I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited. _ Jorge Luis Borges
I was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1974, when the 7th Asian Games were held in Tehran. At four, the time of revolution, I got addicted to LEGO, which I have not quit yet. The eight years of elementary and secondary school were a sort of Dark Ages when the shadow of Iran-Iraq war had charged all aspect of life! It was in the first year of high school that I started to apprentice as a draughtsman. Then, it was part of the high school curriculum, which mandated attending a workplace one day a week to learn a job, skill, or craft. At about the same time, in the summer of 1988, while travelling the central Persian Plateau (Dasht-e Kavir) and visiting some remote cities and villages such as Abyaneh, Neyasar, Ardestan, and Nain, I was taken away by the magic of architecture; since then I became a restless soul. It was with these convictions that I entered the School of Architecture at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran.
In late November 1998, I was in rush at the airport to leave for Syria on a business trip. Having a personal email address had just started to be a trend back then. It was fashionable to have one. I still remember that you were able to check your email only at internet-cafes, because having access to the Internet was difficult at home, at least in many cities including Tehran where I lived. I knew that through my business correspondence in Syria, I would need to have an email address that was created on the spot.
I had just a couple of minutes left to get on board, and a friend of mine was helping me get registered on Yahoo! We tried my full name in different ways such as: RezaAliabadi, AliabadiReza, rezaaliabadi, raliabadi and the like. We even tried it with a few symbols (-, _, /) between my first and family names, but they were all taken. That was the first time that I understood, there are other people with the same name in the world. When my friend was playing around with letters and symbols, I just wrote down my full name, kept the essentials and got rid of all the vowels:
reza aliabadi > r_z_ _l__b_d_ > rzlbd
Under the pressure and tension of losing my flight, I had come up with a miniature version of my identity. An index of my own, which carried the whole essence of my ID and at the same time, was unique. There might be other Reza Aliabadis but there was only one rzlbd. More or less after a decade, it became a pseudonym, almost my personal signature, and my sole mark.
I will never forget, the day that I had sat behind my used-to-be desk, in my used-to-be office, making an exclusive list of all my used-to-be assets. The reason was I had finally made the decision to leave Tehran for Montreal and to do an M.Phil degree at McGill University. And the challenge was, how is it possible to convert my whole life into two suitcases, each with a maximum weight of 30 kilograms, respecting the IATA regulation for overseas flights at the time.
Though it was hard to ignore lots of beloved possessions, especially since many of them were accompanied by memories and passions, and many of them had been achieved through hard effort and struggle, it was a situation that I learned from. Surprisingly, things and priorities expose their real value in tough circumstances. One learns how to do without a thing and how to skip unnecessary things. It is almost ten years that I have been purging my possessions constantly and have been trying not to add clutter to my cart. Well, as a nomad, I know that there is nothing better than being weightless.
Before reestablishing my practice in Toronto, I had to do 5,600 hours of internship, as in most cases there is no reciprocity rule for licensed architects between many countries. During this rather frustrating period, I developed a habit of quitting my job once a year and push myself out of my comfort zone. Three major solo expeditions to the North Pole, round the world in 49 days, and the Trans-Canada across the country from Great Lakes to Pacific, together influenced my perspective toward life in general and architecture in particular. They have struck my imagination and given me feelings that have conditioned my view of the world as follows.
Living in a fishing boat with two Inuit “good” fellas and floating on the vastness of Canadian Arctic along with breathtaking icebergs, I found that a day can be half a year long and that sense of time and directions (both cardinal and magnetic) can get lost; only because one dares to dislocate oneself enough. This distorted the basic conventions and formed a philosophical foundation in me to respect the essentials, the plain, and the most important: emptiness.
Hopping all around the world while crossing out a list of my favourite to-be-visited items, from Le Corbusier open-hand-monument in Chandigarh, to the Giza in Cairo, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence, I committed myself not to stay in the same city for two consecutive nights. This widened my understanding of extreme social and cultural diversities, our “lowest common multiple” and our “greatest common factor”; it also taught me to respect, adapt, and accommodate any given circumstances.
Driving the Trans Canada Highway for five days, inspired me to do a photo installation that I later called Transimage, a multi-layered scene resulting from the superimposition of fifty photographs taken at intervals of one hundred kilometres, exactly. The superimposed illustration had created new possibilities for new readings and interpretations. This changed my perception and I started to appreciate architecture as the art of overlay: merging countless forces, both visible and invisible.
I am still keeping up with this old habit and scape away every now and then. This is very helpful to feel liberated, to have a dialogue with myself, to be away from the inertia of daily life, to reflect about architecture, to step back and make sure what I am doing and why I am doing it, and to begin again every time with a different dimension of awareness. It is this sense of beginning/becoming that keeps me interested, obsessed, and passionate. It is like a love affair, the ideal is to keep falling in love with your beloved!
Summer 2018, Toronto