. I would like to describe it as architecture rooted in urbanistic activism. While challenging norms and standard practices, we avoid stylistic trends and non-functional ornamentation. While not overtly subversive, our work definitely goes against the grain.

We believe that through our sense of activism towards positive and responsible design, Studio Toggle has been instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of design thinking in the region. We believe that design thinking should go hand in hand with the construction process. We have demonstrated that theoretical research translates into tangible improvements in the energy efficiency and user-friendliness of buildings. To that effect, we have also championed the deployment of Building Informational Modelling (BIM) and digital fabrication techniques to improve architectural design quality and construction processes.

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