When I realized architecture could change lives

Designing a recreation center in Pakistan, at 12 years old, taught me an important lesson about the power of architecture.

Thanks for reading. You can join a community of more than 1,124 other design lovers and education leaders by subscribing to our newsletter.

Each time a new blog post is published, you’ll be the first to know.

_ The true power of architecture is its ability to transform how we think, feel, and behave.
_ I first learned this as a 12-year-old, designing a recreation center in Pakistan.
_ The experience taught me that design should always focus on solving real problems.

by Danish Kurani

When I was 12 years old, I learned the power of architecture firsthand.

My local mosque held a competition for students: Design a building that could win the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, a prize for buildings that address society’s needs.

My classmates jumped in. They designed hospitals, libraries, and cultural centers. I racked my brain. What would really make a difference for people? Then I remembered.

It was the summer before 3rd grade when I visited family in Pakistan. My first day there was an abrupt introduction to Karachi urban life. Cows roaming, trash everywhere, and kids playing in the streets.

My older cousin, Murad, and his friends—a crew of 10- and 11-year-olds—played cricket. A lot of cricket. Every day, they were in the streets with makeshift wickets and tennis balls. Cars and rickshaws dangerously whizzed by, narrowly avoiding them. It was chaos.

As I reflected on this, I knew what to design. Murad’s neighborhood needed a recreation center!

I grabbed a large sheet of 24×36” chart paper, a ruler, and my finest pencils. For the next three days, I would pop in my CD of Encyclopedia Encarta (these were pre-internet days, mind you) and research the local banyan tree species, draw cricket fields to scale, and create a place where Murad and his friends could play safely away from fast rickshaws.

I lost the competition—to a hospital design for Uganda. I looked at my banyan trees and my community-centered cricket fields, and I was disappointed.

But this feeling and my ideas were not lost. I had realized that I could use architecture to make people’s lives better. The original drawing for the Karachi recreation center is still with me today, and it continues to serve as a reminder of the point of architecture.

Places should make life better for the community. If you’re looking to design such a space, ask yourself: How can I make life better? Then go do that thing.

Trust me, the feeling will stick with you for life.