As its founder and principal architect Alexander Yusuf proves building design prowess through contracts with various ultimate home dreamers in Somaliland and public institutions in Somalia
Somalilandsun – Villa and Mansion Architects is a company situated in the New Hargeisa district of Somaliland where it undertakes its operations that are concentrated in both Somaliland and Somalia.
According to Alexander Yusuf the founder of Villa and Mansion architects his Ukrainian Training, United Kingdom experience and birth empirical knowledge gives him the opportunity to design homes and buildings that encompass Eastern and western European designs that compliment the Arabic one predominating his Somaliland and Somalia areas of operations.
At an interview with Somalilandsun in Hargeisa, the 45 years old founder and principal architect of Villa and Mansions a who worked in the UK for over 18 years before relocating home in 2012 following the harsh economic recession that hit the UK in mid 2008s, introducing professional building designs had been a major hurdle while his dual lineage courtesy of a Somali father from Burao and a Russian mother is neither a hindrance nor advantage in his professional life locally.
Though Alexander and his Villa and Mansions Architectural firm are currently comfortably ensconced the shift from the UK saw a stint with the Mogadishu Municipality for 1.8 year designing public buildings before being scared away by a deadly terrorist attack that saw colleagues killed brutal resulting in the Move to Somaliland where he avers security is apt for all.
Below are the verbatim excerpts of the Somalilandsun interview with Alexander Yusuf the owner, manager and principal architect of villa and mansion architects
Is it a registered company?
Yes it is here in Somaliland and chambers of commerce. It has full license to trade in Somaliland and it is also registered in UK since 2008. It came about after there were no jobs for architects in the UK which made architects to look for alternatives.
When did you come to Somaliland?
I searched for jobs in Libya, Dubai and Iraq and I used to give 40 CVs a week to different organizations and companies. It was a very difficult time in UK when all your life becomes shrunk to a bare minimum where you can’t even have fun you only have to be economic in order to save money because no money was coming in and you have to pay the bills.
Did you succeed in getting a job from the 40 CVs you were sending every week?
No. some of them did not even reply only 1 or 2 % of those CVs got acknowledgement that they had been received but still I did not get any job. There was only an on and off job for me from a company that knew me before and I worked for two months and after I was done there was nothing else for me so I went back to being unemployed .
One of my friends who had gone to Somalia to try his luck after getting fed up with the situation called me one afternoon and said there was a job advertisement online for an architect/engineer in Somalia. I applied for the job and after a week I got a call for an interview over the phone and got the job and that was at the end of 2012.
Before that I had seen Turkish prime minister then foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaking in Mogadishu Somalia parliament saying that Turkish promises to build Somalia’s parliament that was in ruins back to its original design look, and it is Turkish promise.
I grabbed the opportunity and wrote to TIKA, the prime minister and foreign secretary asking if I could be part of the team designing the Somali Historic building ‘Parliament’ it and they gave me few choices days to come to Ankara for the interview. I was still in the UK but I booked a flight and traveled for the interview and did well according to them. They said they were going to call me after they find a tender person but they never communicated after that. Up to date the parliament has not been rebuilt like the Turkish promised; I guess it is for political reasons.
After that I worked with IOM now in Mogadishu until when the Mogadishu Mayor Mohamud Axmed Nur (Tarzan) of the time asked me to work with him in the municipality. I worked with Turkish municipality in Mogadishu build roads, pavements, airport road, District centres and all that.
Are you part of the people who brought up the street solar lighting system in Mogadishu?
Yes I was part of the team, I renovated the municipality itself including the mayor’s place, national ID building centre, 15 May school that was built by EU in 1970. After words new mayor came into leadership and he changed everything starting from the cleaners to everyone else. I was affected too and went back to private jobs.
One day I had a coffee with coronel army offices who worked and was a friend of my father and grow-up with his children, the following day next morning terrorist parked a car ‘Noha’ full of explosions and blew up whole area and killed morethan 80 people, my car was parked same spot a night before, I sat in that coffee shop 11 hour ago and next morning 80 innocent people. The car was heavily filled with explosive that neighboring houses had windows blown-up. Another day I went to meet a friend in known hotel in centre of Mogadishu called Makka-Al Mukarama, and when I reached the hotel door which heavily guarded, I see people running towards me and security man telling me go away there is an bomb explosion, later that night when people gathered outside the hotel there was an ladcruiser parked outside the hotel filled with explosives and it exploded and killed many innocent people. After that and when many of my engineers friends lost their life’s I decided it wasn’t a safe place to be anymore and I decided to move to Hargeisa November of 2013.
Do you have family here in Hargeisa?
Yes I do. I have relatives here in Hargeisa and Burao. I came to Hargeisa for a month to investigate living conditions and find out it was quite a nice and peaceful place people was very friendly, no gun fire or bomb explosions which was a quite arrest from Mogadishu gun fire, so I went back to Mogadishu and sold my car, everything and started new life, living here in jigjig yar at that time but now in new Hargeisa .
I started advertising in Geeska Africa and Dawan with only few clients and sometimes people promising to pay but in the end failing to.
Later I got a call from Mogadishu to design an airport for Barawe. It included the administration of Barawe, the mayor’s place and municipality, renovation of the bank, offices for the government and street lighting.
I Came back to Hargeisa for other projects and I again got a job at Norwegian company which I am now their resident architect, they also invited me to Juba Land administration for design of an administration building that needed to be done in Kismayu in 2015 which am finishing this month soon. and there’s another job online but for security purposes I can’t talk about it but it’s still in that region.
Do you have disability access in all your public buildings?
Yes all of them if it was the demand of the company and also because I always suggest that and they’ve all grabbed the idea, for example when I worked in restoring famous 15 May school in Mogadishu the school is first educational building in Somalia which had a proper UK standard full disabled access, to the classes to the rear garden and student cafeteria, also I designed a separate gate for disabled people..
Are you also a site architect at Villa and Mansion Architects?
Yes I am a site architect too, this is part of my strength I have extensive knowledge how to put building together combined with project management and project cost control the result is successful project completion. I remember at the time when I worked with Mogadishu Mayor he used to say Alexander is my ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ do as he tells you.
In Somaliland have you managed to penetrate the market?
Yes I did. I am now doing a villa for a family in jigjig yar a mixed use development and am planning to employ more people to work with me. The work in Somalia is holding me back, but it is the one I have to prioritize because I signed a contract with them so all the projects here always has to wait thus the need to employ more people here.
What is your employee capacity?
2 architects and the normal office staffs. There are a lot of work promised in Berbera so Insha’Allah many will see more of my work soon.
Do you have any project with the Somaliland government?
There is one project for the government which is done by a foreign organization agency that has offered a fund for a ministry building construction here in Hargeisa to remain anonymous until contract availed. and I won’t mention the name, where if the funds come through I will get paid and if not my two months work will go unpaid so am hoping for the best because only 90% of such jobs get paid.
How old are you?
Let say I am above 40
Do your status as a Somalilander and Russian half cast constrain or advance you personally and professionally?
It helps when am driving on the road but it’s quite a problem when people demand to know who you are and what your tribe is because for me an educated man and my mom being Russian am against tribalism, people of Somaliland are very clean hearted they give you a shake at the beginning but later on they are very friendly, and I am now getting to know many including the authorities.
For the last 24 years Somaliland has been concentrating their foreign policy in the west and Middle East, do you think maybe with a Russian background they should look to Russia for better things?
I am an architect and don’t want to get involved with politics.
What of your design influence , having gone to school in Ukraine then part of the former USSR Russia, launched your carrier in Britain so you have western influence and now you are in Somaliland where they mingle with either western or middle east style, how do you go around all that?
The experience In UK helped me get a variety of projects for my 21 years stay in UK that gave me a big spectrum of different projects so here in Somaliland I have to understand the culture and its all about asking the client what they want, and establishing a correct brief.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic of the future of Villa and Mansion architects?
I am optimistic that things are going to change for the better with people willing to build and construct more buildings and find the right person to do that and we build good portfolio for the future, amny people are getting to know that building a school or an a hotel without an architect is not correct way to go about.
Who are you competitors?
There is a company called Rio Architects we network professionally, no competition Hargeisa needs more architects
Is Rio the only other architectural company?
Others exist and they have their own engineers and architects.
What would you advise to a person planning to build house in Somaliland?
I would strongly recommend that he or she employs an architect, the service from architect may cost more but you would be better in in long term.
Finally considering your experience in building industry and in architecture have you tried to teach students from engineering faculties here in Somaliland?
Not yet here but Yes I did Training Course for Site Supervisors and Operational Managers held in Mogadishu, Somalia funded by UN Habitat & EU
Copyright © 2015 Somalilandsun, All rights reserved.
MSc Dip Architect (Hons) ARB, RIBA Part-III
UK registered architect
Villa and Mansion Architects
New Hargeisa district, Somaliland.
Tel: +252(0) 63 413 2332 Hargeisa
+252(0) 61 502 7078 Mogadishu
+44 (0) 7 4059 93072 UK