Derry man wins Middle Eastern architecture award

Derry man Jason Burnside pictured with MEA 'Architect of the Year' award.
Derry man Jason Burnside pictured with MEA 'Architect of the Year' award.

A Derry man was recently crowned ‘Architect of the Year’ at the 2012 Middle East Architect (MEA) Awards in Dubai.

Jason Burnside, son of Sam and Frieda Burnside, was born and reared in the Waterside before moving to the lower Fountain area where he lived with his parents, younger brother Taylor and younger sister, Carmen.

“I suppose you could say Jason is leading by example,” laughed proud father Sam.

“But seriously, both myself and Frieda are really proud of him. He has done really well for himself.”

Jason attended the Fountain Primary School before moving to Templemore Secondary School on the Buncrana Road and then completing his studies at the North West Regional College on the Strand Road.

Jason said the building that influenced him towards a career in architecture was St. Aengus’ Church in Burt - a building he still holds in high regard.

“The tipping point was when I saw St. Aengus’ Church of Derry by Liam McCormick. The building itself sits next to an ancient monument and it is so well connected. I thought it was so clever and beautiful. That was certainly the first I looked at a building that way,” said Jason.

Sam said Jason decided on a career in architecture and construction quite early and revealed that he wanted to study in Belfast, but Queen’s University did not offer him a place.

“Jason was quite academic and he always had a flair for drawing.

“Jason applied to Queen’s in Belfast and was rejected but four or five universities in Scotland and England wanted him. In the end he opted to study in Dundee and he graduated there with an honours degree. He must have done something right because his lecturer put Jason in touch with a friend in London and a few weeks after completing his degree and he had a job working for the London- based Clarke Associates.”

After spending five and a half years working in London, fortune was to revisit Burnside when he travelled to Dubai to meet friends in 2001.

“In 2001 I had the chance to meet some friends here [Dubai]. The only time I’d seen Dubai was in a Tomorrow’s World programme about the construction of Burj Al Arab.

“In the last week of the holiday I had a chance meeting with Brian Johnson [managing partner of GAJ]. I had an interview and got offered the job, so I convinced my wife to take a ‘year out’ and live abroad. Twelve years later, we are still here, and now we have a family, a boy called Toby and a girl called Maddie.”

Since arriving in Dubai in 2001, Burnside has carved a niche out for himself in that he is an education design specialist.

“It’s been a gradual evolution,” explained Jason.

“We’ve always had a lot of very experienced education architects in the office. I haven’t had a huge background in education so it really was a baptism of fire getting chucked in there, understanding the terminology and planning.”

In recent times, Jason was promoted to partner in GAJ. He said that whilst people may think the life of architect as “glamorous”, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“People think that architecture is a very glamorous profession, but it’s 99 per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration. You can’t just come up with ideas and that’s it. The very privileged few architects get away with that but for the rest of it’s a lot of grunt work. I still do my own drawings, and modelling, and the late nights with the rest of the team,” he said.

On learning he had been crowned MEA ‘Architect of the Year’, Burnside, said he was “really honoured”.

“Without doubt this is one of my career highlights. I’m really honoured to get this award and I am chuffed to bits. It’s great to be recognised.

“It was really tough, given the guys I was up against. Some of them have built landmark structures. I was surprised to win as my work is more small scale.”