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Syrian researcher opening doors to a new life through Architecture PhD

For Ammar Azzouz, becoming a researcher was something he was always going to do. After three years at Bath, he’s now looking to make his impact on the world.

Ammar Azzouz holds one of his hand drawings.
Ammar Azzouz has had a passion for creativity, art and architecture for as long as he can remember.

Bath Architecture PhD student, Ammar Azzouz, has always loved pens.

“I have lots of hand drawings from my childhood in Syria,” Ammar says. “I was 12 when my sister started studying architecture. I used to always borrow her pens and papers to draw.”

Pens are at the heart of a quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, that inspires Ammar to push forward:

"One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world."

"I believe every researcher has a responsibility to share the knowledge they have”, Ammar says.

Public engagement star

That’s why, throughout his research degree, Ammar has dedicated large chunks of his time to public engagement. So much so, that he was shortlisted for the Vice-Chancellor's Postgraduate Prize for Public Engagement with Research in 2016.

One of his favourite events was running a mini PhD project for 13-year-olds. It was part of the Young Researchers' Programme which is organised by the Public Engagement Unit in collaboration with Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution.

Ammar guided the children through the process of collecting and analysing data, reporting on their findings and presenting at a conference organised on campus.

Opening up access to higher education is important for Ammar who always knew that research was something he wanted to do.

”It wasn’t even a question for me. I think that through research, you can open new doors and you can have wider impact of your skills and experience.”

Pushing forward

Ammar has had a passion for creativity, art and architecture for as long as he can remember.

“My family is very liberal and supportive. They gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted and I’ve always had a great interest in something else than being limited to one’s own boundaries. My family gave me the strength and the power to push myself forward.”

Studying in the UK has always been his dream. After finishing his undergraduate course in Syria, he decided to make it happen.

“I’m from Homs and we didn’t have any native English teachers in my city, so I used to travel to the British Council in Damascus three times every week.”

The journey, one way, is around three hours.

“I was teaching in the morning at Al-Baath University in Homs then would travel back and forth to Damascus for a lecture for about six months.”

Unique setup for architecture at Bath

After completing his Masters’ degree at the University of Salford, Ammar picked Bath as the place to further his academic interests.

“Bath is number one in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework in architecture and overall, in the top 10 as a university.”

But there’s a unique benefit that made the choice easy for him.

“The department here is very interesting because it’s maybe the only place in the UK where they have combined architecture and civil engineering. This is very unique because in the industry, there’s always a gap between the two fields.”

Collaborating across departments and disciplines is something Ammar values highly and a collaborative approach is at the heart of his PhD topic.

Architects and engineers previously planned and modelled in isolation. Now new technologies bring everything together in one, intelligent model.

Ammar’s research focuses on modern technologies for new building designs and how they can help organisations better evaluate their performance.

Passion for academic research

The three years at Bath, Ammar says, have met his expectations, “and maybe more.”

Throughout his studies, he has been helped by his supervisors, Dr Alex Copping and Dr Paul Shepherd.

“Alex and Paul have been enormously supportive. They have always directed my thoughts, offered constant encouragement and gave me tremendous help whenever needed.”

Ammar's dream job would let him combine his passion for academic research with applying his skills in practice through an institution that would help him to make a difference in the world.

“Whatever I’m doing, I want to have the widest impact. For me, working in a reputable institution is a priority. It might be massive and you might be anonymous but you will have access to places and people you wouldn’t have elsewhere. You can learn from the leaders and that access will take you somewhere else.”

During his time at Bath, Ammar has collaborated with several companies. One of them is Arup, one of the biggest construction companies in the world and responsible for London’s Gherkin and Shard buildings.

“I worked closely with Arup’s BIM Development Manager to analyse and communicate the results of 213 projects when assessed by their Maturity Measure. This collaboration has been of vital importance to engender the relationship between academia and the architecture, engineering and construction industry.”

Missing his family

Leaving his home and family behind to pursue studies is never easy, especially when it’s overseas. But for Ammar, there was an added complication. When he left Syria, war had just broken out in his home country.

Ammar has been able to see his family only once in the past five years. Regular conversations on social media help, but aren’t the same as being physically together.

“I feel like I live in a very contrasted environment. I am based in the UK but my mind and thoughts are always with Syria.

“My parents have sacrificed a lot for me, I hope I could be reunited with them soon. I miss my family, my home, the streets, the smell of the jasmine and the noise of the kids playing in the streets.”

Although he wouldn’t call it his home, Ammar has settled in the UK for the time being.

“I think it’s a great place to live. Very liberal, open-minded and safe. There is a great interest in this country in art and culture. Here, everything is still possible. You can find your way. You just have to work hard in something that you believe in.”

With his PhD nearly finished, Ammar is about to leave Bath. But the city will always hold a special place in his heart.

”It’s one of my favourite cities in the UK. It’s very likeable, full of history, rich in architecture, a very cultural place, full of art galleries and museums. There are always interesting talks and interesting people to meet. I just love it. I will always come back here.”

‘I believe every researcher has a responsibility to share the knowledge they have’
Ammar Azzouz

Why do I love pens? Ammar Azzouz

Ammar presents at public engagement awards event